This past week, I was reminded of why it is that I took on the job of training my human pet, these three years ago and more: in caring for the poor dumb brute, I see her exhibit behavior that sometimes makes me think that cats and their human pets are really not such distant cousins, after all. I know, it sounds like an outrageous slander. But hear me out!
What prompted this? Well, this past week, she took ill for a while. Horribly ill. There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing, lots of other cats' human pets (presumably. They refuse to wear identifying tags) in and out of the house, and lots of strange smells which, when I read them carefully, painted a picture of a location completely unknown to me, but filled with lots of other free-ranging humans, sterile, and strangely and illogically devoid of felines or any other animals.
Now, I have of course noticed before that humans tend to congregate. What's strange is that they do it even when they are ill. Rather than finding a nice quiet closet in which to hide quietly and reasonably, safe from harm during the most vulnerable phases of their disorder, whatever it may be, they create a huge fuss. They call in other humans, pump themselves full of strange tablets and potions, and occasionally down large quantities of dainties like chicken and noodles floating in broth, or fish--which, incidentally, they almost never share. Ill humans group together out of some sort of primitive pack instinct, and, without the barest ounce of common sense regarding their personal safety, they make sure that every other human in a 60 mile radius is well aware that they are ill. It's maddening. It runs counter to my every instinct of survival. It's ignorant, and potentially harmful, and should it go awry, should a larger mammal come along and just eat the blighters as a result of their diseased, feckless disregard for personal safety, some noble cat someplace will be forced to find and train a completely new staff, which is a chore no matter how you slice it.
The rabble cleared out, my human pet came home and the other humans went away. I waited a while until the strange-smelling text of her travels that day had dissipated a bit, and I could stand to be in the same room with her. I then emerged from my cozy vantage point in the laundry basket, hopped up on the bed, and began my examination of the patient to figure out what was really wrong with her, rather than what some random human thought was wrong. (Really, the human concept of medicine is a lot like throwing darts at the side of a barn: you're bound to hit something sooner or later. Shocking.) As I looked her over, with a sniff here and a prod there, trying to diagnose the source of her distress, I was surprised to discover that I was actually somewhat distressed myself. I couldn't immediately figure out why, but I was distinctly anxious. At the time, I was at a bit of a loss to explain it.
And then it hit me: I felt as protective of this human as I would of an actual feline kitten. I felt this way because she seemed to need protection, because rather than gutting it out alone and taking the consequences like a cat, my human pet's reaction to pain and weakness was to allow herself, in some ways, to be dependent on others temporarily. And that included me.
I have to believe that, in many ways, both mentally and emotionally, humans remain kittens from birth until death, every one of them. I believe this because in times of distress they exhibit a strange vulnerability consistent with extreme youth and inexperience, such as that seen in human kittens who are chronologically so brand new that they are practically still sporting their window stickers. I believe this because when humans are ill or injured, they thoughtlessly disregard the simplest precepts of safety: rather than hide it stoically like a cat, they show that they are sick or hurt. Rather than go away and heal up as quietly and solitarily as possible, they fuss and call attention to themselves and require assistance. If it weren't for the fact that we cats don't generally let our humans roam free, something might notice them in a weakened state and eat them because they would be too weak to fend it off. And according to the most basic rules of the Cat Law Governing How The World Works, it would be their own damn fault in the first place. But when they are ill, humans think of none of these things. In short, when humans are ill they revert.
I confess that as a cat, I myself would be mortified to be seen exhibiting such a complete and utter lack of gravitas. But there was something strangely moving about my human pet's...neediness. I realize that my job is clinical: research, study, and practicum in the training of humans, for the benefit of cats everywhere. But I found myself setting aside my clipboard (so to speak), and just providing my ill human with the loving paw of companionship, rather than the firm paw of guidance which I usually employ.
It seemed that there had been some question as to what exactly was wrong with my human in the first place, and so part of the flitting about was spent in going from one ignorant pack of humans to another, in the above-mentioned sterile, feline-free location, so that they could make thinky "hmm" noises at one another and guess what the problem was, and pretend to be very clever. I was able to identify the issue at once by smell and intuition. Clearly (without going into needless details), this was a complaint which produced pain and fatigue and some anxiety, and the treatment would therefore be rest, nutrition, and heat to ease the pain. Someone had given my human a bottle of some chalky tablets, as well. They smelled bitter and I saw they contained nary a smidgen of catnip. Since I knew full well they would be perfectly useless, I also knew my human needed nothing of the sort, so I smacked them off the bedside table and made sure they rolled as far under the bed as possible. They made a nice rattly noise. I may poke the bottle later.
In any case, I set aside the daily training program and draped myself across my human at the exact location of the pain's origin. I may have purred. I know I napped. But this produced a hopeful sign indicative that my patient was on the mend: she gave me some quality ear and back scratching, and a good deal of petting, until she herself fell asleep. In service to others, they find some sort of meaning, humans do, and it invariably makes them feel better. As I know for certain that serving me does my human a world of good, I knew that this was the best medicine.
Perhaps this means I'm weak-minded. Perhaps I'm a shameless sentimentalist. Maybe I'm just a great soppy. But somehow, I just cannot look at the relationship between humans and cats, no matter our intellectual differences (they can't help it) or our differing philosophies (anyone who doesn't give me ALL the butter is clearly not living right) or even the difference between biped and quadruped (no wonder the poor things trip and tip over), and not see that underneath the fur or lack thereof are creatures that aren't really that different, after all. We cats are thinkers and innovators. The most you can say for humans is that when properly trained, they are a credit to their cats. But both humans and cats feel, we both hurt, we both are born and grow up and get old and die, and we must make our grand entrances and our final exits alone, each and every one of us. That is just the lot of every living creature on this planet. In our weakness and our mortality, humans and cats and all living things are brothers.
I'm glad for the company.