To get a cat or not get a cat

Post Title: To get a cat or not to get a cat

A month or so ago a friend received an angry email from her neighbor. He flung this epithet at her: “It’s no wonder you ended up a fat spinster living alone.” He managed to include all the worst things you can call someone in one sentence: fat, unmarried, and living alone! Of course, we all laughed when we heard this: when was the last time you heard the word ‘spinster’? (Or ‘bachelor’ for that matter?) The one thing he left out was the cat.

What cat? you ask. While researching the word ‘spinster’ Google supplied me with over 400,000 hits that contained both ‘spinster’ and ‘cat’. The world apparently still tells us that unless you are happily partnered up and living with her/him/them, you will end up lonely with only a cat for company.

I haven’t (yet) read even one book on living alone (although I promise you I will, because I intend to review a bunch in order winnow out a few worth reading for those who might be interested). I am willing, however, to bet you more than one of the many books available advises you to get a pet.

I am not unsympathetic—when I was divorced the last time, I do remember falling back into a black hole of despair—all alone again! But of course that loneliness was just illusion: I didn’t happen to have a romantic/sexual relationship at that moment, but I was surrounded by companionship and love. And even at that time, the problem seemed to me not that no one loved me, but rather that I had no one to love.

Which leads me back to cats. We may dread living alone, thinking, “Oh no, so it has come to this, I am going to end up a cat lady.” (This delusion is as silly as another one that says you are going to end up a bag lady.) It’s conventional wisdom that people who own pets are healthier mentally and physically than those who don’t (whether they are partnered/room-mated or not); some science backs this up. Other science says having a cat does nothing for you. But consider the emotional/spiritual angle that Elise Stuart points out in her poem:

“How It Begins, How It Ends”

start loving right away in the morning
realizing this day is the only one you’ll get.
contemplate, drink tea, read in the sun,
make a story, write it down,
wash the dishes,
sit on the swing,
follow the moon’s path
through the branches of the apricot tree.

keep loving far into the night,
even in your dreams.
feel the cat against your back.
imagine yourself living inside
a passionflower, a star, a sound.
now you exist everywhere—
quiet joy, your song

(More lovely poems like this one can be found in her book Another Door Calls.)

So far I sound solidly pro-pet. But I strongly believe: it depends. This blog asserts that while living alone is a fact, loneliness is transient and mostly a self-imposed illusion. Therefore we don’t really need a pet to keep us company.

I don’t own a cat or dog myself (although I love borrowing my friends’ dogs if they need a sitter for short periods). However, I am gone so much out of the city, out of the country and just plain out of the house that it doesn’t make sense for me to permanently acquire, instead of rent from friends, a four-footed companion.

I certainly understand if you want to have a pet to love. But subsequent blogs will illuminate how selfish I am and this bears on my decision. Even the idea of having to be home at a fixed time to feed someone else (let alone pay their medical bills) feels like too much of an obligation. I’m not yet grown up enough to hold up my end of a relationship with a feline, canine or even reptilian roommate. Maybe when I am older and wiser, but not yet—I’m only 74, after all.

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One Reply to “To get a cat or not get a cat”

  1. I think sometimes people jump too quick into pet ownership — “I’m lonely, I need someone/something to love me” and not enough about the reciprocal nature of needing to take care of the other and what their/its needs are. You looked at your lifestyle and weighing everything realized it would be selfish to have the pet because you would be gone a lot even though you like pets. To me you were being unselfish because you also looked at the pet’s needs, not just your own. More people should do that. Then you wouldn’t have a bunch of chihuahuas (or other purebred) suddenly at filling shelters because they are no longer in fashion.

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