Congratulations! It’s a Cat.

The not so crazy life of a cat lover


My cousin recently had a baby and during a visit I was able to spend time with the little bundle of joy. She’s adorable in every “baby” way. She goos and gahs appropriately, blows tiny bubbles of spit your way, opens her eyes in surprise while playing peak-a-boo, throws her food at whatever poor soul has been tasked with feeding her, and giggles when she farts or makes her contribution to that day’s dirty diaper supply. It’s all terribly, unbearably adorable.

But as the night continued and my cousin’s contribution to the self-satisfied talk of babies and children morphed into the almost endless babble I had heard my entire life, I found myself getting lost in the various colors of M&M’s inside of my cookie. And just as I found a yellow M&M buried, I realized I had lost track of the conversation and therefore left myself vulnerable to an attack.

“What about you, Bree, don’t you want children? Any boyfriends yet?”

Caught completely off guard and still thinking about the victory of having found a peanut M&M, I answered, “Nope. I just have my cat.”

I realized my mistake almost immediately as I extracted the M&M from the cookie. As I brought the traitorous piece of chocolate to my lips, I lifted my eyes to the poignant stares of my family members.

“I’m really busy with school,” I offered up in hopes they would let the subject drop. “My cat pretty much takes up all my free time. Anyway, I don’t have the time or energy for a boyfriend, let alone the responsibility required of a tiny human,” I said shoveling myself deeper into this hole of the “crazy cat lady” persona. “My cat’s like my child, except he’s a hell of a lot less work.”

That was it. Honestly, I should have known better. Everything I said was entirely true but it also left me open for my cousin’s rebuttal. With a raised eyebrow, she said, “Oh my God, Breanna, you’re going to end up a crazy cat lady!”

Everyone laughed and then they moved back to discussing the baby poo topic. It was over pretty quick but I knew something significant had happened. It was like my family, in that moment, in labeling me as a cat lady, accepted that I was doomed. My fate was to die alone, a spinster for life, filling the void of never having loved or been loved by adopting an insurmountable number of feline friends.

And here lies the issue. I was only “crazy” because my affections were given to a cat instead of a baby. Although it is equally as ridiculous to prattle on and on about the exact shade of brown of their baby’s daily deposit, these moms were at least talking about a human being. They have, responsibly, upheld the status quo. Making babies, raising babies, discussing your baby’s poop color—that’s all normal and acceptable. It is what society prepares women for from their very first toy. Remember that baby doll you carried around constantly? Practice.

The generalization of those of the female variety are seen as nurturing, loving, and destined baby makers and nurturers. To care, to love, to obsess, and to fuss over small and helpless creatures that need us are widely accepted as “in our nature.” And this is fine as long as the above descriptions are about our feelings toward babies and not cats.

When it’s a cat that brings out your nurturing, loving, and mildly obsessive side, you are automatically labeled the socially accepted, sexist stereotype: Crazy Cat Lady. Because instead of being out in the world finding a potential mate and contributing to the ever growing 7 billion plus population, you are instead putting yourself through school and cuddling with your cat.

And that’s a problem. You’re deviating from the status quo. That’s what had been nagging at me and that’s what has continued to bother me despite my family’s good hearted intentions. I’m sure my cousin didn’t declare me a crazy cat lady as a direct insult and yet the declaration, the laughter, and the overall acceptance of my supposed doomed future, was exactly that.
I admitted to a deviation, was scrutinized for it, laughed at, and then dismissed.

Perhaps that’s over dramatic, but as I continued to think about this newly appointed description, I became a little angry. I freaking love my cat. There aren’t enough words or pictures to truly showcase the love I feel toward the giant black fur ball that occupies my life. From the moment I brought Dexter home, he and I bonded. I honestly cannot imagine my life without him. He’s who I want to see when I come home after a long day. He’s who I wake up to in the morning and who I sleepwalk to the bathroom with. He’s who I tell all of my secrets and fears to.

