Archives For Cats

C.S. Lewis & Cats

February 28, 2017 — 21 Comments

cat-ear

Is it possible to love both dogs and cats? Or, does the preference for one work in some invisibly mystical way to create a dislike for the other?

I suspect the majority of people who are genuine animal lovers, maintain the capacity to appreciate both . . . in light of their respective attributes.

Most cat lovers I know, don’t hate dogs, even if they could happily live without them. Likewise, most dog lovers (me included) enjoy interacting with cats too . . . although I must confess, the more doglike they are in their personality, the better.

I’m not focusing on the comparison between people according to their preference. This despite the fact that Psychology Today cites a study that says “cat people [are] generally about 12 percent more neurotic.” However, the same article does offer a provocative observation that may suggest dog lovers are readier than their counterparts to expand their affections.

My results showed that people who owned only cats seemed to be somewhat different than dog owners or people who owned both dogs and cats in terms of their personalities. People who own both dogs and cats seem to be much like people who own only dogs.

C.S. Lewis was like those of us who appreciate each of these creatures as they live in accordance with their created nature. Lewis was an animal lover, and throughout his lifetime he expressed affection for both dogs and cats.

I have written about the dogs in Lewis’ life in the past. The fact is that his residence was also home to a number of cats as well.

In 1962 he wrote to a correspondent who asserted they held much in common. He agreed on one score: “We are also both ruled by cats. Joy’s Siamese—my ‘step-cat’ as I call her– is the most terribly conversational animal I ever knew. She talks all the time and wants doors and windows to be opened for her 1000 times an hour.” (To be fair, most dogs I know also regard their people as doorkeepers and chefs.)

Among Lewis’ references to cats is this quaint observation, shared with a different correspondent the same year. “Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.”

One of Lewis’ finest insights into the feline psyche is found in Letters to an American Lady. Writing a decade before the previously quoted letters, he describes an observation that echoes true in my own experience with both varieties of pets.

We were talking about cats and dogs the other day and decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other cats!

In Mere Christianity Lewis uses these animal species to illustrate his point that you cannot fairly contrast Christians and non-Christians in the abstract. After all, “there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.” So, simply sorting them out would prove a monumental problem.

On the other hand, there are some abstract generalizations that it is possible to make.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.

A final delightful reference to cats is found in a letter Lewis wrote near the end of the Second World War to his goddaughter, Sarah Neylan. It is particularly impressive because he takes the time to scribble some images for the young girl. He names and sketches three animals in the letter.

csl-sketches

Please excuse me for not writing to you before to . . . thank you for your nice Card which I liked very much: I think you have improved in drawing cats and these were very good, much better than I can do.

I can only draw a cat from the back view like this. I think it is rather cheating, don’t you? because it does not show the face which is the difficult part to do.

It is a funny thing that faces of people are easier to do than most animals’ faces except perhaps elephants, and owls. I wonder why that should be!

If I might hazard a response to Lewis’ question, it could be due to the fact that a dog’s face clearly reveals their intent, whether it be love or malice. Cats, in contrast, are capable of appearing inscrutable, which nearly always suits their purpose. (No surprise there, since they are feline pharisees, after all.)

Despite their differences, and for some perhaps, due to their distinctions, they are both lovable. And fortunately, there is no crime in harboring a preference for one over the other.

Beware of British Cows

January 26, 2016 — 14 Comments

cowMad Cow Disease is no laughing matter. Because my family and I resided in the United Kingdom during the early nineties, we have never been eligible to donate blood back home in the States.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a truly terrible, and always fatal, affliction. In a grotesque abuse of these docile herbivores, it turns out that the disease was introduced to cattle via mixing contaminated bone and tissue from sheep into their feed. (Whoever came up with that idea should be in prison.)

I seldom think about the possibility of this disease lying dormant in my body’s cells, and each year the likelihood of that being true diminishes. Frankly, since I’ve never heard of any of the Americans stationed there during that period contracting the disease, I consider it nearly certain that it is not present.

