Welcome to The Skeptic’s Corner, the monthly column in which I share my reservations about various books, movies, TV shows, video games, and more!
Geek culture spans a wide range of interests and hobbies. From games to comics, science to music, books to movies, and more, geek culture is, in the words of Wil Wheaton, “…not about what you love, it’s about how you love it.” Despite these differences, the one thing that seems to bind all geeks together is the shared love (nay, obsession) for cats. If ever there was to be a mascot for all of geekdom, the sleek, mischievous feline would be it. And yet, I have spent all of my life disliking them. I often feel as though I’m sitting on the outside looking in. Yeah, I love geeky things as much as the next person, but cats? I don’t bloody get it! How can people be so obsessed with such creepy demon-creatures? (Because seriously, anything that sounds like this clearly came to us from the fiery pits of Hell. Yeesh!) But, then a thing happened, and I met a man who loved cats with the same fervor with which I love dogs, and I knew we’d have to get one someday. I looked upon that day with dread for nearly five years until last October when it finally happened.
All my life, I’ve had and been closest to dogs. I’m that person who can meet a dog and most often immediately bond with it (But small dogs tend to make me fairly uneasy. I’d rather a Rottie over a Chihuahua any day). I just get dogs. Having developed an obsession with wolves when I was seven, I spent nearly all of my childhood and early teenage years reading every book I could find about them. I was most fascinated by wolf behavior: their social customs, their language, etc. I carried most of that knowledge over to dogs, which allowed me to read them pretty easily. I understand what they’re trying to say and what they’re thinking. I’m no dog whisperer, but I’m observant and have taken the time to really get to know how dogs tick.
But cats? Cats are pretty much the opposite for me. They’re these strange creatures that, despite being completely adorable, are so different from dogs that I’ve never been able to figure them out. You know those videos of sweet dogs trying to play with a cat and the cat beats the shit out of them for it? And the poor dog just sits there like “Wtf, bro?” That’s pretty much how I’ve always felt. All of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years about dogs does nothing when it comes to cats, and being in the dark with teeth and sharp claws can be pretty intimidating. Cats are alien creatures to me.
Very rarely as a child did I encounter cats, and when I did, they were always the hiders. It was so rare for me to ever see any of my friends’ cats, much less interact with them, that I became even more certain of the superiority of dogs. What’s the point in a pet that you never see? A dog is a companion, a cat is – I don’t even know – a ball of fur and sharp things that attacks at the drop of a hat, only allowing affection when they’re looking for it?
I mean, c’mon, think of dog owners versus cat owners and tell me which of those is always covered in bite and claw marks? Yeah, the cat owners. And despite being consistently beat on by “their precious little babies,” they still coo and spoil them. Delusional, right? Most definitely.
In addition to the biting and clawing, cats are always shredding your carpet and furniture, walking around your food preparation counters with poopy paws, spreading said poopy residue all over their bodies when grooming, and then laying on your pillow. Also, litter boxes. Those are just nasty. All around, they sound like a pretty poor choice of furry companion.
These were my thoughts last October when the opportunity to get a cat arose. My sister’s roommate found a little lost kitten out in the parking lot and decided the lot of them would adopt him. Unfortunately, there was a $200 penalty for having an animal, plus an additional $150 to have the apartment cleaned should they get caught. They had him for less than a week when my sister contacted me in a panic saying that there was an inspection coming up. I offered to take him for the day just to see how I could handle living with a cat. I knew that my boyfriend still wanted a cat, so a trial run seemed like the best way to go about it. If I could survive this one day, then we could possibly look into getting one.
My sister dropped him off and I spent the first hour and a half anxiously hovering over him as he sniffed around the apartment. When was the demon going to come out? When was he going to attack me or pee on things or rip our couch? Finally tired of following him around, and mostly convinced that he wasn’t going to do anything too awful without me noticing, I sat down on the couch to get some reading done. He immediately jumped into my lap, laid down, and promptly fell asleep.
And my Grinch heart grew three sizes that day.
While that action may have sown the seed, it certainly didn’t convert me just like that. After keeping him for a week (my sister and her roommates all ended up coming home for a three-day weekend), I decided that we would adopt him. He was the sweetest cat I’d ever met with absolutely no bad qualities. He ate what we fed him, he didn’t scratch things too often, he wasn’t spraying, and he was quite affectionate. He was a cat I could tolerate, so we named him Albus and properly welcomed him into the family with some fun new toys and his own little bed that he would never sleep in (I mean, why would you when you can have a box with a blanket?).
As if he were aware that he’d passed the trial period, Albus began showing his true colors. Suddenly, he was began to play aggressively and I quite swiftly began to backpedal. Like hell did I want a pet that bit and attacked with absolutely no notice at all! To put it simply, I was terrified of the little furball. While I’d always been uneasy of him, I was now properly scared, which only fueled his hunting desire. As pathetic and embarrassing as it is to admit, I spent many nights crying to my boyfriend about the whole ordeal. After the play aggression started, Albus began to prefer my boyfriend to me and I was crushed. I was the one doing most of the discipline (none of which worked—he doesn’t mind water in the least, and nothing you do with a dog works on him), and I was now worried that I’d ruined our relationship forever. I was stressed, I was sad, and I was constantly on edge every time he came near me.
