Cats, unlike dogs, don’t pursue your affection. They won’t sacrifice their own dignity for your attention, and they will refuse to engage in anything that endangers their ego, pride or public-facing image. And it will always, always, do whatever the fuck it wants.
A cat won’t sully itself for your love. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want it. A cat will sit by the window sill, on a perch, somewhere removed, yet still present. Does it hide away under a bed? Does it escape and run as far away as possible?
No, it stays nearby, but just out of reach. Aside from food, engagement with you is on its terms, and only on its terms. And if food is involved, if the cat’s very survival is in your hands, well then yes, they’ll engage with you. A cat will harass you, make noise, follow you and be in your face, even giving you loving attention, because they want food. Once they get it, they are ungracious and ungrateful, going back to doing whatever the fuck they want. You haven’t earned their love simply because you control their survival, you’ve only earned engagement.
But you can earn their love. It just takes years, and you’ll only ever know because they haven’t run away. It won’t be something that you feel every day. A cat’s love is something you’ll only know by its proximity to you. If it stays near you and allows you to love it, then you’ve earned your place with them.
A cat cannot change its nature, nor would it ever want to. It is what it is and it doesn’t even have pride in what it is because that would suggest it has built itself into something or gone through some sort of transformative process. No, a cat is the most supreme arrogance. A cat doesn’t change or grow into anything that you’ll be able to quantify. They’ll never be or do anything purely for someone else’s benefit.
A cat is self-serving, self-absorbed, arrogant and removed. But you can love a cat. You can love it with your whole heart, regardless of anything it is, or does or doesn’t do. You can give all your love to a cat and at the end of their too-short lives never really know the depths of their love for you, or if they even did at all.
Loving a cat is more about you than it is about the cat. It says more about the person you are, the heart that you have that you choose to open up and give to this animal that is incapable of giving back equally in return.
Often, there are even multiple households that will love one cat. If that cat shows up at just the right time in any given window sill, sliding glass door, or even front stoop, they’ll receive a greeting and be welcome in some random home. They’ll come when called, no faster or slower than anywhere else, regardless if they’re being called “Bootsie”, “Bonbon”, “Banjo” or “Buttons”. They’ll show no more love or loyalty to their original “owner” than the retired gent two doors down that puts out the expensive tinned food and then goes inside and leaves it the hell alone.
A cat doesn’t want to be around you if you’re too affectionate, smothering it in your love. A cat will seem to want to be around someone who doesn’t want it around at all, finding the random in the crowd that’s allergic, or claims to not be a Cat Person. They sense the challenge, and pursue it. The same as having to earn your place with them, they’ll endeavour to earn favour from someone removed from them. Someone that’s not a push-over. Someone that’s not going to make it easy on them. Someone that doesn’t need them.
Because that’s the easiest for a cat. To not need and to not be needed. Then everything that happens in the relationship is more dignified. The transactional nature of their interactions will be to feed their ego, if not their bellies. They’ll respect you more the more you respect them.
For these people, the cat will appear to have more affection, loyalty, love. But at the end of the day, no matter who you are, or how you are, none of you will ever truly control a cat. It will always do whatever the fuck it wants, serving its own interests first and foremost. And if it appears to be doing something for you, be that a gift of a dead mouse or gentle licks on the back of your hand, it’s ultimately for the benefit of the cat. The gift is so you’ll keep feeding and housing them. They lick your hand because they want you to pet them. They follow you around the house until you feed them. They are always, always, looking out for themselves.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t love you, and it doesn’t mean you’re a fool for loving them. Because while you can’t know what their love truly looks like, you know what your own does. How it feels to love that cat. Even how it feels to share that cat, to know that others are loving it and it might be loving someone else despite the depth and breadth of the love you give.
Loving a cat says more about you than it does the cat. But if something can be said about the cat that all of you loved, it’s that this particular cat seemed to find pretty good people who gave their love. Even if every memory shared is in some way an example of the aloof, removed, self-absorbed nature that is inherent to a cat, the fact that whomever sharing it had such an open heart and so much love to give says a lot.
And it says more about you than it does the cat.