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Confessions of a Cat Lady

Confessions of a Cat Lady

 

This is no esoteric manifest on spiritual matters or a catchphrase article by an important author with cute illustrations. This is simply the experiences and observations of someone unused to dogs who found herself captivated by a breed of canines that have taught me a lot – unexpectedly and without conscious purpose.

Cat lady born and raised – a brief history

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved cats. In fact, I didn’t just love cats, I LOVED cats. I used to push them around in a pram as a little girl, dress them up even. My dad always said I had a way with them. At any given time during my childhood we had anything from 2 to 5 cats. We adopted foundlings and bought Persians – sometimes these were re-homed when we moved or some tragically passed on. Born a Leo, I really identified with the grace and independence of cats. Above all, from what little exposure and experience I had of dogs, I felt sure that I didn’t like them. Perhaps partly because I was bitten by a Doberman as a young girl innocently playing hide and seek with my brother and cousin, or perhaps because my experience of our old scruffy Scottish Terrier or my gran’s yapping, bouncy Maltese poodle was of dirt and unkemptness. I grew up feeling that I adore cats, and if not exactly feeling enmity towards dogs, I reacted to them with the same calculated indifference of our feline friends.

Moving out of my parents’ house as a student and starting my own life, I was deprived of an environment with pets for a number of years. And so it was that the first real man in my life, one day soon after we moved in together, gave me a cat as our first pet. He was a dog person through and through. Not only did he come from a family that bred boxers in his youth, but his character displayed that same endearing loyalty and enthusiasm of your neighbours’ Labrador puppy which momentarily steals one’s affection while concealing the underlying inferior intellect. He had a boxer. This to me was even worse than an ordinary dog because, on top of the boisterous excitement, it leaked terrible, sticky, disgusting ribbons of slobber. Fortunately, where we lived when we started out was not particularly dog-friendly and the poor creature soon became frustrated and destructive, so much so that my boyfriend agreed to send the dog back to live with his folks.

We got another cat a few months later to prevent the older one from getting lonely, and so we continued happily for a while. The cats grew up and were beautiful, each with their own little quirks. During this time I supported my boyfriend in numerous activities that felt like a waste of time and energy – rugby and dog shows being foremost among these pastimes I subjected myself to. While I respected good breeding in a dog and I firmly support and believe in keeping bloodlines pure and breeding for health and beauty in the animals, dog shows seemed to me a prime example of what our forebears called “vanity”. Exhibitors were always backbiting and they all felt their dogs were the best (when even an untrained eye could see that all dogs are not created equal and there are such things as “breed standards” published and agreed upon). Judging is invariably not impartial, and well, people would spend all hours in all kinds of weather complaining about anything and everything and always the unfairness of the competition (even when their own dogs did well!). Then there was the spectacle of beholding some of the competitors – men as large as tents carefully and seemingly forever preening dogs smaller than my two hands together… Or the oddities of people dressed to the nines, running up and down a soggy field with their dogs. I know it is an industry and holds importance for a lot of people, but to someone having to support a dog she didn’t like, it seemed so absolutely meaningless and ludicrous that the silliness was magnified a hundred fold in my already jaded eyes.

A defining moment!

Then one hot summer day in 2006, nearly comatose with boredom and the insufferable heat, I was sitting in a camping chair under our sun umbrella when a Siberian husky waiting to go into the ring and enticed by the shade, pushed her head in under my arm and in the next heartbeat was sitting in my lap!

Now what I would still learn is that husky-people are as different from your average dog lover as they come. The breeders and exhibitors at the shows kept to themselves and generally, as much attention and admiration as their dogs attracted, were not very keen on serious petting of their dogs, strangers picking up puppies, and so on. When we had seen them at the shows, I always commented on how beautiful the dogs were, but being in the Boxer crowd at the time (to my utter and eternal dismay) and my boyfriend being more a lover of the blindly obedient dog varieties*, we never really took more than a passing interest in the huskies. At least not until that day…

*When I first started writing this piece more than a year ago, I had written here “less intelligent”. I can’t really say this anymore, now that I am a dog trainer… every dog and breed has its own kind of intelligence, usually specific to what the breed was originally meant to do. I’ve worked with many different breeds and temperaments and it is wonderful to see each specific intelligence in action. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone will argue with me that there is a distinct difference to the expression of a labrador compared to that of a husky and that ability for independent thought (just as in humans) is what typifies intelligence for me.

In the moment that husky latched on to me, it was one of those “defining moments” that set your life on a different course. I don’t know whose dog it was or even where that particular show was held, but I remember that beautiful grey and white dogs and how her unbelievable and totally unexpected actions captivated me.

I have heard stories of people who, so enchanted by the breed, waited 16 years to get one (due to whatever circumstances) but, well, patience was never one of my strengths. I started reading up about the breed – their intelligence, beauty, strength and independence all inspired me. I read all the cautionary tales and saw people advertising to get rid of their dogs for any of a variety of reasons from the fact that they didn’t anticipate the extreme shedding, the dogs’ highly destructive behaviour or because of their strong prey-instinct (killing cats or other small pets). Everything I read and the pictures I saw only made me want one all the more. So the search began for the right dog and to work towards the right circumstances which would favour having such an awesome creature as part of my family. With a dog with a streak of wildness, pedigree was definitely the only way to go, no matter how beautiful the backyard bred pups looked. I contacted local breeders, looked at an assortment of puppies, got ready to move house and convinced my boyfriend (my fiancee by this time) and eventually, the Denalibelay kennels of Cape Town stole my heart. They were expecting a litter later in the year (2007) and depending on how many pups there would be and how they turned out, I was allowed to tentatively reserve a puppy. The price was astronomical (for a cat-lady buying a dog), but it didn’t matter. I had to jump through more hoops than a circus dog to convince them that someone who had never had a dog of her own would be a good home for a Siberian, but the more I interacted with the dogs and as the puppies were born and grew, so my excitement grew and both the breeders and I were sold on the new addition to my home.

Many people will tell you that their pets changed their lives, much like human children do. In general, I think, people laugh as folks like these, thinking them a few chickens short of a roost, but it would be a grave injustice not to say that my Siberians, each of them in turn, changed my life and my approach to life in subtle and dramatic ways and taught me a lot of things that my self-sufficient cat-like nature hadn’t yet learned in the karmic adventure of life that was my first 25 years. Henceforth I would come to say that if I ever grew old and remained a spinster, I would be the neighbourhood’s crazy cat lady with the coolest dogs!

I won’t bore you with the 10 million stories about strange and funny things they do and the experiences we’ve had, but in order for you to understand how utterly alien my life became (from the perspective of my former self) and to get to the crux of this story of me and my dogs, I want to introduce you to them.

That’s in the next instalment of Confessions of a Cat Lady. And then we’ll get on to the lesson of the story :-)