It’s one question people ask who don’t live with cats, and it’s often a reflection of the role we feel animals play in our lives. In addition to just being our friends, they may also have a useful role around the house such as guarding, fetching or mowing the lawn as a friend mentioned about her horses and another about her goats, or they may actually be working animals such as service dogs or farm animals.
Of course, that’s not the only thing we expect of our animal companions, but some people persist. I’ve had people question my households of cats and point out to me that cats don’t “do” anything, they don’t have any useful role as do most other animals who share our lives, and my answer is that I don’t expect them to do anything other than be themselves. We don’t expect human friends and family to fetch our slippers and prowl the house at night to keep watch for intruders, or maybe some people do, but I don’t. I don’t expect my cats to do that either. I like their presence in my life, they obviously give me much inspiration, and they have their own daily lives.
But they actually do many things, each of my cats has, though the things they do aren’t obvious because, well, they are just being themselves.
On Friday I had packed orders to ship and went about printing out labels for the packages. My printer was having none of it. I’d click “print” for the label and the printer would pull the label paper through and leave it blank. I’d replace it and it would do it again. I’d put two or three pieces in there and it would run each of them through and not print any. I changed every setting I could think of to no effect. Prior to Friday the printer had done this occasionally and I’d always been able to get them to print, but not on Friday, and I was getting really, really mad because I couldn’t figure it out and I usually can, and I’d never make it to the post office before they closed on Friday afternoon and at the end of a long week I was just plain tired, of everything. I went about cursing loudly and slamming the printer’s paper carriage open and shut, really slamming, though that could only make the situation worse.
In the back of my mind I knew what was happening and there was a solution I could try that for some reason I was resistant to try. The printer is older, the software is newer, and the printer did not recognize the file that needed to be printed. Often files print better when you download them and print from your computer so the printer can take advantage of all its own software and the support from your computer rather than using all the goods from the online server. Even just viewing files this way can work better. But at that moment I felt more comfortable continuing on my path of destruction.
In the meantime my cats were reacting to me, especially Mimi and Bean. Mimi, having been a momcat many times over, understands a dramatic production and just quietly observes through narrowed eyes as I play out my histrionics. If I am truly in need, she knows, and is with me.
Jelly Bean, the empathetic spirit who wants to spread joy throughout the world, gets upset. He paced back and forth on my desk trying to distract me and I was a little annoyed having to dodge his tail to see my monitor and I almost gave him a shove. But then I petted him instead and he immediately squinted his eyes and arched his back and tail against my hand, which made me smile so I gave him a kiss on the nose. I let him go to get back to my task and while he was still nervous and pacing he began his loud calming purr. I quietly reached down and replaced the label paper, downloaded the label to my desktop and printed it with no problems at all, then printed the other three.
Bean purred even louder and carefully stepped down onto my lap as I finished up the labels and sealed all the packages, and settled in a way that only Bean can do. He is smaller than his siblings and compact, kind of like a sandbag. He only weighs 10 pounds, but his solid shape with paws tucked under is immediately comforting, like having a hot water bottle on your lap, and he emanates peace and calm. Then he purrs an immense purr, which makes me happy and no doubt relaxes me even more. He was working very, very hard to calm me down; even though I’d reduced myself to a reasonable state I was still tense because I’d finished the packages but the post office was closed. Once a minute or so he would glance up at me and blink a few times and I decided I’d just better give it up and move on. I can tell you this probably would not have been the outcome without Jelly Bean.
While my initial reaction wasn’t really typical of my usual demeanor I do put my cats through an interesting series of daily challenges. No day is the same as any other, I work in each room in the house, standing up, sitting down, some nights I stay up until dawn, the only thing they can really count on is that I am generally here and in good spirits and I feed them twice a day. This erratic habit of mine was upsetting to other cats who’ve lived with me and I had to tone myself down and keep myself on a more regular schedule when possible for their sake. But last night was another late night and the birds were chirping as the cats checked on me soaking in the tub after a long day, and all five were on my bed sleeping when I got there. After I had settled under the covers, each of them came to settle on or around me, purring. Was that for their own comfort? They were pretty comfortable where they were, and have each other. We all felt the benefits of that one.
Bean is also the one who welcomed and nurtured the other cats who joined us as fosters since he’s been here, and in taking care of me he sometimes needs his own batteries recharged. Sleeping all over me is one way they do this, and another is when they settle on me, prevent me from getting anything at all done and demand all my attention. I think it’s a pretty fair fee for all they’ve done for me.
Animals have an important role in our lives even without performing some necessary task. The most useful thing they do is just be themselves and add their perspective to our lives.
And be friends to each other. I realized I was alone at my desk but I knew where all the cats were. The Five enjoyed their easy Sunday after a long week taking care of me.
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Don’t forget to celebrate “Be Kind to Animals Week”!
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