And maybe that’s weird to some people. Maybe they can’t understand how a cat could become such an important part of a stable human’s life. So they conclude that there must be something unstable or crazy about me and others like me.

Recently, some have even gone so far as to say that we “cat ladies” have been affected by a parasite that takes over our brains and causes us to have unnatural affection toward our cats. I assure you there is not. The science is incomplete and shows the depth of prejudice toward people who love their cats. We’re as normal as anyone else; we just have cats instead of babies.

Karina Garavito, a 22-year-old student at Mt. San Antonio College, says she often refers to her cats, Freckle and Smaug, as her children or babies.

“I come out of my room one morning, and I ask my sister, ‘Where are the children?’ and she automatically goes, ‘I don’t know…I think one of them is by the bathroom…’ but she knows! She knows that when I ask ‘where are the children’ I’m really asking, ‘where are the cats?’” In fact, anyone who has a cat or knows someone who has a cat, knows that cat owners often treat their cats, and refer to them, as though they are their children.

I interviewed several other cat owners, and all of them—every single one—refer to their cats as their child or baby. And it is widely understood and acceptable among other cat owners that their cats are their stand-in children. It’s only to people on the outside, people who don’t have cats, who don’t seem to understand.

“I don’t really think it’s as crazy as people make it,” said Hillary Vairin, a 22-year old liberal arts major at Victor Valley College.

“Honestly, when, or if, I refer to my cat as just Trixie, like ‘Trixie did this,’ or ‘Trixie did that,’ people automatically assume that she’s my kid. Which quite frankly, says a lot about our society. That it’s more acceptable to have babies at our age than it is to have a cat. And when I tell them that Trixie is my cat, or say instead, ‘my cat did this or that,’ they ask, ‘Why do you talk about your cat that way?’

Why is it better for a young woman to have a baby in their 20s, before they are ready, than it is for them to love and care for a cat?

“I mean I understand why there’s this desire, in kids our age… Because so many of the people I knew in high school are popping out babies, and I can understand how there can be that instinct in them to care for a baby, because I take care of Freckle. But I am not saying that taking care of a baby is anything like taking care of a cat. Cats are not nearly as expensive. This one,” she said pointing down to a snoozing Freckle, “does not need to go to school for one or college. He just needs to go to the vet. Needs food, water, needs a place to poop and sleep. That’s pretty much it. Sold. Done.”

And that’s the thing. Cats are much simpler to care for and love. To an extent, cat lovers know that our cat is much more than a pet. We love them but it is not as though we recognize that there is some sort of void in our lives and we are trying to fill it with a cat. It doesn’t mean we are incapable of loving other human beings or that we don’t want our own adorable spitting, burping, crying bundle of joy whose shit we can discuss with other parents in the future. It means that for right now, we are young and have dreams, goals, and aspirations that we are working toward. We may not have the time, or money, for a baby.

But we still enjoy companionship and affection; so we have cats. We take lots of photos of our pets as a new mother does of her child. We cuddle with them, talk to them, and develop an inseparable bond.

“I took so many freaking pictures,” Garavito admitted. “I’m looking through my phone and seeing all these old photos, and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, you took a lot of pictures of this freaking cat. You’re a crazy cat lady without even realizing you’re a crazy cat lady! Oh my god, I’m one of those! I’m a crazy cat lady’ and you think to yourself, ‘How did this happen?’ Because you don’t plan for this to happen. It just happens. You fall in love with the cat. But honestly, saying you’re a cat lady, it’s just like saying you’re a dog person except there’s more of a stigma.”

“You say you’re a cat lady and now you’re just fucking weird.”

I adopted my cat because I saw a picture of him in an advertisement for stray cats that were picked up from the neighborhood. He had a tiny body and a disproportionately large head, paws, and tail that made him into this awkward and clumsy mess. I saw his picture at breakfast, and I adopted him within the next hour. Since then, he’s become a part of me. We are now a package deal, and wherever I go, he comes along.

Photo illustration by Cynthia Schroeder

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.