A Cat Conundrum

A Cat Conundrum

I’ve always been a dog person.

Growing up, our family had Skippy, a scruffy, middle-sized dog, and Koko, who approximated a Springer Spaniel. When Yvonne and I married, we welcomed a sweet Airedale named Agatha, then the energetic Mrs. Hudson, a Wire Fox Terrier. (Their names offer a hint about our favorite book genre.)

How can we not love dogs? They worship us. They live for us. They smile! They are completely transparent, so at any given moment we know exactly what they are thinking. (Feed me! Love me! Walk me! Love me!)

Then our daughter, Maggie, who has an apartment in Chicago, decided she needed company. She worked in an office and didn’t want to leave a dog at home while she was gone. Plus, a dog would need to be trained, and she wasn’t sure she had the time. So she wondered about getting a cat.

I was appalled.

Cats are haughty. They’re aloof. You never know what they’re thinking, because their expressions are frozen in place. They are, frankly, aliens.

Undaunted, Maggie discovered a friend of a friend who had a litter of Persian kittens. Intrigued by a gray one with beautiful puffy fur, Maggie claimed her and took her home. She named the cat Juno and often called her Miss Ma’am.

When we visited Maggie, Juno would circle at a distance. Yvonne immediately wanted to bond. I wasn’t so sure. Not that it mattered—Juno was in charge.

When Maggie came to visit, she would bring Juno to wander around our house. Juno gradually warmed up to Yvonne, but I was still unsure. Then a few weeks ago, Maggie and Juno visited again. Crouching down, I held out my open palm, and Juno approached. I scratched under her chin. She purred. A friendship was born.

To be honest, friendship may be the wrong word. It’s more like mutual curiosity. Juno likes getting her chin scratched, and I enjoy trying to get inside her head. Her frozen expression, no longer a barrier, is now a conundrum: Who are you? What are you thinking? What planet did you come from?

Wondering if I could ever love a cat, I wrote to my friend Mark Hallett, who should know. Mark studies and draws cats for museums, though these cats roamed the earth in prehistoric times. Not surprisingly, Mark has several cats of his own, including one named Sam. Mark wrote back:

Sam is very loving and faithful, keeping one company while gardening. Many people mistake a cat’s natural reserve (as opposed to a dog’s overt friendliness) for being aloof, but if treated with respect and kindness they’re among the most affectionate of animals.

I imagined Mark gardening, with Sam nearby. I liked that picture. I wondered if that could ever be me. (Okay, I wouldn’t be gardening. Maybe typing.)

I’m not sure I’ve become a cat person, but I may no longer be a dog person. Sure, dogs love you, but you don’t have to work for it. Cats have standards. They’re difficult. Most of all, they’re what a dog could never be: mysterious.

I like mystery. I like Juno. And I hope that someday, if I measure up, Juno will like me.


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