Love Wins

I was once a cat hater. Brought up on dogs, my world view was shaped by slobbery kisses, exuberant wagging tails, and good-natured, “always ready for adventure” personalities. I had all sorts of preconceived notions about cats and their world: sandpaper tongues, elusive behavior, “I’ll decide when I want you” attitude, claws, and on and on. I lumped them all into a single category and was firmly rooted in my opinions, despite the fact that I had never spent much time with any of their breeds.

©1969 The Huntsville Times

In 1969, with my first dog, Molly Maroney Mathews.

My mother was a cat lover. She had them as pets growing up and tried to convince our family to get one on several occasions, but we would hear nothing of it. We were beagle people. And then later rescue-dog people. Cats were out of the question.

Knowing this, imagine me at forty-three years of age, with my two daughters at the local animal rescue shelter. They suggested that a fun activity on the hot midsummer day that was upon us would be to have lunch out together and then go pet dogs at the shelter to give and receive some love from them. I said yes. They said nothing about cats. Well, maybe they did. But I tuned that out.

After petting the pups, they said, “let’s just stop by the cat room on the way out, shall we?” It seemed harmless enough.

I should report one important incident before we continue. A year or two prior to this shelter visit, when picking up our border collies from the kennel after a vacation (my little family had become border collie people by this time), a cat that was staying at the kennel long-term hopped onto the desk as I was paying our bill. She was allowed roaming privileges because she was staying at the kennel so long and had become part of the family there.

As I was writing out my check, she perched on the desk next to my checkbook and inspected me. I ignored her. The next thing I knew she stood up on her hind legs, leaning over to me, and gently placed her paws on either side of my neck. She proceeded to knead my neck and shoulders as if giving me a tender massage. I had never experienced such a thing. It felt like a laser beam of love being sent right through her soft, little paws into my body. At that moment, without thinking, I said these words: “If I ever find a cat like this, I will adopt it!” I told the story to numerous friends afterwards, shocked that these words had come from my mouth.

Now, back at the shelter, my daughters called me into a side room with a few adult cats. “You have to meet this cat,” they said somewhat urgently. I sat cross-legged on the floor as they placed an orange, domestic short-hair in my lap. Purring, the four-year old named Daisy stood up on her hind legs, leaned toward me and placed her paws on either side of my neck, giving me a gentle massage. As she did, she rubbed her nose on mine and blinked her half-closed eyes slowly, purring continuously. She seemed to be in a state of bliss I could not understand but that I quickly felt myself.

“We have to adopt her,” my daughters said emphatically.

I remembered my words. I knew the truth of them and the truth of my daughters’ plea. Even still, I felt sweat on my brow and a tumultuous anxiety inside. I couldn’t breathe. How could I possibly adopt a cat? The idea was unfathomable to my thinking mind, but all too clear to my heart mind. I pulled a volunteer shelter worker aside, peppering her with questions in a staccato stream. What about claws and furniture? What if she doesn’t get along with our dog? What if, what if, what if? I hoped desperately that something in her answers would affirm that we couldn’t possibly adopt this cat, and I could go back to my long-held worldview. Instead, the answers I received only reassured all my concerns. Nonetheless, my hand was shaking as I signed the adoption papers. This was for life.

She didn’t seem very attached to the name Daisy, so we renamed her Cat, after the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s whom she resembled. She responded favorably to the change. We learned that she was very vocal and began to understand the meaning of her meows. We meowed back and had delightful conversations. We began to recognize her “love eyes” across the room as the message they were to each of us. Meowing to catch our gaze, she would give a long, slow blink and a slight nod of the chin that was clearly deliberate and spoke volumes to our hearts. We always returned the same blink and nod. Over the years, we began to initiate it ourselves, to which she would always respond in kind.

We received endless face rubs along with the kneading, paw massages that had first won our hearts. Our dogs’ love for us was gregarious and physically palpable, laying across our laps, licking our faces, or wagging with such fervor that their whole bodies moved in unison with the wag. Cat’s love was tender but insistent and ever-present, not just in her physical touches but in her meows and her eyes. She taught us a new language of love.

