I admit to spending an afternoon perusing skateboarding and Roomba-riding cats and have also had a go or two with I Can Haz Cheezburger. My son likes Longcat, just about the tallest thing on the planet. I also love the dark humor in Grandma's Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals and Why is Daddy in a Dress? Asking Awkward Questions with Baby Animals by McCall and Schwarz. I'm not alone of course: someone's uploading the videos and the dog and cat profiles to Catbook and Dogbook. Zany and silly pets may be outnumbered by cute ones, as we seek the "Aw" factor. Why? Addicted to Cute by Jim Windolf in the December 2009 Vanity Fair sums up the phenomenon of "cute overload" in everything from cute animal videos to cupcakes to Snuggies, noting, "maybe the move toward cuteness has come about partly because the idea of 'edge' has gotten old." I'll buy that. I also think the silly idiocy of the cats on Cheezburger is a brief respite from spreadsheets and other things one does while seated in front of a computer screen. I love the Cheezburger cat because its facial expression of desire reminds me of one of my own meal-obsessed cats, and I imagine he'd react just this way to his own cheeseburger. It's dumb, sure, and has grown into a profitable phenomenon. People love their pets a hell of a lot, to the delight of some and the consternation of others--is it a an example of western decadence as one Islamic cleric believes? Do we love and seek to protect pets more than we do our children?
All creatures great and small--what's not to love about devoted animal companions? In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Phillip K. Dick depicts a future where real animals are valuable and coveted because of their rarity, as one might want gold bullion today; it seems prescient and too believable in an post-eco-disaster future: as wildlife becomes rare, the real thing becomes truly a priceless treasure. One of the nicest parts of Whitman's Song of Myself is stanza 32, which begins, "I think I could turn and live with the animals" and praises their innate spirit in contrast to man-made religious hypocrisy, along with their calm fortitude; lilies of the field, as it were: "Not one is dissatisfied, / not one is demented with the mania of owning things." "St. Francis and the Sow" by Galway Kinnell and William Stafford's "Choosing a Dog" emphasize the love
And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.
I've spent time looking at videos of cats but I've also spent time observing my own. On a daily basis they display their athleticism (as Smart says, "God has blessed him in the variety of his movements"), love of routine, affection, and variant personality styles: one is a boneless wonder of purring affection, another is off to the mouse hunt, one is petite and fashionable in black and khaki, one is a jolie-laide six-toed Tracy Flick, insistent and full of petitions. Our oldest cat is a sage who never meows but expresses disdain with the turn of an ear, affection with a rub on the legs and demands service with a paw-pound on the door. He has taken two sets of adopted kittens under his wing, watching them in the yard, chasing them back from the street, play-fighting and grooming them. His care and concern and patience with them is something that I consider every day.
(Ed. note: The post first appeared on July 1, 2010)