Still, just when I’ve finally accepted the notion that British cows are not a threat to me, I come face to face with the fact that they actually are.

Recently, an official report in the United Kingdom revealed that during the past fifteen years, cattle are responsible for the deaths of seventy-four people. Seventy-four!

That means they kill more Brits than sharks! And I doubt that most of those victims were taunting the cattle like the foolish young woman pictured above.

If you’ve never spent much time around cows, you may not realize how large and heavy they are. They can trample or crush people accidentally, and since they are not aggressive by nature, I assume that most of the deaths they are responsible for are just that, accidents.

Best, I suppose, to avoid farms, unless you crave a life of adrenalin-fueled risk on the edge of disaster.

C.S. Lewis reveals how deceptively innocent cattle can appear. In a letter written to a close friend in 1916, he described the calm pastoral setting for his life.

In fact, taking all things round, the world is smiling for me quite pleasantly just at present. The country round here is looking absolutely lovely: not with the stern beauty we like of course: but still, the sunny fields full of buttercups and nice clean cows, the great century old shady trees, and the quaint steeples and tiled roofs of the villages peeping up in their little valleys–all these are nice too, in their humble way.

Lewis should have been more cautious. It seems to me the cleanliness of the cows was a clear evidence they may have been up to no good.

In 1925 Lewis wrote to his father that the deer at Magdalen College were taking the place of the cattle he had left at home.

My external surroundings are beautiful beyond expectation and beyond hope. . . . My big sitting room looks north and from it I see nothing, not even a gable or spire, to remind me that I am in a town. I look down on a stretch of level grass which passes into a grove of immemorial forest trees, at present coloured with autumn red. Over this stray the deer.

They are erratic in their habits. Some mornings when I look out there will be half a dozen chewing the cud just underneath me, and on others there will be none in sight–or one little stag (not much bigger than a calf and looking too slender for the weight of its own antlers) standing still and sending through the fog that queer little bark or hoot which is these beasts’ ‘moo.’ It is a sound that will soon be as familiar to me as the cough of the cows in the field at home, for I hear it day and night.

Lewis obviously possessed a fondness for the cattle that framed his youthful memories. Likewise the deer that meandered through college grounds without fear for their safety.

Having an uncle who was a farmer, I enjoyed some small exposure to gentle, albeit not quite “clean,” cows when a boy. Today I enjoy many a day when deer leisurely cross in front of my study window to munch on some of the thick grass that we planted more for their benefit than our own.

Obviously, I do not hold bovine diseases against the poor cattle. And, at least for the present, I choose to believe that cattle (unlike cats) do not harbor any plans for world domination.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m foolish enough to trust them where I haven’t already planned a potential escape route . . . especially when I’m in the U.K.

_____

Check out this post for another entertaining C.S. Lewis observation about cows!

I’m informed by my lovely wife that “clean cows” are dairy cows that need to be kept clean for hygiene reasons. Makes sense to me, but I still think that it’s an odd adjective to associate with cattle.

Pharisaical Cats

September 16, 2015 — 8 Comments

catsCats or dogs? Which makes the best companion? This is one of the few topics guaranteed to arouse arguments as intense as political debates.

The fact is, the first three words already elicited a visceral reaction from most readers. “Cats or dogs” might as well read “cats versus dogs.”

Even though many of our homes welcome both species as residents, we all know they are drastically different. Many dogs eagerly solicit feline playful attention, while most cats choose to remain aloof from them, barely tolerating their canine presence.

The humans who share the habitation may genuinely loves both types of animals, but in the deep recesses of their hearts everyone possesses a (sometimes secret) preference for one or the other.

Of course, if we’re a “cat person” we wouldn’t want our dogs to know that; it would hurt their feelings. And, if we’re a “dog person” we wouldn’t want our cats to know, lest they treat us with even greater disdain than they already do.

