Reporting Aside

January 20, 2013

Cat owners: Fruitcakes, but lovable

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

In case you didn't know, the state of Maine ranks second in the nation for cat ownership.

This intriguing bit of news came across my desk this week from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which recently released its U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook.

The only thing missing in the news release I received from the association is a reason why we rank second for cat ownership.

So I decided to do a little investigating on my own, asking people for their thoughts on the matter. Vermont, by the way, ranks first, according to the association.

I got all sorts of interesting opinions, including one from a colleague who said since Maine has the oldest population, it makes sense that we seek cat companionship.

Another said it's because we are a rural state with a lot of farms and barns, perfect for cats to live in and catch mice.

Yet another -- and I'm not naming names, to avoid incriminating anyone -- opined that people in Western states are more macho and may fear being viewed as sissies if they have cats. We in the Northeast are more sophisticated, he said: "It just seems to match our culture a little bit more."

I wondered aloud if it's because we are a poor state and many people cannot afford to spay and neuter cats; therefore, felines are in great supply, multiply rapidly and need homes.

Could it also be that cats are less costly to own than dogs?

Or that it's much easier to have a cat than a dog, as cats do not require being walked and let out of the house, especially in the winter?

One of my friends thought long and hard before answering my query.

"There's nothing else around here to do," she exclaimed. "Cats keep you company."

A quick, curt answer came from the reporter who sits next to me: "I got a cat and it's one too many."

Even more direct was the answer from a colleague and Maine native who lived out of state for several years and now is back. He claimed we cat owners lack all our marbles.

"It's because all Mainers are crazy!" he yelled across the newsroom.

Well, I must admit, I was insulted, having two absolutely lovely, smart and companionable felines in my household.

But then I started thinking that he might not be all that off the mark -- that maybe we are cuckoo.

We're out of our minds to love these furballs who leave fluff all over the house, scratch furniture, knead our bodies with their sharp claws, claim our chests as their beds at two in the morning, claw our noses to wake us up at 6 a.m. and expect us to open and close doors for them 150 times a day.

Yes, we are nuts, I suppose. Who else would put up with creatures that demand our attention yet totally ignore us when we ask it of them; tear through the house at midnight, waking everyone up; leave dead, half-eaten birds and mice, their entrails gleaming, on our doorsteps; and act as if our dinners are theirs, too.

A few years ago I visited an elderly woman in her oceanfront home. Her living room overlooked boats in the harbor.

Hers was a warm and cozy house, tastefully decorated with family furniture and photos everywhere.

But when I walked into the room, my eye was drawn to a feature that seemed oddly out of sync with the rest of the decor.

An overstuffed chair next to the fireplace was lovely except for a wide spot on the front where the upholstery was shredded and the stuffing trailing out onto the floor.

Any ordinary person would have had it fixed long ago, but this woman seemed not to even notice it existed.

After a moment, I realized why. The most exquisite creature ambled into the room, nose in the air, tail flicking to and fro, its white fur gleaming in the sunlight.

It eyed us curiously, let out a quick high-pitched purr and then toppled over onto its back, paws in the air, and promptly fell asleep.

Yes, we cat owners are fruitcakes; but I'd rather be crackers than live without a cat. And I'm proud that other Mainiacs agree.

Amy Calder been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com.

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