As I write this, Oliver is staring at me. I don’t know what he wants. I almost never know what he wants.
He’ll stare and then meow plaintively and I’ll check his food and see he’s got plenty to eat and drink. I’ll check his litter box and rid it of all its clumpy badness. I’ll bend down to play with him and he’ll scurry away annoyed. Then he’ll meow again -- clearly in need of something I lack the wisdom to identify and provide. It’s a game we play everyday.
I am not a cat person. Of all the qualities I look for in a pet, the ability to play mind games just isn’t one of them. I’m not in this for thrills and excitement, I just want to cohabitate with a living creature who adores me unconditionally and treats me like a living god. Is that too much to ask?
I love dogs. If I go to your house and you have one, I’m on my knees petting and playing with them before I’ve even taken my jacket off. If they’re barky or shy, I’ll spend the rest of the night trying to get them on my side and will feel genuine sorrow if I’m unable to convince them of my awesomeness by the time I leave.
I harbour no dog preferences. I love small dogs and big dogs, purebreds and mutts, furry and shaved, cute and ugly (I mean, is there anything cuter than an ugly dog? I DECLARE THERE IS NOT!). I love quiet, cool dogs; I love yappy, excitable dogs. To be in a room with one means feeling a kind of joy and sense of connection to the non-human world I can’t personally experience any other way.
Cats are OK. I guess. I can usually take or leave them.
Before Oliver, I had two previous long-term cat experiences and both were underwhelming. The first time I moved out I lived with a couple that owned a grouchy ball of grey fluff named Cassiopeia. Despite being the kind of cat you had to warn people about -- “She really doesn’t like to be touched” -- I managed to somehow get into her good books and could comfortably sit in her presence without fear of being attacked. Still, when that living situation imploded through our own collected angst and misery, I left her without a second thought.
A few years later, I decided to move to Vancouver. While searching for a place to stay, the door to the first apartment I went to was opened by an attractive young woman with modeling aspirations. We agreed to be roommates 10 minutes later.
She had three cats. One was a sweetheart, but the other two were essentially furry buzz saws. When that situation imploded through my inability to find a job and pay rent, I returned to Edmonton and found myself cat-less for the decade that followed.
During that time my pet needs were satisfied by Kaycee, a happy, if neurotic dog that adored me unconditionally and treated me like a living god, per the contract we had mutually agreed upon. A mutt with some Australian Heeler in her, Kaycee was the first dog I lived with who possessed a degree of actual intelligence.
Her predecessors had all been wonderful dogs, but were the canine equivalent of the dude who dies attempting to break the world record for longest continual bong hit. Kaycee, on the other hand, could have easily been the graduate of a charming, if expensive, liberal arts college with a master’s degree in guarding the alley beside the house and barking at the neighbour who always stubbornly refused to say “Hello!” to her.
Because she was such a bright, energetic dog, it was easy to spot the illness that slowed her down and kept her from coming when called. After one bad night last March, it became clear she had to be taken to the vet. She didn’t come back home.
Being able to compare it now, I can say that -- in my case -- the passing of a pet isn’t quite the same as that of a close human loved one, but it sucks catastrophically nonetheless and I decided time was going to be needed before I set myself up for it all over again. No more dogs for a while.
A short time after that, my sister-in-law’s uncle died unexpectedly. (For those keeping score, 2012 has not been a good time to be related to the Motts.) He had six dogs, one of which ended up being rescued from potential termination at the SPCA by Chris and Tonikka. This was great for Bo, but it sucked serious doggy dick for their cat, Oliver.
Bo -- a great big, fat mostly Border Collie -- is a kind, gentle, affectionate dog who is wonderful with children and so innately social he’s known to howl with despair if left alone for longer than 30 seconds. He’s a huge sweetheart. That is, unless there’s a cat in the room. In that case, he’s an insane killing machine.
And Oliver didn’t enjoy living in a house with someone who consistently tried to murder him on sight, so he hid away in the basement, avoiding all contact with the assholes who allowed that monster into his life.
Clearly this situation couldn’t be allowed to continue. Still not ready to do the dog thing again, I agreed to take in Oliver so he could have a whole home to himself and enjoy the freedom of not always almost being killed.
In the beginning, we kept our relationship nice and professional. I supplied him with food, cleaned out his litter box and honoured his distaste for being picked up and played with in any capacity. In return, he slept and mostly ignored me.
I had to admit that, as cats go, he was pretty cute and soft. Crazy soft. Like a skinny little cat pillow soft. And that made him a little more endearing than I expected.
Then a weird thing started happening. He began to occasionally acknowledge my existence. Mostly when I was clearly trying to do something else -- like write something or look at photos of British reality TV celebrities on the Daily Mail website. At those points, he would hop on the back of my chair and walk back and forth, brushing against the back of my head.
Sometimes when he did this I could actually hear a strange rumbly noise coming from somewhere within him -- one that suggested he actually found the whole process unusually pleasurable. I had, of course, heard of the concept of a cat purring, but this was the first time I had actually experienced it. For some reason he really loved brushing up against the back of my head. Almost as much as I enjoy looking at pictures of Amy Childs from “The Only Way is Essex.”
Then he started doing this thing where he would jump onto my chest and kneed my belly with his front paws for as long as I could stand it, as if he were the world’s most relentless feline stomach masseuse. He also went from being essentially mute to alarmingly vocal, as if I had officially become someone worth talking to.
He doesn’t adore me, unconditionally or otherwise, and obviously regards me more as a servant than a benevolent deity, but that hasn’t stopped me from developing feelings for him. Feelings I’ve never felt for a cat before.
I like him. He’s kinda cool.
I suppose I could take this and turn it into a whole thing about how if a confirmed dog person can open their hearts and allow themselves to acknowledge the potential worthwhileness of a cat, then anyone is capable of transcending their old prejudices, but I don’t see any reason to add any unnecessary depth and meaning to what this so clearly is -- a blatantly transparent excuse to share some cute animal pictures I had stored on my iPhone.