Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Things We Do for Cats

From the files of Things I Wrote for Publication Elsewhere (but here you get the Director's Cut - woohoo!)

The world is full of mysteries: Stonehenge…Bigfoot…crop circles…the popularity of Deal or No Deal…

But, for me, the biggest mystery of all is: Why doesn’t everyone love cats?

Cats are beautiful creatures, they make that neat sound we humans call purring, and they’re self-cleaning. But somehow they can’t shake a reputation that goes from being called finicky and aloof to being accused of “stealing the breath” of babies.

Whereas the dog gets to be “Man’s Best Friend.” The most derogatory thing people say about your average dog is that their breath is nasty. Doggies are considered so generally agreeable that an owner can even forgive Fido for making repeated romantic overtures to their leg.

But I am not here to bash the canine, rather to praise the feline. Ancient Egyptians, the earliest cat fanciers, weren’t just fooling around with leftover strips of linen when they mummified their kitty companions. They understood that cats deserved to be revered.

Ask any modern day feline aficionado, and they will tell you that cats are intelligent, affectionate and devoted to their humans.

Sure, a cat owner has to clean a litter box -- but, when coated with litter, one can pretend the gravel-covered lumps are anything other than excrement. Personally, I like to imagine I'm panning for gold, although admittedly one wouldn't want to wear any jewelry made from those particular nuggets.

And while cat hair will instantaneously bind to the fibers of every dark-colored garment you own…well, just think of it as some sort of extra layer of insulation to increase the energy efficiency of your clothing. In fact, research scientists are currently studying the static electrical properties of cat hair for use in green technology. (Okay, I just made that up, but feel free to pass the idea along to Al Gore...)

That theory and more are currently being but to the test in my suburban lair by a pair of kittens named Koto and Lyra, who recently purred their way from a local shelter into our household.

I used to think I was just one spouse away from being a crazy cat lady. If my husband hadn't come along at an opportune time, I'd likely be holed up in a house with twenty cats right now, yelling out at the neighbors’ kids to get the heck off my lawn.

But any waltz through the World Wide Web will reveal a whole contingent of people whose feline devotion makes me look like an amateur – I call them Extreme Cat Owners.

The Extreme Cat Owner fills their home with specialized cat gear – multi-level jungle gyms, plush heated beds, and a wide assortment of catnip toys. In comparison, my Koto and Lyra are paupers. Still, they appear blissfully content as they claw their way up the arm of our sofa like Spider Man suctioning up the side of a building; sleep curled up together in the powder room sink; and madly pursue tossed wads of paper, which they carry around in their mouths as if displaying a conquered rodent.

While excessive gear is a clue, one cannot judge a cat owner’s Extreme Quotient based on the number of cat-themed knickknacks in their house. An abundance of cat tchotchkes could be a sign of an Extreme Cat Owner, but it might also be the result of friends and relatives who think, “Cindy likes cats – so she’ll love this whimsical wood cutout of a cat arching its back. And the cat dish towel. And the cat stationery…” (And, um, if you’re reading this Mom, I do love it all. Soooo cute…)

Extreme or not, I implore all cat owners to refrain from the urge to put clothing or headgear of any sort on your cat. Dignity is paramount to a cat, and it is impossible to look regal when wearing strap-on reindeer antlers on one’s furry little head.

While I consider my kittens to be part of the family, there is at least a small part of my brain that remembers that I did not actually give birth to them. Therefore, I will not refer to myself as their “Mommy” nor is my husband their “Daddy.” (Although I swear my dearly-departed cat Leo decided to imitate our kids and perfected a meow that sounded an awful lot like a whiney “Maaaahm.”)

But the Extreme Cat Owner makes no distinction between human offspring and feline companions. Their pet is a surrogate child, and while undoubtedly better behaved than the average human child, this can be taken to extremes. Case in point: my web-surfing found an Extreme Owner with no qualms about sharing food with their kitty --- specifically trading licks off a shared ice cream cone!

I do love my cats, but I know where those tongues have been. And they are not getting near my Ben & Jerry’s.

But I discovered something on the web even more disturbing than human-feline food sharing – a number of different companies that will take a deceased pet’s ashes…and transform them into a gemstone.

The ash-to-gem process seems to vary from company to company (except it is invariably “patented” or “proprietary.”) However, the website of “Pets Gems” is kind enough to divulge their process, part of which is:
“… an ionic exchange between the zircon and the atmosphere created from your pets ashes. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine a sponge, first we ring out certain atoms, and then let it absorb the new ones….”
Then they grasp the zircon tightly with thumb and forefinger, raise hand over head, and hop around on one foot while invoking the spirit of Morris the cat. (Alright, I made up that last part too.)

So, while it is none of my business how any pet owner goes about memorializing a lost friend, I would gently suggest a donation to a local animal shelter might be a better tribute than spending thousands of dollars to meld ash to zircon.

And to any Extreme Cat Owners who might be reading this, remember, we are all on the same team. Invite me over for lunch, and we can compare albums of our cats’ photos. Just don’t expect me to share my dessert.

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