When not napping with him, Cat loved to watch Holton sleep.

Perhaps the hardest to convince was our rescue hound, Holton. He took a few years to soften, but Cat was patient. Eventually she would win him over. My heart skipped a beat the first time I found them curled up together napping. She delighted in grooming him almost daily, licking his ears and face, and he delighted in being groomed.

I became a cat proponent. I gave unsolicited testimonials about my previous prejudice and my newfound love of felines. I wondered how I had ever lived without Cat in my life and feared having to ever live without her. Of course, I knew the day would come.

After 12 years in our family, at the age of 16, she passed gently into the higher realm and seemed to know the transition was at hand. I believe she was ready for it.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi

Texting with a friend about her death, he responded: “Cat made you a cat person! She has her place in history!” She does have her place in history— in my history. She dismantled the barriers to love I didn’t even know I had. She needed no sword or shield. My entrenched prejudice against her species was no match for the power she wielded: LOVE.

To my dear Cat—whom we affectionately nicknamed Kitten— I thank you for your life with us, for being so steadfast in the face of my resistance, for making yourself a core part of me, and for never wavering in showing me that love wins.

28 Comments on “Love Wins

  1. God bless Cat. Love is what we are here for, and love is all that matters. How wonderful that you and Cat shared love, and how magical that love will always be with you. Holding you close in your sadness and grief.

  2. so sweet. We had a cat named kitty when I was growing up, along with many other along the way, Brutus, Gabe, Mary, until I developed an allergy. Then I became a dog person.

    • Thanks, my love. We two are a pair today, crying our way through the morning. As someone said, “Grief is just love with no place to go.” We’ll find our way through the tears.

  3. Your writing always touches me, but never in the way this story did…truly inspired and infused with love. I’m so very sorry for your loss, but even more…I’m grateful for the love you gained with Cat being a part of your family. I expect that when you really need it…you’ll feel the faintest of a massage at your neck and smile.

    • Julie, thank you so much. Your note touched me and arrived at just the right moment. If this post moved you more than any other of mine, it is surely because I was channeling Cat.

  4. Your story hits home. I feel your pain, shedding tears as I read. Cats have recently entered our lives and I can’t remember why we were so entrenched in NOT having them before. We are smitten. We’ve lost our first “country” cat too early and replaced him with 2 kittens. I already dread losing them. May the tears lead to peace. It takes time. ❤️

  5. Made me smile, and cry, both at the same time. Pets are so special in our lives, and so hard to lose.

  6. Gooser – what a gorgeous, tender and tear-inducing memorial to Cat’s life purpose and how beautifully she fulfilled it. It really touched me to read this. Thank you for posting this. Love you!

    • Thank you, my dearest Sue Lynn. I could only find some solace this morning by putting words on a page so that’s what I did. Didn’t seem like I had a choice. I am glad it touched you. Thanks for being there by text with me, too. I am so fortunate to be surrounded and held by the love in all these comments, and I appreciate from the bottom of my heart. Love you, too.

  7. Such a beautiful tribute to Cat. So glad you found each other and had so many memorable years together.

  8. Your beautifully told, heartfelt story touches me deeply, Lucy. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve lost many precious animals over the years, and remembering them now brings tears. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  9. You had me at hello. I am edging closer to a cat. Beautifully presented Lucy

  10. Lucy, I am just reading this beautiful post about loving animals. I was a beagle lover. My grandma had Jake who slept at the end of our beds. He was so frustratingly independent for a ten year old to understand, We as a family adopted a beagle and we loved her dearly. As for cats, how lovely you were touched by them. So open, and inviting. And inviting us to be more open. I love following you.

    • Thank you so much for your note, Debra. I am touched. I like the way you captured the sentiment about cats (and pets in general): “inviting us to be more open.” A resounding yes to that thought. I appreciate your reading.

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