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Cats on One Side, Dogs on the Other
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Well, that is an easy one. I have never connected to dogs other than a remote way. Many of my most fundamental decisions in life have been made by my sense of smell.

I don’t like the smell of wet fur. I don’t like the smell of dog breath. And needless to say, dog poop is quite aromatically powerful and repugnant.

Probably my second-most discerning sense in this regard is hearing. Oh my gosh, the yapping and barking. I have traumatic stress around loud noises, over-exposed to them over far too many years. It’s a deal breaker.

As I write this, I feel guilty for a moment, imaging beautiful and fetching blue eyes of a fluffy cock-a-poo, or such. I know, primarily because of my partner’s affection towards the dogs of her friends, that dogs have much to recommend them.

But my nose made a decision early on. I tend to stick with my nose. Maybe my olfactory sense is somehow mislocated in my brain, substituting for my prefrontal cortex, but here I am.

Cats made, overall, a late entry into my life. One partner had a very shy cat. We were in a busy house with two kids (not mine) in joint custody going back and forth. Flower, already timid, was terrified with all our physical moves, new and different people in the apartment, and just, well, two kids. She hid in the closet most often. There were times I felt like joining her, so I often would get her to come out, and at least spend a little time with me. I know fear all too well.

We had a melancholy but warm sympatico with each other. I grieved more than you would think when Flower died. The four of us snuck off to do a surreptitious burial in the feral part of the park nearby. It was risky, there was a road on the levy above us. I suppose someone could have dialed in it. Then again, cars mostly go too fast to notice anything.

Just as we put her into the ground, I burst into song, and on the spot composed a eulogized melody for Flower. In my mind she was courageous, beautiful, tender and sensitive.

To my partner and her two children, though, Flower was an afterthought, a duty, a being they had to drag along from former chapters of their life out of obligation. In short, they thought my song was more than a little weird. In part because of the lyricism of my impromptu but surprisingly inspired lyrics, but more because of the passion behind them.

I guess that was a signal, if I could have seen it, that the relationship between the four of us was on different tracks. Sure enough, mutual termination of my relationship with E. came around in a year or so, changing the seasons of all our lives. It was better for the kids/ A head strong mom, a headstrong stepmom, and a real dad who was both immensely intelligent and immensely befuddled was more than enough. It was simpler for them all that I opted out of the mix. Maybe better for me, too.

But that is not the end of the story of cats in my life. Subsequent partners have seen me as a cat person. A good description. I see cats as persons, with rights and feelings no less important than our own. It is a safe investment, even though, one of my current charges, Max, loves to poke me in the face repeatedly with his sharp claws.

It is a safe investment, but not undemanding. Cats grow old. Cats die. I have buried four cats since Flower, and each clod of earth placed over them meaningful. I nursed a cat into a relatively stately elder life, medicating her with four syringes with three different medications twice daily. It was stressful not because I hated it, but because she did. But she tolerated me. She trusted me. She relied on me to do the right thing. And I think she knew that I did do the right thing. And that is worth a lot, when a being that can’t even properly talk to you, lets you know that the difficult is also sometimes the best for all concerned.

I’m sure that dogs do the same for many, many people, and perhaps ever more articulately and poignantly; certainly, more directly. But I like “the silence of the cats.” It leaves room for interpretation. And, as my favorite quote goes: “Does not everything depend upon our interpretation of the silence around us?”

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