The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats

I absolutely love my cats beyond all reason. While that may not be a surprise to anyone reading this, it’s a surprise to me, because honestly, I’m just not “a cat person”. I had no contact with cats while growing up because I wasn’t from a “cat family” (we had a parakeet and some fish, and we got a dog when I was in my late teens). When I was married, I adopted two cats because I wanted pets, but lived in an apartment.

The cats, Lou and Hobbes, were both wonderful (especially Lou, who would let us play with his tongue and rub his stomach and he was always happy), but still, I wasn’t a “cat person”. When I moved to New Mexico and was living alone in a small studio apartment, I again turned to an adopted cat for companionship, which is how Sweet Pea came into my life.

Sweet Pea was a tough sell—as we spent more time together, and I read more about cats and behaviour, I realized that she had a number of behavioural issues which probably stemmed from lack of socialization. I brought her home when she was eight weeks old (now I know that’s far too young for a cat to be separated from its mother), and from that day she had “litterbox issues” and aggression problems.

She was a biter from the day I brought her home, and while she actively solicited company from people, she didn’t enjoy being touched. I’m sure I exacerbated her mental health problems when I had her spayed and declawed, because both were done at the same time and she received absolutely no post-surgery pain medication. That was about 13 years ago, and while I know better now, back then I really had no idea that declawing was so painful, or that I should question the lack of pain meds.

I assumed the vet knew best. She had a very rough recovery from the declawing, and I’m sure that experience solidified in her mind that life was going to be pretty miserable. In her first 10 months of life she been separated from her mother at a young age, been moved around to about three different residences in two countries, and then spayed and declawed. The fact she continued to love me at all shows incredible forgiveness and tolerance, although she did make life a bit painful with her frequent nips.

A couple of months before she died, I was talking to my sister on the phone while sorting through some photographs we were going to use to put together an anniversary gift for our parents. Sweet Pea sat beside me the entire time, watching me talk and shuffle photos, and then without any warning she struck out and sunk her teeth into my right forearm. I had absolutely no warning, and I have no idea what set her off.

Perhaps she had just realized how unfair some parts of her life had been and decided to get even with me… I don’t blame her. When she died so suddenly, I was pretty adamant that there would be no more cats. I just didn’t have that “magic touch” with cats, and dogs and parrots were so much easier to understand.

Of course you know that resolution lasted about two weeks. It actually only took a couple of days before Flippy and I realized how much we missed the pitter-patter of little paws coming down the hallway and into the livingroom, often carrying a pair of my socks. We missed having a pet who’d stop by to say hello “just because”. I specifically missed the love Sweet Pea doled out that was unsolicited.

Dogs are such pushovers, but when a cat seeks our your company, it really makes you feel special. When we were asked to take Chelsea and Jackson I was initially reluctant, but part of me felt that I should take them because of Sweet Pea. I didn’t want to be the person who just took home cute, adorable kittens—I wanted to give a second-chance to the tough cases, and I also wanted to honour Sweet Pea by “doing better” and learning from the mistakes I’d made with her.

When we were offered the chance to take in Derek, he was also a “tough case” because he was a senior, but he won me over by being so affectionate. I finally had a house full of all different kinds of cats—Derek the pushover, Jackson the manipulator, and Chelsea the aloof, and they all started to teach me even more things about cats and their personalities.

Chelsea was very much like Sweet Pea in the disposition department, except that she didn’t bite. Working with her, especially through the feeding-tube episode, really helped to increase my confidence regarding handling cats and trusting them to not chomp on me! I was also completely charmed watching Jackson, Chelsea, and Derek get to know each other, and start to feel at home in our house.

Every step we made with the cats was something we felt we’d “earned”. The last step on the educational ladder was Frank, who seemed like one step forward, two steps back. He was affectionate *and* he was a biter, and gave me bites much worse than Sweet Pea ever did. He was submissive with us most of the time but would then lash out unexpectedly. Gradually, as we fixed his painful health problems, his temperament improved. He started to trust me and to seek me out for comfort, and it totally bowled me over.

Here was this tough, scarred “street cat” who sought me out for company and companionship of his own volition. Even at this moment he’s sitting at my feet, waiting for me to pick him up and take him in to bed. Every extra bit of intimacy these guys show me is so hard won, for all of us. It hasn’t been easy for any of them, and it hasn’t been particularly easy for me.

This is supposed to be a book review of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s book, The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats. Simply put, the book is about a man who loves his cats unabashedly because of the way they allow him to share their lives. Some reviewers at complain that the book is “boring” and “it’s just a book about a guy who goes for lots of walks with his cats”, but it’s not that at all—it’s a book about how a person can love their companion animals.

It’s not a scientific study of cat behaviour and emotions, so if you’re looking for that you might be disappointed. Rather, it’s a very easy-going look at how the author’s cats display nine different “key” emotions, especially in regards to how the emotions are used while interacting with each other, and with people. If you’re a cat, you’d be very lucky to live with the author of this book, as he’s completely undemanding and wants only what the cats are willing to give.

Perhaps because the cats trust Masson so much, they practically invite him to become one of them, and interact as if they’re all part of a larger pride with Masson as the leader. I loved the book, although I don’t agree completely with Masson’s assertions that cats must have access to the outdoors (after all, Frank still shows evidence of what life in the big city did to his head, his legs, etc.).

Still, I appreciated the unmitigated joy in Masson’s words, and I could feel the love he had for his feline family. It put into words the love I feel for mine—a new-found, unexpected, almost overwhelming affection for all the cats who’ve wandered into our lives this year. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize how wonderful they are, and I thank Sweet Pea for planting the seed that’s finally starting to take root. If the rest of my life can be shared with feline travelers who are looking for a place to rest, I’ll be very lucky, and content.