By Janice Rodrigues
Of course, I love animals. I think they’re all great — as long as they’re behind the bars of a zoo. It was the comment I would usually think (or sometimes even dare say) when someone cooed over a pet and then judgmentally glanced over to see why I wasn’t sharing their enthusiasm. Having been born and raised in Oman, dealing with animals of any sort did not come naturally to me. I rarely, if ever, saw a dog on the streets, and could count the number of times I had interacted with a pet on the fingers of one hand. Add to the fact that my mother had been bitten by a stray dog when she was a toddler, and you can see where my aversion to pets stemmed from.
After 25 years of living with that notion, everything had to change last year. I was briefly staying with friends who decided it was time to adopt a kitten. As the creature who already slept on their couch and ate their food, I was, naturally, not happy about the competition.
Nevertheless, I agreed to accompany them to the pet shelter where they picked out a six-month-old orangish-brown domestic shorthair who went by the name of Gary. My introduction to little Gary was not promising; his harried caretaker handed him over with a multitude of warnings. The fact that he was returned by his previous owner in under two weeks after he managed to break their TV was just one of them.
If I said the coming weeks were easy, I’d be lying. My friends often had work trips and I suddenly found myself becoming one of Gary’s primary caretakers. Here are just some of the things I wish I had known about cats before I found myself living with one:
• Some cats, Gary included, have no sense of personal space. You will wake up to find their faces about an inch from yours (try not to freak out when this happens)
• The adage about curiosity and cats isn’t exaggerated; cats want to explore everything. They will climb onto places you didn’t think was possible, including kitchen cabinets and fridges (the upper part of which you never thought required cleaning until now)
• They show no evident proof (to the untrained eye at least) that they want your company — until you go to the washroom. Then they will stand outside the whole time, clawing the door to get inside or meow dejectedly to express their displeasure
• They can open doors! Some are smart enough to leap up and push down door handles. Words of advice: lock your door when you want privacy
• If they show you their tummies, that’s actually a sign that they want you to pet their heads (mixed signals much?). Any attempt to touch the tummy is usually not appreciated
• They’re actually a lot more loving than you think
I’m not sure when I developed a soft spot for Gary — perhaps because I got into a habit of talking and sometimes yelling at him when we were alone in the house (not that he knew the difference). Or perhaps it was, because, barely a few days after getting him, he decided to curl up against me as I watched TV (he hadn’t even done that with his actual owners at the time). Or because he would purr and steal my pillow every morning when he noticed I was awake. Or simply how excited he got every time I came home.
I even got into a habit of googling his little actions (which is why my browser history is filled with things like ‘why is my cat blinking funny?’ or ‘how many times do cats poop in a day?’). It wasn’t until I caught myself scratching him under his chin while talking in a baby voice that I realised I might have a problem.
Cats, as I’ve discovered through self-study over the course of six months, actually really like their humans. Don’t take it from me either — research and studies confirm this. For example, scientists believe that adult cats meow only to converse with humans (if you don’t believe it, think back to a time you’ve seen cats meowing at each other — bet you can’t).
Another bit of Internet wisdom: a chatty kitty is a happy kitty. They have other ways of showing you love — brushing against you, sleeping next to you, kneading and purring. To all those who think cats are unfeeling creatures, all I can say is that you’re not quite reading the signs right. You cannot expect them to behave like dogs and wag their tails when they see you (in fact, if they are wagging their tails, that probably means they’re annoyed).
As a newly-converted ‘crazy cat lady’ (I actually bought the cat a toy on Valentine’s Day), I think we can all benefit from having these adorable, curious, loyal and kooky creatures in our homes. And if you’re not ready to adopt, there are loads of other things you can do to help our furry little friends live happier, healthier lives.
Janice is a millennial who hates selfies and likes breaking stereotypes