Irrational, understandable.

Writer Neil Gaiman has been sleeping in his attic the past two nights with his dying cat Zoe. He’s also driving through a snow storm to pick up Zoe’s other parent for a final visit.  Writing about the experience, he wonders “what it is about this small blind cat that inspires such behaviour.” A question I expect many people sharing living space with an animal might have asked themselves late at night.

I can recall three periods of my life when I haven’t lived with a dog (including now); each such period is characterised by a feeling of longing, that admittedly makes little sense when read objectively. Dogs are a lot of work. They interrupt one’s own work with their incessant need to go “out” at regular intervals. If not taken out, they make a mess of things inside — either chewing one’s favourite books, computer, clothing, [insert treasured object of choice] — or leaving the more obvious sorts of messes. When taken outside, they tend to get into a mess anyways, rolling in substances you’d rather not think of, and galloping through any water they can sniff out. Dogs often smell bad. They typically harbour embarrassing obsessions with food. It’s not rational to miss living with dogs, is it? But I do.

Further irrationalities: in the summer, my father, an inveterate disliker-of-cats, brought home an older kitten that had been hanging about his office. The animal, whom I nominated “Infiltrator Kitten”,  was obviously malnourished, but otherwise bore none of the marks of a feral cat (she was affectionate, already litter trained, and had a taste for potato chips).  Her ravenous appetite soon showed itself to be the effect not only of starvation, but also of the collective appetites of several cats-to-be in her insides.  It was the less epic version of the invasion of Troy, really. From mid-August to late October my dog-loving parents and their cat-loathing golden retriever were the guardians of an army of eight cats, all of which they placed in homes.

Celia, one of Infiltrator Kitten’s offspring, has been living with me for four months now. A fact which means she’s lived with me for all but one month of her life. I was around the day she was born; I returned her to her mother when she found herself having crawled blindly too far away; I sat very still on the floor as she tried to learn how to walk (using my jacket and jeans as practice ground instead of the slippery hardwood floor). Now she keeps me company in the many many hours I spend on my own, reading, writing papers (time which far outweighs the time I spend actually out with people, in class). Sometimes she sits on my knee, or beside the computer keyboard — occasionally pawing the pages as I turn them, or pressing keys (she loves F1), goading me into play. If I’m very busy, she curls up beside me, or, more frequently, across my neck, and sleeps until I take a break. If I shut off my alarm in the morning in an attempt to sleep in, she pounces on me, or licks my nose, until I wake up properly.

Jesse (who also adopted one of the kittens) and I occasionally talk about animal love.  Animal love is undoubtedly different from people love. (It has to be, doesn’t it, given the power relationships at work in domestication?) Like people love, however, animal love involves the act of opening one’s everyday life to (an)other. A close, nuanced, and powerful relationship can result. And sometimes it takes the form of “irrational” responses that, nonetheless, make sense to the people who live with these animals.

All of which is a complicated way of saying I’m sorry to read about Gaiman’s cat.

23 January 2010 ~ Hamilton


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