C.S. Lewis was an animal lover. He had both dogs and cats during his lifetime. And he recognized well their differences. In a 1955 letter to an American correspondent, he wrote:

We were talking about Cats & Dogs the other day & decided that both have consciences but the dog, being an honest, humble person, always has a bad one, but the Cat is a Pharisee and always has a good one. When he sits and stares you out of countenance he is thanking God that he is not as these dogs, or these humans, or even as these other Cats!

I love Lewis’ comparison of their temperaments. I don’t think I’ve ever met a cat who was not at least a little bit self-righteous. As for canines . . . even disobedient rascals (like our yet-to-be-sufficiently-trained adolescent border collie) are quite aware of the fact that they are being “bad.” Some are even grow remorseful.

In a 1961 missive Lewis addresses the psychoanalysis of a cat. He is responding to a correspondent’s announcement that her veterinarian had diagnosed her cat with some behavioral problem.

I hope your vet is not a charlatan? Psychological diagnoses even about human patients seem to me pretty phoney. They must be even phonier when applied to animals.

You can’t put a cat on a couch and make it tell you its dreams or produce words by ‘free association’. Also—I have a great respect for cats—they are very shrewd people and would probably see through the analyst a good deal better than he’d see through them.

Lewis is quite likely correct in this observation. Our cats obviously see through all of their human “family.” They are not only astute, they act disinterested, but actively observe us all day long. (Well, at least during the ninety-four minutes when they are not napping each day.)

I have written about C.S. Lewis’ dogs in the past. I’ll close now with a passing reference Lewis made in a 1962 letter to a fellow cat-lover.

We [you and I] are also both ruled by cats. Joy’s Siamese—my ‘step-cat’ as I call her—is the most terribly conversational animal I ever knew. She talks all the time and wants doors and windows to be opened for her 1000 times an hour.

So it goes with our pharisaical felines. With majestic posture, they patiently wait for us to fulfill their commands.

 

 

 

 

Pet Names

July 14, 2015 — 5 Comments

hypocorismHow many hypocorisms do you have? Which of them are your favorites? Are there any you would sooner never hear again?

I subscribe to one of those “word of the day” emails sent by services such as dictionary.com or thefreedictionary.com.

The truth is, more often than not I’m already familiar with the word they choose to define each day. However, when something hits me out of the proverbial blue—I am amazed and pause to ponder its meaning, history, and reasons why I may never have crossed its path before. (I imagine this behavior is widely replicated among word lovers.)

“Hypocorism” is one of those surprises. It had no place in my lexicon, although the concept of “pet names that are bestowed with affection” is something my family and I have always practiced.

I grew up being called Robbie, and as a young adolescent told my family I preferred to go by Rob. Rob is probably verbal shorthand for Robert, but Robbie is definitely hypocoristic. It is amusing to me that my beloved grandmother never ceased to call me Robbie—even though every precious letter I received from her while serving in the military far from home began, “Dear Robert.”

We’ve already noted the key aspect of a hypocorism. It is a name expressing endearment, not disrespect. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it is not embarrassing. Many people bestow pet names on their loved ones that are best shared only with family.

Some pet names are simply silly. Two of my granddaughters often call me “Bumpa.” That is not a reference to any lumpiness on my part, but to the way the eldest of them began pronouncing “Grandpa” when she was oh so tiny. It was cute, special, and passed on to her younger sister, at first through aural osmosis . . . and later through conscious affection.

C.S. Lewis’ family members were enthusiastic practitioners of hypocorism.

One of the things that new students of Lewis often find confusing is his own name. The fact that he was known to family and friends as “Jack” begs the question of the source of that name. The story, though oft told, remains quite entertaining.

The initial version of Lewis’ adopted name was Jacksie. Lewis loved dogs, and his stepson Douglas Gresham writes that Jacksie was one of these childhood animals.

