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I am a cat parent: How I became a cat person


Today we’re launching Petfinder’s new initiative — I am a Cat Parent — a campaign to break down the stereotypes about cats, the people who love them (read, we’re not all just crazy cat ladies) and prove that anyone can love a cat. (Check out the great video by the Petfinder Foundation above.)

As a little kid, I never really saw the point of cats. Sure, they were cute, but they also had claws that they seemed to use at random. You didn’t take them for walks. You couldn’t play tug or fetch with them. And they didn’t seem particularly cuddly.

Since our campus cat was before I had a camera phone, this is the only photo I have.

Of course, my exposure to cats as a little kid was mainly barn cats, not house cats. I had one experience cuddling a cat and that led to the little barn kitten kneading my thumb — and not retracting his claws. This led to the poor kitten being torn off my thumb by my riding instructor and me needing to get a tetanus shot since I was in a stable at the time. I avoided cats for a while after that.

It was as a freshman in college, having dinner at my friend Ted’s house, where I learned what had actually happened. In my mind, that kitten had simply decided to attack out of nowhere and attempted to cause as much pain as possible. Talking to Ted, as he tried to convince me that the rumbly car noise coming from his cat was a sign the cat was happy, I found out that the kitten was likely just kneading my hand out of pleasure and was too young to know he was hurting me or how to retract his claws once I starting crying (I do not deal well with physical pain now, I was much worse as a child). I started to think these little fuzzy creatures might not be randomly evil, but I still wasn’t sure I understood them as pets. They had that reputation of being aloof. Obviously Ted’s very social cats were simply outliers, not normal cats.

Then there was sophomore year and the campus cat we began feeding. I learned that cats are lactose intolerant but you’re not supposed to just crush a lactose pill into a plate of milk for the cat (I’m also lactose intolerant and so had many of those pills around the apartment). We soon went from feeding this campus cat to opening the door of our ground-floor apartment and seeing if she would come inside (she would, she was a very friendly campus cat), and eventually letting her play in the apartment. We even kept our window screen off for a few nights in a row, locking the window at a height where a cat could squeeze in and out but a human couldn’t. I still remember waking up terrified when there was a thump and a large weight landing on my legs — thankfully before I could scream I recognized the shining eyes and happy purr of our beloved campus cat.She eventually left us for greener pastures (we hope, I do actually wonder what happened to that cat and wish I’d known then what I know now about helping stray cats), but she had won me over to realizing why people liked these animals. They still didn’t seem quite like dogs, but they were awfully sweet and friendly if you knew how to read their body language, and incredibly calming when you were stressed about boys or schoolwork.

Then I moved to DC. My new roommate came with two cats, Toby and Abby. Abby was around two and Toby was just four months old. She had adopted Toby from a shelter near her college to be a friend to her cat, Abby. I still knew very little about cats, but I liked Abby and Toby. Abby took her time deciding if she liked me. Toby immediately decided I was interesting and someone he liked.

When my roommate and I parted ways, I was worried. I’d grown attached to Toby. He would greet me at the door, sleep in my room and follow me around the apartment. I’d started volunteering at my local animal shelter and used the dog-training skills I’d learned to teach Toby to sit when requested. I was okay losing my roommate and even okay losing Abby (I liked Abby and she gave me my share of flank rubs and head butts, but it was clear she really loved my roommate). Thankfully, just as I was seriously contemplating how much money to offer my roommate to keep Toby, my roommate asked if I wanted to keep Toby. “He hasn’t really bonded with Abby and he just seems to prefer you,” she told me. I was ecstatic and within a week had made a full vet checkup appointment and taken him to the shelter for a cheap microchip. I also had learned that cats in soft carriers should not be placed on your lap in the car unless you want to show up soaked in cat pee.

gray cat curled up

I’m so glad I’m a cat parent and get to see Toby like this every day.

Toby has now been with me for three job changes, one new boyfriend (who now loves Toby as his own, as you can see in our gallery of proud cat dads), two apartments and countless other ups and downs. Toby has taught me that cats are so much more than I ever imagined as a little kid. Although he’s not a huge fan of his harness and leash, I’m sure if we worked more at it, he’d go for walks if it was important to us. He loves to play as much as any dog I’ve known. He isn’t a lapcat, but he is definitely affectionate. And although he’s brilliantly unique in who he is and his particular personality, I know that he’s not the only cat with some or all of those attributes. Toby is my inspiration for helping other pets — cats and other species.

Toby is also why I’m so excited about I am a Cat Parent. I used to have a lot of misconceptions about cats which I now know are wrong. I used to think that I wasn’t a cat person. I was wrong. I totally love cats, I just needed to learn more about them and meet the right cats. If you think you’re not a cat person, or have friends who say that they aren’t cat people — please look through our I am a Cat Parent materials. We have galleries, articles and infographics all to illustrate what I never would have thought was true just a decade ago — anyone can love a cat.

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