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July/August 2001
Editorial: In the Cat World, There's No Room for Stress

By Catherine Clyne


When I feel I've been put through the wringer and all my energy has been sucked out, I usually turn to my friends Leon and Pierre for help.

I first met Leon several years ago when my eyes strayed to a small hand-made sign hanging on the wall of my favorite café. "Handsome, distinguished, affectionate silver/gray/blue male needs caring home," the caption read, next to a drawing of a rambunctious-looking gray cat. When I went to suss out this potential roommate, as soon as I walked through the door, a gray streak crashed into my legs, Leon's expression of "Hello, you're mine." His guardian—a graphic designer who lived in a shoebox-size studio apartment—explained that because Leon was so affectionate, he actually couldn't get his work done. I soon knew what he meant. Leon understands that he is the most important person in the world and humans are there simply to pay attention to him. That can be a little inconvenient when you have to work, since, inevitably, Leon's body must cover at least part of your chosen surface, preferably the exact spot you need to concentrate on.

Nature programs tell us that cats rub the sides of their jaws and chests against people and things to spread their scent and mark their territory. I imagine that's true, but Leon takes this to the extreme, and it obviously means more to him than just an opportunity to release his kitty-smell. He loves to get people in a sort of love-grip. If ever someone picks him up, Leon quickly has his arms wrapped around the person's neck in a firm hug, rubbing his face against the person's chin, jaws, neck and face, purring loudly. He loves it when people wear glasses; the frame edges offer a most satisfying rub, although nose smudges and happy drool can make this a little messy. When it's time to end a lovefest, he literally needs to be manually disengaged.

Pierre entered our lives when a neighbor asked me to take in another cat. I wasn't interested at the time because Leon's such a handful. But Pierre's caretaker had died and he was left alone in an apartment. The real estate broker needed to get rid of him—one way or another. So, on a sunny Valentine's Day, Pierre arrived and promptly scurried underneath the shower into a dark, dry and close place, perfect for frightened felines. Pierre stayed there for three days. Every few hours, Leon and I would crouch down to coax him out, but he wouldn't have any of it.

Pierre grew to trust us and eventually found his place in our hearts. For the first year, he was quite timid and hid a lot. Whenever someone would visit, Pierre's stocky white and black body would move at lightening speed for the closet. Now Pierre is emboldened. He demands attention, yelling his wishes and staring bluntly. He absolutely hates being picked up, preferring to control things by walking around and around. Pierre is also our resident rascal; he knows precisely which buttons to push to get under our skins.

Because Leon can be so serious, it's easy to annoy him and Pierre grabs every opportunity that comes his: barging in on our quality time, taunting Leon when he's trying to make a big jump, or seeming disinterested when Leon rears onto his hind legs boxing at Pierre, the two looking like Godzilla vs. Mothra. With me, Pierre has discovered the art of strategic peeing. I won't elaborate.

Cat Naps
Just by watching them simply being themselves, my stress ebbs away, especially when they're comical. Pierre, the pudgy little Holstein, isn't the most body-conscious and coordinated of creatures and, sometimes, he'll majestically spread himself out on the edge of a bed or low table and fall off. He'll clamor back up and we'll enjoy a bout of conciliatory rubbing. Pierre also occasionally chases his tale, although he may not admit to it. Leon, on the other hand, is as graceful and regal as they come, and when he screws up, underestimating a height or freaking out over nothing at all, he'll act as if he meant for that to happen.

There's something about the worldview and presence of cats that shove all anxiety out of the picture—there's just no place for it. I think Leon and Pierre have adopted me as something of an honorary cat. And when I'm stressing out, two pairs of eyes—Leon's glittery gold and Pierre's ocean green—stare at me like I'm crazy because, generally, my problems are inconsequential. They seem to say, Just chill out. It's such a reality check because if whatever I'm stressing about does come to pass, they'll just keep on napping, eating, grooming themselves and bickering with each other. It's obvious that I am just a resident in our apartment; it's really their realm. But as we grow together, I am thankful for each day that brings new experiences for us to share.


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