I’m a dog person. I admit it. My appreciation for their unabashed acceptance and displays of love has only deepened in my soul over a lifetime of connection to those dogs we have adopted into our family, those I have known through friends, extended family, or have written about. Recently, I experienced an affair of the heart of a different kind. I fell in love with my first cat. During a recent stay, where I was responsible for the caretaking of this gorgeous gray feline with brilliant white accents on his face and belly, I gained a new respect for the balance of autonomy and jockeying for affection this particular cat maintained during my visit. He drew me in; he left me wanting to be the cool person he yearned to be near.
The first few days in the house, I would see this bundle of fluffy observation in the corner of a room I was in, offering a level of reserved acceptance that I was there, but with no real interest in my petting or acknowledging him. I was in charge of feeding him, cleaning his litter box, and I figured, that must count for something! Dogs generally adore the person who prepares their meals and snacks, so maybe this would be the case with this cat. I stole a chance to pet this fifteen pound boy’s back when I walked past him, but never did I think it would go further than that.
One night, I was fighting through fitful sleep when my heart skipped a beat as I heard what sounded like a haunted creeping in the bedroom. My mind raced but landed on the notion that cats are stealth where dogs announce their comings and goings in various and obvious ways; tags jingling, playful barking or the rhythm and thumping of their steps. In moments, I realized a cat was standing on my side looking down upon me like a mountain lion atop a high cliff at the opening of “Wild Kingdom.” Before I could get out a proper hello, I heard what sounded like a small motor emanating from this compact body. “You’re purring,” I said out loud in the stillness of the night, as if the piercing, green- eyed stare would be broken with the words: “Yes, Caryn. That is what I’m doing.”
And this happened night after night but along with the motor sound of purring, came the “kneading” of my skin on my upper arm, or the crook of my neck. I had no idea what this was but intuition told me it was good, and that maybe I was passing muster. I have since learned that the purring, and nestling close to me, the kneading as though I were dough for this cat’s next culinary creation before he fell back to sleep, was a high form of flattery. I was able to kiss him on the head, on the nose, or hold his head in my hands and lovingly tell him what a good boy he was. I gave up wanting this feline ball of independence- disappearing for hours a day only to emerge in time for a snack out of his bowl- to be a dog. He played a little hard to get and it worked. But, when he gave, it was because he was compelled to. When I left, he looked at me without turning away first. His stare stayed with me out the door and on my way home. I had, in fact, become cool enough for him to want to hang around with. And, we will again.