To be honest, I really wanted a dog.
The year was 2002. I perpetually owed $10.50 in late fees to Blockbuster Video. Text messaging was just starting to take off. And the very first American Idol winner—a woman by the name of Kelly Clarkson—was on top of the music charts with her song, “A Moment Like This.”
And in a small town in upstate New York, I was chasing a dream I’d had since the third grade: becoming a sportswriter. They were fun days, but the schedule was socially crippling. Lots of 4 p.m. to midnight shifts, coming home to a quiet apartment on the second floor of an old Victorian house.
I needed a pet.
I felt ready. I’d kept my plant—affectionately named “Sally”—alive for six years, since my freshman year of college. Surely feeding and watering a little four-legged friend wouldn’t be that much harder, right?
My heart said get a dog. My head said get a cat.
I missed the family black Lab, Maggie, who was back home in Virginia. But if this sportswriting thing was going to stick, there might someday be road trips to distant cities like Denver, LA and Miami. A cat seemed more practical. I needed a roommate who could take care of himself for a couple days at a time.
And that’s about when my mom called to say that a Good Samaritan had turned in an orange tabby to our vet’s office back home. She’d found him on the street; a couple of kids had apparently been picking on him.
Was I interested?
Eight days later, following a Thanksgiving Day handoff, I had myself a new roommate.
One day after that, my new roommate ate Sally.
This was his house now.
The relationship between men and cats hasn’t always gotten its due.
Dogs are “man’s best friend.” Women get stuck with the “crazy cat lady” label. We celebrate the bond between “a boy and his dog.”
But we’re out there: men who love cats. Crazy cat men who are willing to rise from a deep sleep at 3 a.m., stagger into the bathroom and turn on the sink—because our cats are thirsty and will not accept anything less than cold water straight from the tap.
“When a man loves a cat,” Mark Twain once said, “I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”
And, indeed, pop culture today is filled with men who would have gotten along just fine with Twain. Comedian and animal advocate Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office, started a Facebook page for his cat Ollie. Pop singer Ed Sheeran’s rescued cat, Graham, has racked up 59,000 followers on Twitter. Garfield had the hapless Jon, and Dr. Evil had the hairless Mr. Bigglesworth.
“A friend of mine once described the difference between cats and dogs like, ‘Dogs are like bad children, and cats are like cool roommates,’” says Naren Shankar, a producer and writer who has worked on such television shows as CSI, Almost Human and now The Expanse. He was never a cat person until he met his wife. Now, when he’s on location, he often fosters them.
“I think that cats, they make you have to kind of work for it,” says Derek Grant, a sergeant in the Air Force. “You come home, and the dog’s like, ‘pet me, yeah, cool.’ They’re always just like, ‘yeah, we’re buddies.’ But when a cat chooses to sit on your lap, when a cat wants you to spend time with it, you really feel that bond.”
Grant has three cats: Star-Lord, Master Chief and Commander Shepard. They take turns, typically one each night, making an appearance in his twin sons’ bedroom before the lights go out. “They must have a chart somewhere that I haven’t found,” jokes Grant, who loves to see the reaction of his kids when a cat chooses to hop up on the couch with them.
“They’re really, really good pets for teaching boundaries to children,” Grant says.
“You can’t just run up to a cat. You can’t just do whatever you want. … It encourages respect of animals. It encourages that good behavior. And the payoff is huge.”
As a Hollywood stunt man, Tim Brown spends his days getting set on fire, flying through fake walls and getting beaten up by Supergirl, Daredevil and Thor. When the wars end, he comes home to two cats—a tabby named Squash, who is “practically a dog,” and a tuxedo named Smudge, who is more timid but also more playful.
Brown also has a dog. And to him, it’s the perfect balance: “Because dogs teach you about unconditional love, and cats teach you that it’s not all about you.”
It’s been almost 17 years now since Boz stepped into my life and turned Sally into a garden salad.
I like to say that we’ve been through all the wars together. The girls. The breakups. The moves. My 20s. My 30s. My decision in 2010 to leave sportswriting. His decision in 2015 to throw up on my fiancee’s expensive new ottoman.
And of course, the great civil war of 2003.
As we got to know each other, I suggested that perhaps the kitchen table might be the one surface he stays off. He suggested instead that, 17 times a day, he would be racing across my tiny apartment and launching himself onto said table.
Finally, fed up, I decided I had to send a message.
