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The company of cats

On the Bright Side

"Never," said my mother quite frequently, "did I ever think I would have cats in the house."

She usually made this statement as she was lying in bed, scratching my tuxedo cat Amos's ear with her left hand while rubbing my calico cat Tasha's tummy with her right. The cats purred and I laughed every time she said it.

I never thought I would be a cat person either, but there we were, a few years ago, both of us finding love and joy and companionship in the company of cats.

My family always had dogs; we had cats too when I was growing up, but they were farm cats - outside cats, barn cats - and they never occupied the same place in my heart as our dogs did.

When I got out on my own, I had occasional roommates who had cats. I thought that was fine but I still never thought of having a cat myself. Then in 1992 my big old house in Denver got overrun with mice and I found my dogs weren't much help in that department. I decided to get a cat or two.

Enter Amos and Tasha, 6-year-old brother and sister cats whose human had died. They were a pure delight for me from the moment I got them, and they were great mousers too. At any given moment, it was not unusual for my four pets and I to be sitting in the living room or on the front porch all huddled together.

Each of those two had a unique personality, as well as a unique way of meowing. They were terribly independent, as felines are known to be, but they were also very loving - they loved attention and they loved to be near me. They were also almost as much of an ego boost for me as the dogs were when I'd been away and they would show me how happy they were when I came home. Tasha often sat in my lap, Amos loved to sleep in bed with me curled up by my chest, purring me to sleep.

My life changed drastically after having the cats for about five years. I moved to California to take care of my mother after my father died. One of the biggest surprises then was how Mom bonded with my kitties. She never thought she'd ever have house cats, as she kept reminding me, and she certainly never thought she'd welcome them into her bed. But she also often admitted that those sleek warms lumps of open affection were hard to resist.

They are for many people, it turns out. In recent years some health-care businesses have foregone a sterile and cold environment for one that includes cats and dogs, making it much warmer and more homey. Animals have a calming effect on most people, and it's no wonder so many hospitals and nursing homes have started to use pet therapies. Even horses are used as therapy for a variety of mental and physical ailments, but cats seem to remain the furry friend of choice for those who most need some gentle comforting.

My mother, battling cancer at the time, certainly found and enjoyed and benefitted from the therapeutic value of cats, of being in the company of a self-satisfied, independent, above-it-all cat who couldn't help but show love in spite of itself; of stroking it and feeling it respond with kneading and purring in a most unabashed and unashamed way, Mom found such comfort in feeling that soft fur twine around her legs or snuggling into the crook of her elbow.

I found it to be true as well, and Amos and Tasha, of course - who made themselves purr-fectly at home in my life and later on in Mom's - had, I'm sure, always known it to be true. As have other subsequent cats in my life, like Gus and Anni.

Sixteen-year-old Anni is still with me, and after several years of aloofness she has become a constant lap cat and purring machine. I never cease to wonder what goes on in her little feline mind, but I also never cease to be grateful for the joy and comfort she brings to me every day.

Footnote: In Mom's final weeks, Tasha was fighting her own battles with feline diabetes. As days went by they spent more and more time together. Tasha died on a Friday morning, and Mom passed the following Sunday morning, the same day Katherine Hepburn died. Since my mother was a huge fan of Kate Hepburn, I am, to this day, still comforted by a vision of my mother, Catherine, chatting away with Katherine H. while they walk down a country garden path with Tasha meowing and twining between their legs.

© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel, local photographer/write and dog and cat lover, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].