Confessions of a (Kinda Sorta) Cat Lady

Why is it that people think women who own dogs are cool but women who own cats are just a little bit crazy?
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I only have the one and she's a rescue so it's okay. So goes the party line. Five years ago a pregnant cat was abandoned and locked in a North Carolina warehouse, where she gave birth to a small litter of kittens. For days the kittens survived without food or water before being discovered by a friend who knew exactly where the pictures of these destitute fur balls should be sent. By the next week I had a gray tabby with snowcapped paws peering at me from the laundry basket in the closet. I named her Mabel after a store that once existed on Madison Avenue in New York City. The store -- itself named for the owner's cat -- dealt exclusively in overpriced feline-themed merchandise. And it did so with no sense of irony whatsoever. There were cat-head mugs and wide-brimmed hats with knit Persians curled on their brims and museum-size oil paintings of cats lounging in the branches of an oak tree. I know, I can't believe it went out of business either. It was a retail Mecca for crazy cat people. I'm fighting the urge to call it a "Meowca" although, frankly, the store's owner probably would have wanted me to.

There is no such thing as a crazy dog person in this country. Are there people who are completely insane about their dogs? Hordes. But cats have unfairly become symbolic of a certain lifestyle that includes staying home, eating ice cream and watching movies on Lifetime. I chalk this up to the fact that cats and their owners are on a private, exclusive loop of affection. After all, cats don't have other cat friends. You can't take them to the cat run or go on a kitty jog through the closest state park. For women -- especially single women -- a cat's lack of social need taps straight into our worst fears about our own potential hermit tendencies. Cats represent the danger of growing so independent you no longer know how to need anyone.

How did this happen? For as long as I can remember, dogs have been the default and cats the deviant strain. In other words, if you are by all accounts normal, you'd be interested in petting any mutt that crosses your path. Dogs live their lives on display; they are flashy creatures, status symbols. Their breeds are well publicized and subject to trend, their owners bear a resemblance to them and vice versa. It's why cat people compliment their cat's personality when they say it's doglike but a dog owner would never flatter her dog by calling him catlike.

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Continued on page 2:  The Upside of Cat Ownership


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