When he was a small boy, he didn’t like the name [Clive] and soon changed it to “Jacksie” by simply refusing to answer to anything else. It was actually because of a small dog that he was fond of that he picked the name Jacksie, which was what the dog was called. It was run over (probably by a horse and cart as there were almost no cars at the time and place where he was a child), and Jack, as he later became known, just took the name for himself. (Jack’s Life)

I have shared in the past how Lewis’ brother Warnie [Warren] related the event.

Then, in the course of one holiday, my brother made the momentous decision to change his name. Disliking “Clive”, and feeling his various baby-names to be beneath his dignity, he marched up to my mother, put a forefinger on his chest, and announced “He is Jacksie.”

He stuck to this next day and thereafter, refusing to answer to any other name: Jacksie it had to be, a name contracted to Jacks and then to Jack. So to his family and his intimate friends, he was Jack for life: and Jack he will be for the rest of this book.

Lewis’ life was filled with other hypocorisms. One of the most curious was the nick name “Minto,” given to Janie Moore. Mrs. Moore and her daughter were supported in his home by Lewis after her son Paddy had been killed in WWI. The two men had pledged that if only one survived, he would care for the other’s widowed parent. Lewis kept that promise.

As you reflect on the pet names that you share with those you love, you are in good company. An affectionate hypocorism is a truly precious gift.

lyricLast night a new member joined our family. Her name is musical. We didn’t choose it; her previous family did. But we think it fits and she’ll live up to it.

Her name is Lyric.

We adopted Lyric through the agency of DRAW Rescue.

The picture above shows black and white Lyric at her first meeting with her new sister, Foxy. (We didn’t name Foxy either; she joined our family when we “rescued” her from a California shelter six years ago.)

The two girls are getting along quite well their first full day together, but those of you with more than one pet know that it takes a little bit of time to sort things out when a new member joins the family.

Lyric is our third consecutive rescue pet. Although she’s younger than the others who came to us in the past, adopting a rescue dog isn’t the same thing as getting a puppy. You don’t enjoy the same cuddly acceptance. Many rescued dogs are quite wary of human beings—especially men.

It takes time and patience to bond. To let them know that they’re safe and they are now in their “forever home.” Some, like Lyric, benefit from interim stays with gracious foster parents. But their move to your home is still just part of their unstable life until the day when they “forget” about all the previous transitions and just know they are home.

C.S. Lewis talks about this longing for a home in Till We Have Faces. Psyche is describing her desire to find that place where she truly belongs.

Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home. . . .”

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing— to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

Although the myth he’s retelling in this book has nothing to do with adopting pets, the following passage also relates (by dramatic extension) to the situation of “rescued” animals who join you with a legacy of previous relationships (not all of them good).

“Where shall we ever be safe if we’re not safe here? This is my home, Maia. And you won’t understand the wonder and glory of my adventure unless you listen to the bad part.

If you are in a position to share your home with a pet, I probably don’t need to tell you there are many, very many of them who need homes today. If you’re up to the extra challenge of adopting a rescued animal who comes with often unknown “baggage,” just contact one of your local rescue agencies.

These organizations are almost always run by volunteers who are motivated solely by their compassion for these innocent creatures who can no longer be cared for by their owners or—more tragically, have been discarded by those who should have cared for them. (Some, of course, are strays who were never in a human family.) I’m proud to say my nephew and his wife provide a foster home for rescued dogs in Seattle.

Whatever their background . . . the “bad part” of their story, you can be instrumental in “rehabilitating” them. And, trust me, they will reward you with more love than you could ever imagine.

Now, even if you’re not prepared to take in one of these lovely creatures, you can still help. Your local rescue organizations and shelters welcome any contributions you make—either in kind or in cash. You can check your phonebook for local rescues. Or, check out one of these websites which can connect you to many of these groups.

Adopt a Pet

Petfinder

Rescue Me (Dogs)

This column turned into more than I intended it to be. Originally I set out to simply celebrate Lyric’s entrance to our family. Now I realize that her blessing just may encourage the adoption of another cat or dog. And that would be a wonderful thing indeed.

