Think you're in charge? Get a cat.

Through most of human history, our species believed we were ordained to rule over animals. How silly that notion is becomes obvious when you observe an animal that has lived alongside humans for many millennia: the cat.

For a reality check about how much in charge you actually are, get a cat.

Consider the preferences that Fanny, my third cat in 27 years, has shown me in the 2½ months I’ve lived with her.

We’re told that cats don’t want to eat near a smelly litter box. Fanny, however, prefers to eat in the bathroom. Food remains untouched in the kitchen bowl. Luckily, the bathroom is large enough to put a bowl several feet away from the litter box.

Another of Fanny’s dining quirks is that she won’t eat when I put the bowl down or on any schedule. She likes to graze. That makes wet food, which spoils when left out too long, impractical. I know some people think that dry food is the worst thing for a cat’s health, but a high-protein dry food is the best I can do. Fanny can eat when she pleases, a few nibbles at a time.

She takes picky eating to an extreme by turning her nose up at treats. She has walked away from chicken, salmon, whitefish, and tuna treats. There go Greenies Dental Treats, which a vet tech suggested for keeping her teeth clean, so I might have to try brushing her teeth — without being able to reward her with treats.

Who am I kidding that Fanny would let me brush her teeth? She fights having her nails cut. Although she follows me around and wants to sit near wherever I am, she doesn’t like to be held.

Fanny and her favorite ball

Fanny and her favorite ball

In toys Fanny has a precise preference: an oval red ball. I’m trying to figure out what it is about that ball that sends Fanny into rapture when I toss it. She leaps over the sofa, bats the ball around, and then brings it back in her mouth to drop at my feet. She seems take-it-or-leave-it toward every other of the many cat toys I’ve collected over the years. It’s not the color of the ball; cats are red-pink color blind. Maybe it’s the nubby texture, although another nubby ball is ignored. But that ball is round, so maybe it’s both the shape and the texture of the oval ball that entrance her. I hope I can find a twin before the red ball falls apart or is lost. (If you're wondering how a ball can get lost indoors, think about socks in the wash.)

Fanny has her own idiosyncrasies, but being idiosyncratic isn’t unusual for a cat. All cat parents will tell you that their pets march to the beat of their own drums. In the cat-human relationship, it’s the human that does more of the accommodating. (If you’re a dog person, you might be inclined to suggest an alternative pet.)

Being a cat parent teaches lessons in humility. Learning life lessons isn’t my main reason for having a cat, but I do welcome a reminder of how much control we actually have over another living creature.

Humans might have considered themselves at the top of the earthly totem pole even without that line in Genesis about “dominion over the beasts of the field.” In recent years, however, dominion is being redefined by some people — animal advocates, religious thinkers, and environmentalists among them — more as responsibility or stewardship. The term “pet parent” replaced “pet owner.” In the 2015 encyclical Laudatio Si, Pope Francis wrote, “[W]e must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

But I don’t want to preach at the end of what started as a lighthearted post. Suffice it to say that if you think the rest of creation is intended to serve homo sapiens, a cat could teach you otherwise.




The lame-duck president’s unrepentant behavior would give me plenty to draw from, but I don’t want to focus on him anymore. My anti-Trump quotations ended with number 136 last week.




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  • Thank you for fascinating perspective. My "cats" are made of everything from plastic to marble and live (?) in my curio cabinet, so this is educational. If, with my usual talent for spotting things I don't need but someone else does, I should spot a nubby red oval ball, I'll get it for you and get in touch. Losing things at home is definitely something I understand -- masks now joining keys, glasses and socks in that category.

  • Thanks, Margaret. Glad you enjoyed it.

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