Notes From A New Catfather

This is Miso. He has been living under my girlfriend’s roof for about 5 months now, a time period in which I discovered what it means to be a catfather. Of course, since he’s my girlfriend’s, it’s more of a cat-stepfather situation. But it matters not. This is my experience.

I used to be what most people would refer to as a dog person. Not much about that has changed, other than the implied addition that a dog person is inherently not a cat person. While I am now effectively both, I leaned firmly to the dog side throughout the biggest part of my life. In grade school, I was the kid who went over to other kids’ houses for the sole reason of them having a dog—most of those kids could have been lobbed off a bridge for all I cared. I probably did so due to my family not having a pet, despite my weekly pleadings. There were a few goldfish along the road of my early childhood, all twelve of them neatly stacked into the De Vries household’s goldfish crypt (in other words, mashed under a rock in our backyard). Then again, fish aren’t that cuddly or playful, so I never counted them. I knew I liked dogs because they were the incarnations of the two traits mentioned above.

I never knew how to feel about cats. They always seemed distant, and arrogant, even. The households with cats I visited always had the animals perched on some high (read: unpettable) location, and they only skulked about the premises, avoiding any interaction. Cats were weird to me; obviously designed to be petted and to cuddled, but seemingly intent on avoiding just that.

Then, as the internet came, so did cat videos: a digital symbiosis if there ever was one. I saw hordes of rabid, self-declared cat lovers overexpress and gush their dedication to cats onto the internet, creating the idea that cats were, in fact, fun pets. I remained conflicted.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that cats did have the capacity to be fun pets, given that you were their owner. Under no other circumstance (taking the possession of food out of the equation) would a cat be nice to anyone else. But skip forward to the present day, and I am a changed man. No “Hallelujah, by Jove, I’ve seen the light!”, but something much more soft-spoken yet significant.

I began to feel the urge to compile my findings on cat behavior here in an effort to encapsulate what made me change my mind on cats. But enough about me. You’re probably here for Miso.

Some facts about Miso:

  • Ten years old
  • A big cat. At his peak he weighed in at about 9 kilos, but has slimmed down to about 4.3 kilos through strict dieting
  • Originally from France
  • Adopted from Kattencafé Kopjes (Amsterdam) in November of 2017

Miso was picked up on perhaps the single most stressful day of my life: I was finally getting a pet. All right, my girlfriend was the one who got him, but I practically live in her house, anyway. The peak of my anxiety was reached when we finally released him from his kitty carrier. What if he would hate his new home? I desperately wanted for him to be happy, and for me not to be a terrible owner. To our relief, Miso was already jumping on our laps and cuddling up to us after just fifteen minutes of sniffing around. Coincidentally, this is the first thing I have to note about him.

Miso loves to cuddle.

We hadn’t even given him food yet, and yet he readily displayed such affection to practical strangers. This was in complete contradiction with my previous cat-experiences, and completely welcome regardless. Seldom has he displayed a “leave me alone” attitude. He has a couple of spots around the house where he retreats to for a nap every now and then, but he mostly just climbs on top of you. Preferably with his face as close to yours as possible. In short, he craves attention.

Miso is a burrowing cat.

I am fairly oblivious to regular cat behavior outside of my old prejudices, but I suspect this particular trait of Miso’s not to be that normal. When he spots a blanket of any sort, he will try to find an opening and/or force himself in. He will burrow to the deepest part of the blanket, and instantly fall asleep there. Sometimes for hours on end. I think he just loves the warmth. Note that he also does this when you’re sleeping. Having a warm person in bed plus a blanket over his head is about as comfortable to him as it gets.

In short, he gets cute to the point of excruciation. How did I never see this with other cats? I suppose I just wasn’t paying enough attention to their little habits. And that might just be the element from which personality often stems.

Miso is addicted to food.

This trait, on the other hand, seems fairly regular for most cats. In Miso’s case, it probably stems from his history of obesity. He gets fed twice a day, and he finishes his meals in single sittings. It goes down as follows:

He gives you an intense stare; engaging eye contact elicits a series of meows from him; you rise; he sprints for the kitchen, meowing his lungs out; upon receiving the food, he pushes his face into the bowl and doesn’t retract it until the bowl is empty; (optional) usually during the mornings, he ends with a few more meows of triumph; finally, he falls asleep.

Again, this is probably normal for other cats as well. Regardless, the sight never fails to impress. It’s a sometimes-uncanny reminder that you’re not taking care of a teddy bear, but an actual animal. It’s good to keep this in mind, even if it isn’t always pretty (litter boxes, smells, claws, etc.).

Miso is therapeutic.

I think this is the part about cats I underestimated the most. It’s not just a matter of petting the little guy, it’s something about his presence. There’s a thoughtfulness to his movements—always silent, calculated, and paired with unceasing observation. It doesn’t surprise me to see how many authors over the centuries noted this about cats as well: engaging in eye contact with a cat gives you the idea he knows something you don’t. It is like a wordless conversation. As he stares, the question arises what he could possibly be thinking. Strangely, the first idea that springs to mind is that he’s thinking about what I’m thinking; he was one step ahead of me all along. While maybe a tad creepy to some, it is mostly endearing to me. There’s a zen-like profundity to the cat encounter.

I think the gist should be clear. I love cats now.

There’s another twenty-something little things I could mention about Miso—his amazement with running tap water, the speed at which he figures out I’m the one controlling the laser pointer, his meow sounding like a Pokémon cry from the old Game Boy games (a Charmander or a Cubone, to be exact. I’m pretty confident I’ve heard him do both), the inspiring way in which he just doesn’t give a damn about anything as long as he’s comfortable… it’s all something for a different time and a different place.

Finally, I have to admit that I’ve cringed more than once reading back my own writing here. What happened to the line I drew between me and the catlovers I condemned at the start of this column? Shame and doubt haunt me, until I scratch the back of Miso’s ears. Getting to know him hasn’t been a shameful process, after all. If anything, it’s broadened my worldview somewhat. I can empathize with the devout catlover on a higher level than before, though I’m still antsy about being associated with them as a group. But oh, what the hell. In the end, the happiness Miso has given me has far outweighed that childish pet peeve of mine. Every day he underlines the message for me: as long as I’m comfortable, I don’t give a damn.

I’m a happy catfather.


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