Catching him in the act one day, I grabbed him off the table and squirted him with water. When I set him down, he took a couple steps forward. Stopped. Then turned around, walked back over and swatted my shin three times.
But seriously, for nearly half my life now, he’s been there. Or somewhere around here. “Honey, have you seen the cat?” is a constant refrain in our home. He’s a wizard at finding hiding places in the depths of closets. He’s never met a bookshelf he couldn’t scale or a shoebox that he couldn’t squeeze his way into.
If there’s a flower in the house, he’ll find it in 3.1 seconds. If there’s a stray glass of water, he’ll knock it over in 6.2. A man of simple pleasures, his favorite toy has always been a little green string. One time, packing for a trip, I found it on top of my suitcase.
Night after night after night in my mid-20s, we’d end our days sitting on the couch, watching SportsCenter on repeat. Night after night, I’ll lie down in bed and rub my fingers together—thsh, thsh, thsh—and he’ll suddenly appear out of the dark.
For so many of the quiet moments of my life—working late on a story, falling asleep in front of the TV, reading one more chapter—the soundtrack has been the steady purr of a cat.
"Cats are fascinating, intelligent, loving individuals. Katie Rae is a key part of our family and brings so much joy to me and my wife, Angela."
“Cats are so mysterious. Don’t get me wrong—I love dogs. But cats are unique in that they reveal themselves to you over time, on their own terms.”
“The best thing about having cats is the experience of unconditional love. Malaya will give an ‘I am annoyed’ meow when you try to pet her, before she admits she likes it. Onyx is a motor mouth and meows on the phone when I’m on speaker.”
Sam Kalda literally wrote the book on all this.
Of Cats and Men is a fun, illustrated look at “history’s great cat-loving artists, writers, thinkers, and statesmen,” from Sir Isaac Newton, to Ernest Hemingway, to Marlon Brando. Inventor Nikola Tesla, the book points out, became interested in electricity after getting a static shock while petting his boyhood cat. Sir Winston Churchill was known as the British Bulldog, but he would sneak his cats scraps of salmon from the dinner table.
Through history and imagery, Kalda says, cats have often been associated with more domestic spaces, while stereotypes of men tended to lean more outdoorsy. His book is meant to challenge “this absurd way that we gender animals” and the “mean trope” of the crazy cat woman. “I personally,” he says, “consider myself a crazy cat man.”
He has two himself. And they’re often on his desk as he works.
“They are, mostly, a delight,” he says, speaking a universal truth. “When a cat comes up to you and wants attention or affection, it feels special—like they’re bestowing some kind of honor on you. I appreciate that. I like the fact that they’re a little bit more mysterious than dogs.”
And I think that’s one of my favorite things about Boz: Where some may see an orange cat, curled up on a chair, I see a puzzle of personality and crazy idiosyncrasies.
For example: He hates when I sneeze. Loathes it. If I sneeze, he’s suddenly at my side—as if out of thin air—tail flicking, ready to pounce. He also hates exposed ankles. If you’re wearing shorts in our house, you’d better keep your head on a swivel: There’s a sneak attack coming. On the flip side, though, he loves sleeping under the Christmas tree, lying in sinks and the wonder of a good window.
If I curl my hand into a fist, I know he’ll rub his head against it. If I catch his eye, I know he’ll give a soft meow.
“Every single one of them has quirks,” Shankar says. “Each [of my cats], I know exactly what they like, what they don’t like, how they like to be petted.”
Days before I sat down to write this, my vet told me Boz probably has a good year left.
His kidneys have gotten worse. We’re now giving him fluids a couple times a week, under the skin in the scruff of his neck. And I’m pretty sure he’s gone deaf—which, come to think of it, might actually be a blessing around here.
If we started this journey in a quiet, one-bedroom apartment in upstate New York, we’re winding it down right smack in the middle of a three-ring circus. In one ring is a newly opinionated toddler. In another is an outspoken Pomeranian.
But I watch him lie patiently there in the middle of it all, as my 2.5-year-old son kneels next to him and gently rests his head on his back. I love Boz for that. And for the fact that, without fail, once everyone else has gone to bed, he always emerges, always finds his way back to my side. Back to his seat on the couch.
Keeping watch, sticking close, amid the hum of the refrigerator, the glow of the television and the steady rumble of a familiar old purr.
Michael Sharp is a former senior editor for All Animals magazine.
TAKE ACTION: Find your new roommate at The Shelter Pet Project or at a shelter or rescue group in your neighborhood.