by Jana Llewellyn
So I have this cat. Her name is Myra Mason. She is strange and adorable.
For years, I have not been a pet person. As I watched neighbors in my community walk their dogs and pick up poop several times a day, I thought a pet was just too much work to add to an already busy life. I have three kids to take care of, and even they at some point learn to wipe their own butts. Pets are expensive, and a lot of emotional energy. Besides, I like people better than animals. At least most of the time.
And then last year, separated and in the midst of divorce, my heart like a big gaping hole in my chest, I began to think about getting a dog. It was weird, because all of a sudden, rather than nodding curtly at the dog owners on my morning walks, I wanted to pet their dogs. (And I wanted to hold strangers’ babies, too, but I refrained from asking.) I saw into the eyes of dogs, their good souls. I knew I couldn’t possibly handle a dog in such a huge life transition, but I wanted to be around dogs, or I wanted a dog-like creature to live at my house so I had company when my kids were at their dad’s. I started to understand why people wanted pets. Pets couldn’t talk back or argue, and they loved you for simple things, like putting food and fresh water in their bowls, and their needs were simple.
So by the end of that year, I ended up with a cat who’s kind of like a dog.
When I first saw my cat, she was sitting in a big cage at a pet store, wistfully looking out over the parking lot, most likely daydreaming about me, her owner, rescuing her and taking her home to a warmly lit house. The other cat in her cage was jumping and ready to grab at my fingers, super eager to get out of there. I didn’t want him. I wanted the kitten with the black patch across her nose, the bright green eyes, who was sitting calmly and thinking deep thoughts.
Myra Mason, early on, wanted to play and bite my feet when I got in bed, so I knew we wouldn’t be sleeping together. I began to put her food on the enclosed porch every night near her litter box, so she’d have everything she needed while we all slept peacefully upstairs. Aside from scratching the shit out of my brown leather chair, she was great. I fed her dry food and she pooped and peed where she was supposed to, and she was nice to my kids, and we were all set.
But then I moved into an apartment in the spring, and Myra’s behavior started to change. I felt bad for her—she could no longer sit on the back of the couch, watching the passersby from the golden sunlit patch of the living room windowsill. Now she was in a second-floor apartment, unable to see what was happening out the front door, and mostly noisy cars to watch instead of people and pets. She boycotted her dry food and started to cry a lot around meal times. Then she started trying to eat the people food sitting on the dining room table or on the kitchen counter. If I left food out, she inevitably put her nose on it and sank her teeth in. So I had to reluctantly switch her to that gross, wet, smelly cat food. I gave her half a can in the morning and half a can at dinner, and because she liked this so much better, she began accosting me as soon as I woke up. Or as soon as I walked in the door from work.
Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow.
It got to the point that I started yelling, “Shut up, Myra.”
And then my two-year-old promptly said, “Shut up, Myra.”
Once the meowing became obnoxiously commonplace, I decided it was a standoff. I already had to shut my door at night to prevent her from coming in and waking me at 3 or 4 a.m. But the incessant meowing was my last straw. I had to teach Myra that she didn’t own me, that she was not the boss here, that I had all the power. After listening to a podcast with a cat trainer who said you have to ignore the meowing if you want the cat to behave, I decided to ignore her and only feed her when she was in the other room or quiet. I let her meow her little head off. I put her in the bathroom so I didn’t have to be bothered while making everyone else’s dinner and breakfast. It wasn’t a good situation. Myra Mason wanted my attention pretty bad, and she didn’t have the words to communicate. So I began to look at her as just an extra hassle, another thing I had to worry about.
Until I saw my friend on the train into work one morning, and she told me about what God said to her in her morning prayer. “You’ll appreciate this,” she said. “Other people might look at me like I was crazy, but this is something I can tell you.” She told me that when she had asked God what he wanted her to know that day, he said, “Love the cats.” We both laughed.
Why was I in a standoff with Myra, silently muttering, “You don’t own me, I’ll feed you when I’m good and ready,” rather than extending toward her a little bit more love?
So I decided to do a better job of loving Myra, reminding myself there is always room for more love. I started feeding Myra promptly when I woke and when I got home from work. And just like that, she stopped meowing so hard. She no longer cries like a maniac, and all I did to change that was set an intention to love her and remember she’s part of my family.
Love doesn’t come in finite qualities. It is not like money. It’s the opposite, in fact. The act of loving creates a wider and wider net, a richer and fuller circle of love.
I really enjoyed your piece. All my dogs along the way have taught me what love is all about which is why I got the dog in my divorce.