Cary’s classic column from Tuesday, Aug 3, 2010
I do not love this cat. I do not like this cat. I want to slap this cat. Can’t I send it back, this cat?
I recently adopted a young cat from the animal shelter. She’s very sweet and loving and is really not all that badly behaved. But she’s really clingy and has some annoying habits. She likes to lick me a lot. It’s slightly annoying until I go to bed, and then it’s really annoying. I can’t sleep. And when I try to move her away, she runs back immediately. This can go on for hours. Of course, she also does normal cat stuff at night, like meowing and making noise around the house. I’ve started putting her in the bathroom and using earplugs, but that really doesn’t seem like a solution.
I know I should give it time, but honestly, I want nothing more than to take her back to the shelter. I would feel like a horrible person and know that everyone would think I was terrible, too. I can’t imagine physically doing it. I’ve always looked at people who return animals as heartless and irresponsible. The whole situation is creating a huge anxiety problem for me. I’ve almost had panic attacks thinking about this cat, and I’ve nearly cried at work.
I’d been wanting a cat for at least a year, and I had one growing up, so I thought I was prepared. But I feel like I can’t handle committing to this cat for the next 15 or so years. I feel like I made a big mistake. I feel trapped. I just feel as though I can’t relax or be alone in my apartment anymore. Not just because of her habits, but just having her next to me all the time. When I leave, it feels like a relief. I’m terrified of commitment in general, but I never thought something this small would freak me out so much.
I don’t think this is normal. I have had problems with anxiety in the past, though undiagnosed, and have had a few episodes this year where I feel sort of depressed. So, I wonder if maybe I’m having ridiculous reactions because I’m already sort of unbalanced. I tell myself that plenty of people have cats and they don’t mind, and that I should feel happy that she’s got a safe home now, but it doesn’t really make me feel better. I can’t imagine facing the shelter people or explaining to my friends and family that I abandoned her, but I think a huge weight would be lifted off me. I just don’t know what to do.
Made a Bad Cat Decision
Dear Bad Cat Decision,
Well, now look. You can’t just go giving cats back. The cat is saying something to you more than meow. What story is the cat telling you?
I think the cat is telling you a story about abandonment and commitment. Think of yourself as the cat. Think of yourself as having been abandoned, and then having been rescued, and think of how it would feel if, after your rescue, you were abandoned again. If you can conjure up compassion for this lost cat, then in parallel, you will conjure up compassion for the lost parts of yourself. So treat this as a rare chance to find out what lost parts of you are hungry and crying for attention, and then give these parts of yourself the attention they are asking for. That is how to properly deal with this cat.
So trust the cat. Trust the impulse that led you to get the cat.
You chose the cat. The cat did not choose you. Not that it’s your fault and you’re bad. But the cat is a phone call from you to you. You have to answer the phone and figure out who is calling. You put your finger on it yourself. You have a problem with commitment. What is that about? It’s about control. Now, if you do not feel safe, then you feel the need to control every little bit of time, and you can feel that people are wasting your time and interfering with your grand plans for how to spend your Saturday mornings. So you have what we call a control problem, which is at root a spiritual problem: You have no trust in the universe; you have no trust that the universe loves you and is taking care of you.
The cat probably has more trust in the universe than you do. The cat trusted you because to the cat, you are the universe. So think about that cat. That cat is rubbing up against you because the cat knows that you are the universe and you are going to take care of it. If you betray the cat then you are betraying this universal principle: that when things come into our lives we respond to them. We meditate upon them and try to understand their code, what they are telling us.
Sometimes that means admitting that we were wrong about what we thought. We are continually wrong; that is what learning is; learning is discarding what we were wrong about and learning what is actually true.
Part of your motive for getting the cat was to recapture your past. But your past is gone. When we try to recapture the past, all we do is create a new situation in the present that is based on illusion and impossible longing. We do this over and over until we stop trying to recapture the past. So look at the cat in the present. You are not a child and this is not the cat of your childhood. This is a new cat.
So there you are with the cat. The cat is trying to tell you something. I suggest you spend whole days with this cat. Stop doing all the other things you are doing and just spend time with this cat. Look into the cat’s eyes and listen to the cat purr and try to understand the cat’s language.
You can always give the cat away in the future. But for now:
Keep the cat. Stick with the cat. Let the cat in your flat get fat.