“You’re a crazy cat lady.”
Multiple friends have said this, posted it on my Facebook profile, told it to me in person. This was mostly after I adopted my second cat, Bacardi. (Mostly.) It’s a dark and slippery slope, everyone seemed to be saying. Before you know it, you’ll be living in a rundown house, with no friends, surrounded by forty cats who will eat you when you die. I think my friends have been watching too much “Animal Hoarders.”
So what, then, defines a crazy cat lady?
After all, I’m a young woman (with a boyfriend, if that needs to be a point); I go out with my friends; I have two jobs; I’m finishing up my master’s degree. Sure, I spend way too much money on cat food and sometimes talk for way too long about Smirnoff and Bacardi but—well, they fascinate me. It’s my inner zoologist that’s speaking, not my inner cat lady.
“You’re gonna adopt a third cat. Just wait.”
The Failed Prank
Last April Fools, I posted a photo of a cat at the shelter (it was an old photo, and the cat, Mrs. Pringles, had long since been adopted) with the caption:
Meet the newest member of my kitty family! Kahlua will be coming home with me today. So excited!!
A few of my friends got the joke – in fact, I didn’t think it was a particularly convincing prank, and yet I still had people three months later asking me, “hey, didn’t you get a third cat?”
Occasionally I try to explain myself. “No, I won’t become a crazy cat lady because:
- I only ever got a second cat because Smirnoff was high arousal and needed a playmate.
- Two is all I can afford.
- I’m allergic, and if I adopted any more I’d probably have an asthma attack and die.”
But more often, I just let it go. It’s difficult to explain that not only do I not think that two cats qualifies for crazy cat ladydom, but I don’t think three does either. Nor four, nor five. Not necessarily. It depends on the person, how much money and space they have to take care of the animals, and whether or not the care of those animals is significantly hindering other aspects of that person’s life, such as their health or social life.
No Such Thing as a Crazy Dog Lady
My sister owns two standard long-haired dachshunds. She has dachshund figurines on her mantel. She has a dachshund painting in the kitchen. She has a dachshund calendar on the fridge. She gets dachshund-themed birthday cards, Christmas cards—you name it. She even has a photo portrait of herself, her husband, and her first dachshund hanging on the wall. So why then is she not a crazy dog lady? She talks about her dogs just as much as I talk about my cats. Sure, she’s married, has a well-paid job, and a home. And yet, I’ve never heard anyone question her sanity when it comes to her pets.
So why then, are people (particularly women) who own more than one cat—even sometimes women who own only one cat—subject to this label of being “crazy”? Is it because the stereotype of a cat is one of solitude? And yet, according to the ASCPA, cats are the most owned pet in America. But you’ll never find cat owners banding together like you will dog owners. Perhaps it’s because we don’t take our cats to the park every evening, or because our cat will never get along with the neighbor’s. Regardless, it’s unreasonable to label me crazy simply because I love my pets.
The reason I’m so passionate about cats is because I want to be their advocate. It’s taken as part of the scenery that there are so many stray cats in this country—an animal that, like many of our domesticated species, isn’t native to this continent. And unlike dogs, a stray cat isn’t suddenly whisked away to a shelter, or a rescue, or a home. They are far more likely to be left alone, unwanted, often adding to feral colonies. They need help, and while there are people who are helping, there’s always more that can and should be done.
I love cats because they’re smart. Because when you try to communicate with one, or you try to train one, you have to treat it like an intelligent being or else it’ll see through you at once. They’re animals that expect you to learn their language, not the other way around. I love cats because their love for you isn’t guaranteed back; you have to earn it. And very often, a cat will surprise you by how forgiving it is, how trusting it is, and how pleased it is to have you in its life (yes, it’s their life, not yours). All of this is particularly endearing considering that for a domesticated animal, a cat is genetically closer to its wild ancestors than many other species.
So when I go on about my cats, or shelter cats, or anything else feline-related, it’s not a mark of “craziness.” It’s a passion born out of respect for another living creature. Just as it is with dog people. Or horse people. Or rabbit people.
The Need for a Community
None of my school friends volunteer at the shelter, so when I need to process the things that I’ve experienced, I have no one to talk to about it except other shelter volunteers.
“You can tell me things,” Cassandra has offered. “But only the good things.”
So I’m not allowed to tell you about someone pouring bleach all over their cat to try and kill it? Or the unwanted, ugly cat who was finally adopted by a little boy and his mother only to pass away a few weeks later?
“Er… a bunch of cats were adopted today.”
I understand people wanting to avoid the sometimes sad and unthinkable acts of human cruelty I’m exposed to in a shelter environment, particularly a shelter that does law enforcement and rescue. But if I don’t want to become “crazy” (i.e. my passion taking over other aspects of my life) then I need to have some type of support system in which I can talk about cats, that understands why they are so important to me, because they’re important to everyone else as well.
A Community of Cat Ladies
It’s summer, and a small group of shelter volunteers are collected on a porch in Boston, sipping wine and relaxing after a long day. We talk about some normal things: how work is going, how school is going, what vacations we have planned. But the majority of the time is spent talking about the one thing we all have in common: cats.
“I think we should try Mr. Whiskers up in the suite,” says one volunteer.
“I think he’s getting all riled up in his cage. He’d thrive in more space.”
There’s some discussion on this, and then another person asks: “How did Prince do in playgroup? Does he like other cats?”
But more than it being a forum for communication about goings-on at the shelter, it’s also a place where we can grieve, celebrate, ask questions, and share stories.
“Smirnoff and Bacardi are food fiends,” I say. “I can’t get them to stop stealing it!”
“My cat does that too. Have you tried tupperware?”
A cat is brought out onto the porch, while another is inside hiding under the bed. Everyone present has adopted their cats, mostly from the shelter, a few of them taking cats that were unadoptable to the public for behavioral or medical reasons.
Here is where my inner crazy cat lady is considered to be just a normal cat lady. I’m the youngest of the group, with a fifty-year difference between myself and the oldest. And whenever I find myself sitting on the porch, or at a restaurant celebrating another volunteer’s birthday, or scanning through dozens of emails on my computer, I know something that no one outside of this circle knows: the cats of Boston are so lucky to have these women (and men) on their side.
Even if everyone else thinks we’re crazy.