In closing, let’s consider another passage from C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia. In a letter he wrote in 1955, he mentions the importance of home.

As Dr. [Samuel] Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour.” (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter; 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.)

These words remind us that the happiness we know in our earthly homes is only a foretaste of the joy we can know when we ultimately take our place in the eternal home prepared for us by our Creator.

Perhaps on that day we’ll be welcomed not only by our loved ones who have preceded us, but also by the pets we have loved during this mortal life. That would certainly be a magnificent thing . . . but that’s a discussion for another day.

Beware of Zoolatry

January 8, 2013 — 16 Comments

royal catWhen my wife and I dated, I praised her beautiful cat when I visited her home. The cat maintained that imperial posture and attitude that is common in virtually all felines. And that came as no surprise, since she was an Egyptian Mau, one of the most ancient of breeds. She passed on long decades ago, but her haughty, regal bearing is etched in my memory.

I thought of her today when I read the following in the December issue of First Things, in the executive editor’s column.

Wandering around the American Kennel Club’s big “Meet the Breeds” event with my two youngest children recently, I saw a big banner in the cat section proclaiming that a particular breed had been considered a god by an ancient civilization. Of course, our understanding of the genuine religious impulses of ancient religions has increased, but still, one of the gifts the Jewish people have brought the world is that no one who knows about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the least bit tempted to worship cats.

I mean, would you want to worship a murderous narcissistic psychopath? This is not an image of God to make anyone happy. If you’re going to worship an animal, why not the Border Collie, frantically eager to please, or the loving, soulful-eyed Lab? Or the alert and protective German Shepherd? Or the indomitable Saint Bernard? Or the classic loyal and even-tempered mutt?

I don’t intend to offend any cat lovers by repeating this observation—my son has an affectionate tabby he rescued as a kitten while a senior in high school, that’s welcome in our home anytime. Still, as an unrepentant dog person, and “papa” to a rescued border collie, the words above brought a smile to me.

C.S. Lewis painted a graphic image of one animal-headed deity. It was Tash, the god of the Calormenes. In The Last Battle, we see that in Narnia, the reality behind the lifeless image can be most terribly revealed.

In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving. It was gliding very slowly Northward. At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it. But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke. Also, this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done. It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak. It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers—all twenty of them—were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails. It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it. . . .

The others watched it for perhaps a minute, until it streamed away into the thicker trees on their right and disappeared. Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing. Everyone started breathing properly again and moved. They had all been still as statues while it was in sight. “What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper. “I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes. It was when I was no older than thou, and had gone as a guest to The Tisroc’s court in Tashbaan. He took me into the great temple of Tash. There I saw it, carved above the altar.”

“Then that—that thing—was Tash?” said Eustace.

In our world, idolatry has certainly evolved since it’s pantheistic and zoolatrous beginnings. Today we are tempted by material indulgences and corruptions aplenty. While few of us impute divinity to animals or objects of stone or wood, we don’t have to look far to find something we deem worthy of adoration.

Our favorite idol is neither beast nor mammon. It is ourselves. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain:

This act of self-will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall. For the difficulty about the first sin is that it must be very heinous, or its consequences would not be so terrible, and yet it must be something which a being free from the temptations of fallen man could conceivably have committed. The turning from God to self fulfils both conditions. It is a sin possible even to Paradisal man, because the mere existence of a self—the mere fact that we call it “me”—includes, from the first, the danger of self-idolatry. Since I am I, I must make an act of self-surrender, however small or however easy, in living to God rather than to myself. This is, if you like, the “weak spot” in the very nature of creation, the risk which God apparently thinks worth taking.

Now, this is a sin to which I frequently find myself succumbing. I far too often think first about my own desires and appetites . . . only later (if ever) becoming concerned with the needs of my neighbor.

No, it’s neither cat nor dog that needs to be evicted from the throne in my soul reserved for my Creator—it’s me.