All I Really Need To Know I Learned From My Cats

IMG_5385As a kid, I never really owned a pet, a real pet like a cat or a dog. We had the odd goldfish brought home in a plastic bag from birthday party, and those strange tiny sea monkeys we ordered from a comic book. We briefly had a pair of gerbils that escaped under my parents’ antique bookshelves once too often. I assumed I’d continue this trend once I became a mom, though I sought to make up for it by bringing home the class rabbit, or taking my kids to see newborn pups, or babysitting my neighbor’s clutch of chickens. Animals were a lot of work. They were messy, and smelly, and needy. I was very clear that I didn’t need more complexity in my life. Right about this time, two kittens were abandoned on a doorstep and my kids begged me to take them in. “No way,” I said, “it’s not happening, I’m allergic to cats, let’s go for ice-cream.”

It’s been five years now since we adopted Poppy and Prince. They are outside cats, which is possible here in Southern California, though they have an insulated cedar cabin complete with a warming mat. Poppy is a scraggly, obsessive-compulsive creature. He’s always shadowing me about, harassing me for food. If I’m in my office, he’s there on the fence, meowing in rhythmic intervals like an alarm clock without a snooze button. If I move to the kitchen, there he is, framed in the window, intently licking his anus while I’m trying to cook. If I sneak to the living room, not daring to open the blinds, I hear him, an insistent scritch-scratch at the screen. He’ll break in at every opportunity. Just this morning, I discovered vicious slash marks on a bag of kibble. Let me be clear, he gets plenty of food, and the good, grain-free, high quality stuff. Yet, he always agonizes about his next meal and prowls about, getting into scuffles with rival cats.

Prince, on the other hand, is fluffy and fat. Nothing will pull him from a slumber except for the sound of his food bell ringing, and even then, he can’t seem to muster the energy to jump the fence. He’ll wait to be lifted over. Once in a while, he may channel his inner tiger to swipe at a butterfly. If he misses a meal or his sibling steals his food, he’ll sit there like sphinx, slowly blinking, knowing that at some point, more salmon pâté will be served. When a squirrel races by, having stolen an avocado from our tree, he may give brief chase to show who’s boss, then he’ll plop down with a yawn and doze off. Occasionally he’ll get locked in the neighbor’s garage, but even that doesn’t faze him.

Poppy and Prince are brothers, and they looked very similar as kittens, but their personalities have influenced the way they’ve grown into adults. Poppy has a lot of health issues. Fleas, worms, parasites, you name it, he’s the one we’re carting off to the vet. Prince, on the other hand, is glossy and robust. I believe it all comes down to their world view. Poppy is always searching, always wanting, always worrying, whereas Prince is content with whatever life brings. He trusts in the day. Even if he spends two nights shut away in the garage, he knows we’ll come looking for him. Life brings hard times, but so does it bring the good. Worry wreaks havoc on the body. Better to be like Prince and trust. Receive the gifts of the day. Frolic in the rosemary. Find a sunny spot and sleep.

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