The Virtues of Purring

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of love … not because I’m having marital problems or anything like that. Rather Patrick and I have been considering taking in a pet, a cat to be more precise.

But I’ve been watching cats closely lately to evaluate what might either be a prejudice toward kitties or an abhorrence for having to take a dog out for walks. Patrick and I are currently courting a kitty who lives nearby somewhere with a fantastic personality. He’s playful, cuddly, squeaks lightly instead of yowling, and he’ pretty. Unlike the other humans in our building courting the same cat, we open the front door to this one — and he comes running in, comfortable and expectant as he can be. He goes right to “his” food bowl, nibbles a bit, and then fearlessly and nonchalantly roams through the house, returning periodically to his food bowl as though this would be his triangulatory point of reference. (We watch him like a hawk, however, since he comes fully and surgically untouched.) He even resists our taking him to the door. But this cat goes from door to door, nibbling at all the bribes or offerings or whatever they are.

The other night, I was over for din din at a friend’s house with his two cats. The cats came out to be sociable … to a point: no one else but the host (aka, “daddy”) would they allow to touch them. But for him, they’d jump in his lap, nuzzle in, and be splendid cat prototypes. There was something here I needed to include in my calculation of whatever formula I was reaching for.

Another friend of mine told a story of her absent kitty diving through the window at the sound of the opening food stores, lazing around a while in seeming perfunctory gratitude, and then disappearing. Disappearing to a neighbor’s house where he enjoys what appear to be other comforts that he prefers over those of his presumptive “owner.” I had seen the same behavior of other neighbors’ cats and wondered: if the cats I have had in the past had been allowed outside of the domestic domain, would they too have behaved similarly? An emotion swells in me, one of jealousy (where jealousy contains as a major components resentment and apprehension about the solidity of the relationship). I realize viscerally that I expect a certain measure of, is it loyalty?

Is that fair to expect of a cat? One of the words we humans use to qualify an aspect of our relationship with animals is ‘owner’. Now, I have seen some relative of this word when it comes to “love” relationships or wanted love relationships between humans, where exclusivity is a common ingredient. With ownership comes a measure of responsibility to care for, attend, etc. that which is “owned.” But does that one side of the relationship necessarily obligate the “owned” to demonstrate some sort of appreciation beyond a certain level of behavior required to encourage the continuance of owner ministrations? Being cynical about anthropomorphizing cat ethics, I must find ways around the suspicion of prostitutorial collusion.

I think back to that night at my friends house. His cats showed him a type of exclusivity that they did not allow for other people. My first thought was that they were being shy or skittish or snobby or some other label I can’t find right now to pinpoint the alternative. Or maybe love is depth of familiarity that includes behaviors reserved for any beloved. Or maybe it’s a concentration of behaviors characterized as affection experienced over enough time to ossify itself into being a discrete noun that we can observe and address like a sacred artifact. Affection, loyalty, exclusivity, not collusion but … ah … relationship.

The term relationship includes in its comprehension a notion of contract, agreement, and rules of engagement. We can shape terms of the relationship any way that is mutually agreeable; but I tried that once, and it didn’t work. Something deeply assimilated within me superimposed expectations that called BS on trying to deviate from some target that this one relationship was purported to fulfill. But an affection-based relationship can’t be all that hard — plenty of people do it. What is required is to understand how much of what mix of rules is sufficient to hold the contract together. What things will the contractors share that will satisfy both parties in ways that they will cherish. Something we would miss if that input into our lives suddenly vanished.

I’m pretty sure this topic leaves out a variety of other factors whose inclusion would turn this post into a doctoral thesis. The dots hereto collected seem to point in the direction that having a target for ones affections and having those affections appreciated with sufficient energy to merit the joys that come with the interchange is all one should ask for in a cat. Love does not come with necessary prescriptions except one: consistent affection. Love it is what you make of it.

Now that I’ve over-thought what having a cat should mean, I reflect back on just having a cat purring in my lap with his eyes closed while I stroke his head, enjoying nothing more than the moment of mutual appreciation, one which does not involve braving the elements for potty runs.


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