Saturday, September 3, 2011

Caturday: Furry Friend With Benefits

Sometimes, I'll be telling someone a mushy story about Birch and they'll snark, "You know he only loves you because you feed him, right?" Then they'll stand there waiting for my world to collapse under the weight of my disillusionment and grief.

But all I can think when someone does that is, "...And your point is...?"

Yeah, Birch probably does love me just because I feed him.  But what do you think I love him for?  Is it his rapier wit?  Perhaps it's because of his tireless fundraising for breast cancer research and his stint in the Peace Corps.  Or wait, I know, it's all the times we stayed up all night talking because he was just so fascinating and brilliant that I didn't want the conversation to end!

"Aw, sweetheart, you keep dozing off...seriously, get off the couch and go to bed.  We can discuss my theories on existentialism some other time."

I'm being facetious, of course.  Sure, Birchy's little peanut brain lacks the capacity for deep and spiritual love...but I'm not in love with him in a deep and spiritual way, either.  He has no depth or spirituality.  He's a cat.  Rather, our love for each other is the animal kind: we get along well and we're each getting what we need, and that's enough.  What started out as a business arrangement - trading companionship and physical affection for food and shelter - was so fulfilling that we became attached to each other. 

Goddamn, I look dapper.  I need to 'shop my face onto dudes more often.

In conclusion: my cynical friends have underestimated me.  I already know my cat is just using me; I'm also just using him.  So far, it's working out just fine.


  1. I don't know Birch, but I know dogs, and your cynical friends are wrong. I'd guess you also do him a disservice; he is not using you, he's not smart enough for that. Certainly Birch came to love you because you fed him, etc., but that just means that he percieved you as loving him. I'd strongly guess he does not now love you because you feed him. Now he loves you just because he loves you, as far as the capacity of his little peanut brain allows.

    My dogs love me just as much when they're full as when they're hungry; actually more so. They don't cuddle when they're hungry, they push my hand then run a few steps away. They love cuddling when they're full, or when it's nowhere near mealtime.

  2. C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength has a lot to say about animal consciousness and love that rings very true. Here's a bit:

    "What friends those two are!" said Ivy Maggs. She was referring to Pinch the cat and Mr. Bultitude the bear. The latter was sitting with his back up against the warm wall by the kitchen fire. His cheeks were so fat and his eyes were so small it looked as if he were smiling. The cat after walking to and fro with erected tail and rubbing herself against his belly had finally gone to sleep between his legs....

    "When we use the word, Friends, of those two creatures," said MacPhee, "I [think] we are being merely anthropomorphic. It is difficult to avoid the illusion that they have personalities in the human sense. But there's no evidence for it."

    "What's she go making up to him for, then?" asked Ivy.

    "Well," said MacPhee, "maybe there'd be a desire for warmth--she's away in out of the draught there. And there'd be a sense of security from being near something familiar. And likely enough some obscure transferred sexual impulses."

    "Really, Mr. MacPhee," said Ivy with great indignation, "It's a shame for you to say those things about two dumb animals. I'm sure I never did see Pinch--or Mr. Bultitude either, the poor thing--"

    "I said tranferred," interuppted MacPhee drily. "And anyway, they like the mutual friction of their fur as a means of rectifying irritations set up by parasites. Now, you'll observe--"

    "If you mean they have fleas," said Ivy, "you know as well as anyone that they have no such thing." She had reason on her side, because it was MacPhee himself who put on overalls once a month and solemnly lathered Mr. Bultitude from rump to snout in the wash-house and poured buckets of tepid water over him, and finally dried him-- a day's work in which he allowed no one to assist him.

    "What do you think, Sir?" said Ivy, looking at the Director.

    "Me?" said Ransom. "I think MacPhee is introducing into animal life a distinction that doesn't exist there, and then trying to determine on which side of that distinction the feelings of Pinch and Bultitude fall. You've got to become human before the physical cravings are distinguishable from affections-- just as you have to become spiritual before affections are distinguishable from charity. What is going on in the cat and the bear isn't one or the other of these two things: it is a single undifferentiated thing in which you can find the germ of what we call friendship and what we call physical need. But it isn't either at that level. It is one of Barfield's 'ancient unities.'"

  3. Charles: Yeah, I was oversimplifying a bit; I do think there's genuine love here. Birch loves me for taking care of him, and that's why he acts so affectionate. It's not like he's coldly manipulating me into doing things for him.

    But he actually does snuggle me in order to ask for food (which is confusing because he also snuggles me to THANK me for having just fed him, and randomly because he feels like it). I wish he'd go to his dish and meow instead.

    Mousie: that last paragraph is amazing, and rings true for me. :) Also: is there anything in the world more adorable and life-affirming than two wildly different species of animal being friends? :D

  4. i believe yes, it is a matter of mutual benefit. that people think us cat owners are oblivious to that fact, well... i guess i've seen some who are. but...

    i have loved and taken care of and looked after cats since i was very small. i did (and still do) things to curry their favor (feeding them when they're hungry, petting them when they're feeling friendly, leaving them alone when they don't want to be bothered) because of what i get from them in return: amusement, satisfaction, my own agreeable feelings of affection, my appreciation for their aesthetic qualities, the pleasure of touching something soft and warm and having something soft and warm touch me in return, etc. i say that my cats "love" (my little female in particular appears to have a shameless crush on my husband) myself and my husband, but i don't pretend to assume that their 'love' is the same thing as my 'love'. and that's okay. i don't need them to be tiny, dependent, furry versions of infantile humans. they are cats, and i wish them to be nothing more than that.

    we still may not know the exact reason why cats purr, but all i know is that when i pet mine, they do it, and they stay with me and soften their expressions, relax and ultimately fall asleep, so i must be providing some level of comfort. i'm happy with that.

  5. i say that my cats "love" myself and my husband, but i don't pretend to assume that their 'love' is the same thing as my 'love'. and that's okay.

    Yes! This.

    Lately, Birch has been sleeping right up against me every night (he hasn't always). He purrs like a fiend and only stops once he's dozed off. I love that he wants to be near me. I love that sleeping up against my body makes him feel warm and happy. I don't require anything more complex from him; what he gives me is perfect as it is. :)