I Have Learned To Not Detest Cats
How would you feel if you suddenly grew a third arm?
I did not grow a third arm.
But I no longer detest cats. For me, that is as astonishing a reversal of a lifelong antipathy as a third limb would be.
For decades, I could count on writing an “I hate cats” column as I dug out the cat doo-doo from beneath our shrubs and around our house, even though we never had cats that roamed outside.
During those decades, I was a “townie,” having lived in Erie, in the Akron-Canton area of Ohio, in Warren, in DuBois and in Brookville.
Every spring, the routine would recur: Mow, mow. Rake, rake.
Reach in, hopefully with gloved hands, to clear away the stuck bunches of winter detritus up against the latticework beneath the porch or below the gnarled roots and branches of shrubbery.
Cat doo-doo where cats ought to don’t-don’t.
I hated it. I hated the smell, the mess and the necessity of cleaning up after animals I did not own.
I also love dogs. To dogs, it doesn’t matter if you were grumpy yesterday. Dogs live “in the now,” according to Cesar Millan, the “dog whisperer” of TV fame. They do remember, but they don’t seem to worry about anything that isn’t right in front of them. When I had “inside” dogs, they would wag, whine, drool, jump, wiggle and, I swear, smile every morning as I came downstairs.
Our one “inside cat” just sat there and stared.
If I came downstairs in the dark, as I had to do for predawn work hours, the “inside cat” would tangle itself between my feet, causing me to trip dangerously on the stairs, then zoom off. When I turned on the light, the cat would be reclining atop the back of the couch with an insouciant “Got you again!” look on its face.
I hated cats, because I saw no good use in them, and detested their doo-doo where it ought not to be.
Then I moved to the country pursuant to my remarriage. Here, neither cats or dogs live “inside,” unless family members bring their pets along for short visits. Both species live outside.
And, lo and behold, cats are useful!
That had been my biggest gripe, a total lack of usefulness on the part of cats. At least, I argued, dogs gave me free and enthusiastic affection. My cat-loving daughters pointed out that they got affection from cats, and the reason that I did not was because cats could sense my hatred and they returned it, and then some.
Today, our cats live in our barn located perhaps 100 yards from the house. They also patrol around the house as well as further afield in search of rodents and other prey.
Because they have such a large area at their disposal, they don’t dispose doo-doo beneath house shrubs in nearly the concentrations I used to encounter from neighbors’ cats and stray cats when I lived in town.
And, lo and behold! We have few mice, moles, voles, red squirrels and other varmints.
Yes, in the fall, a few field mice do make their way into our house via the gaps in the century-old foundation stones. Mousetraps baited with peener butter quickly perform their executions. The vast majority never make it past the patrolling felines.
It is true that our barn cats are not affectionate. They don’t cuddle with me. I can live with that.
I don’t give them names, because living in the country has taught me to never give names to animals we might eat (chiefly chickens) or to animals that might fall victim to motor vehicles, hawks, eagles (Yes, that happened last year) or other rural hunters.
Because they are not named, I do not expect affection.
I do expect cats to work, just as the dogs do their work by keeping varmints at some distance from the chickens, and keeping deer away from our gardens, shrubs and several hundred blueberry bushes. (Yes, hundreds. For the “why,” see “wife.”)
Out here, dogs and cats alike do the work that justifies our feeding them. Dogs give the extra benefit of affection, but both species make our home more livable.
“Get AWAY!” I used to shout, at the foot-tangling “inside” cat or the neighbors’ shrub-defiling “roaming” cats.
Now, each morning, I murmur, “Hello, there” as the cats congregate on the rafters of the lower barn, waiting for the dogs to finish their own meals and leave the barn along with me for our morning walk. Then they descend, to eat, and later to roam, and hunt, and be useful.
I no longer detest cats.
I don’t have a third arm, either.
Good grief! Perhaps I am … normal?
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.