A few reflections after five months of living with (and somehow trying to raise) a kitten.
“My God, I’m about to adopt a cat. Wait, I don’t know the first thing about cats. What do they even eat? Mice, OK. But what do you feed them? Tuna?” – Realizing how terribly lost I was when it came to even the most basic questions of cat-raising, I did what I usually do in situations like this, and turned to a book. The book(*), it was soon to be called, as breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations with my girlfriend came to be increasingly dominated by what I had learned from its sacred pages.
A few weeks later, after devouring not only “the book” but also a ton of other resources, after trips to pet supply stores and dozens of discussions on the pros and cons of this or that cat food with my resident cat expert, I realized that I had moved far beyond the mice-or-tuna stage. (The taurine content and fat-to-protein ratio of specific cat foods were my daily bread and butter now.) I had acquired some knowledge, and, along the way, confidence. This might just work out. It was time for the real-life test.
Well. A few months into being a cat owner, it turns out I wasn’t quite prepared for what it is really like. I also realized early on that there was a lot more of learning to be done, but not, however, in ways that I had expected. The lessons I learned and that I continue to learn with our cat pretty much every day aren’t the kind you would find in books. This is why I’ve collected some of them here.
1. TV dinners are a thing of the past—mostly.
Forget slumping into the couch with your dinner, ready to watch the news or a movie. With a cat in your home you’re likely to spend more time fending the animal off from your plate than you are eating or enjoying whatever it is you’re trying to watch. Only if you prepare the ground very carefully (tire the cat out with some physical play, then feed her well right before your own meal) will you even get a shot at having a peaceful meal. But even then, expect the worst: Your food will always be more interesting than cat food—and be it only because it’s forbidden. Which leads us to the next point…
2. No matter how well you feed your cat, she will always find something more interesting to eat.
Surprisingly, this doesn’t only include your own dinner. Our cat will eat pretty much anything bite-sized that she finds lying about in the apartment. Or at least, she will take it in her mouth to assess whether it’s worth swallowing. This includes plant leaves, specks of dust, foil wrappings, and, a particular favorite, pieces of cardboard. The latter she even produces herself by ripping cardboard boxes into little mouthfuls.
3. There’s no need to spend money on cat toys (as long as you have cardboard boxes).
This is actual footage of our cat when left alone with a cardboard box:
Well, granted, it’s not actual footage. This, however, is an actual photo:
The point in both cases being: Cats LOVE cardboard boxes. So don’t take it personally if they snub those expensive toys you keep buying. They’ll probably check them out at some point. Once you’ve taken away all cardboard boxes within reach, that is. Or once they’ve destroyed them.
4. The vacuum is your best friend.
I wouldn’t consider myself a neurotic cleaner, but I have to say that I’ve grown very, very thankful for the invention of the vacuum cleaner over the course of the past few months. If the vacuum normally sat in its corner for up to a week or two in my pre-kitty days, waiting for its moment of glory, I now find myself whipping it out up to three times a day. If you’ve never had a kitten, you won’t believe how much of a mess they can make, and in how impressively little time. Do you have a spot somewhere in your lodgings – say, at the back of that old, heavy wardrobe, or under the couch – that you somehow clean less often than the rest of your place? Be sure that the cat is going to find exactly that spot—and that when she does, she will relentlessly roll around in the dirt, then spread it over the entire apartment. Once she’s done doing that, she might just take a bath in one of your flowerpots (or her cat toilet) before settling on your carpet. But the carpet might not be comfy enough, so she’ll try the sofa instead, rubbing some dirt into the pillows for good measure. You get the picture?
5. Never say never!
If I had gotten a dime for every time our cat did something that I had previously expressed she was never going to do, I’d be pretty well-off by now. More than a few times, we’ve found ourselves discussing whether this or that would be cat-safe, and finally deciding that it was, only to then see a minor catastrophe play out in front of our eyes a few minutes later. Now, I wouldn’t consider either my girlfriend nor myself entirely lacking in common sense. But a cat will exceed your expectations, no matter what they might be. If we thought something was safely stored away, the cat would actually wrestle for so long with the drawer or cupboard door that she would get access to whatever “it” was that we wanted to keep from her (no kidding!). The other day, we had friends over, and our cat was frantically chasing after a fly, very much to the delight of everyone present. When the fly at some point sat down on a lamp, one of our friends said, “Oh, but she is never actually going to jump at that lamp, is she?” – Well. What can I say? Never say never!
6. The concept of a love-hate relationship actually makes sense.
Perhaps the most bewildering part of my cat-owning experience is its emotional impact on me: Feeling love and hate for one and the same creature not precisely at the same time, but certainly in rapid succession, is actually possible. This might sound nonsensical (or, on the contrary, commonsensical, depending on your attitudes), but to me, it was hugely, massively confusing—and often still is. I’m happy to report, though, that I’ve gotten so used to many of Ginny’s more infuriating sides that I just don’t care enough anymore to hate her for them. After all, I’m sure she doesn’t mean anything by it… (or does she?). Better not overthink this and end with a corny-cutesie lesson:
7. A kitten will bring a lot of mess into your life… but also a whole lot of joy.
(*) In case you’re interested, “the book” was Cats for Dummies by Gina Spadafori and Paul D. Pion, and I can definitely recommend it – though probably only for people who, like me, start out knowing nothing about cats.