I came close to giving him up, even though I knew it would break both of our hearts to do so.
But I didn’t give up. Instead, I vowed to learn as much as I could about him and his species in an attempt to better understand his actions. And it worked. While I can’t say that I get him as well as a dog, I can finally read him. I know when he’s about to play attack and I can usually gauge how hard it will be. I can see in the way he scrunches his nose and slightly frowns when he wants to sniff something I’m holding. I can tell when he’s getting bored with a certain play style and needs it to be switched up. Hell, I even know the way by which he wants things changed. I can read his emotions and his desires. For the first time in my life, I have knowledge at my side. Similar to how understanding of dogs has always allowed me to be comfortable with them, I now have an understanding of this cat. I know him, and not just in general terms, but I know him as an individual with a unique personality.
Mostly, what I know is that no matter what I do with my “superior” intellect, he will outsmart me every time.
To prevent him from crawling under the bed to scratch our brand new mattress, I got the bright idea to set a minefield of clear tape on the floor. For a while it worked, and I watched with satisfaction as he flew out from under the bed, twisting and rolling around in an attempt to get the tape off until, finally beaten, he’d come to me with the most piteous meow he could muster and I’d take it off.
For a bit there, everything was going well. He didn’t jump on surfaces, nor did he go under the bed for fear of tape, until one day he saw a used piece of tape in the trashcan. He dug it out very gently so it only barely touched his mouth, then used his paws to take it off and fold it in on itself. It wasn’t until he began reaching in for another one that I realized the possible significance of it and closed trash bag before he could get any more.
But it was too late. Moments later, he carefully crawled under the bed, picked up a piece of tape, and folded it over on itself. He then proceeded to systematically remove all of the tape in a similar fashion. I was stunned. Soon, this translated to table tape as well. He became an expert at not only removing it from his body, but then rendering it useless, rather than getting it stuck to another part of him like he used to.
In addition to learning how to defeat tape (which he now does at every opportunity should he happen across some—it’s become personal, apparently), he is trying to figure out doorknobs. Sometimes, when he gets to be too much and I’m trying to work, I’ll shut him out of the office, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get in. He runs down the hall, leaps at the door, and hangs from the doorknob. He knows that the knob is the way in, and sometimes I catch him studying me while I interact with it as he tries to figure it out. I have no doubt in my mind that someday the little bugger will succeed.
Despite all of this love and admiration that I feel towards him, and the fact that I spent far too long wishing we could adopt the little black kitten at the pet store adoption center last night, I’m still not really sold on cats. Yes, I’m sure we’ll get another one someday, but I can’t help feeling that cats just aren’t as well suited to life inside of a house as dogs are. You can’t let a cat run around outside unless you have some sort of run set up, otherwise you run the risk of it getting injured in a fight, hit by a car, or ingesting some sort of poison. You have to spend so much on converting your home into a cat-friendly place. In the case of Albus, I’m talking multiple cat trees, a million toys (he gets bored so easily!), and the time and energy that goes into preventing your cat from destroying your home (we have yet to win this battle).
Dogs were domesticated for the purpose of living with humans. They were designed to be our companions in a way that cats never were. While we lucked out with Albus (who, quite frankly, is at the other end of the spectrum—he always wants to be exactly where you are. Unless he wants to nap in the living room, and if so, he’ll cry and cry unless you come out there with him), most cats I’ve encountered are less social than dogs. The main reason we decided to keep Albus was because I could see more dog-like qualities in him, and they made me feel a little more comfortable.
I admire Albus for his cleverness (we managed to teach him how to politely ask to be put down as opposed to clawing and biting as his first choice), his curiosity, and his sweetness, but he still drives me mad. I’m convinced I’ll never sleep well again, since he has to sleep on my legs or stomach every night. How do you roll around at night when a cat always insists on sleeping right on top of you? (I would like to point out that he never does this to my boyfriend. Even when he’s sleeping, Albus does his very best to annoy me). And I love how silly and playful he is (I swear he comes up with a new game every couple of weeks. In his most recent game, he bolts down the hallway into the bathroom while I’m showering, then crouches there with his ears back and eyes wide until I open the shower curtain and say, “Boo!” After that, he bolts out of the room. Rinse and repeat until he’s tired.) But I stand by what I’ve said for years: as far as living in a house with people goes, dogs are simply better suited to domesticity.
I love Albus. Though he can be quite an annoying little twit, I love him with all my heart and no longer regret taking him in. But, just because I love one particular cat doesn’t mean I’ve been converted. I don’t love cats. I love a cat. And, maybe down the road, I’ll love a few others. If this means I must lose some of my geek cred, well, I’m okay with that. Because it’s not about what I love, but how I love it.