Cat Ladies

Cat Ladies

Read this essay as originally published at

There was a time when I was a dog devotee, quite anti-cat in fact: obnoxiously alpha in all the ways that dog imagery and  canine metaphors invoked. I insistingly self-identified as “Jaydog” and was prolific in the jargon thereof: you were all my dogs. In that obnoxiously top-dog way, I insisted that people refer to me as such. Up to and including my late thirties, I was never simply tired, I was dog-tired and if I was sick, I was sick as a dog. My reading materials were always dog-eared and  I subscribed, as a libertarian, to a dog-eat-dog mindset.

Whether metaphorically or actually, I was usually performing it doggy style.

Alas, I’d been barking up the wrong tree and was thus transformed. This old dog learned a new set of tricks and positions: call me simply “Jay” if you want. Or more precisely, “cat-lady-Jay” (if you’re being nasty).

Since the age of forty, when I was walked off the dog-ledge by my soon-to-become spouse and his cats, I’ve grown into a cat-napping, bookmark-using, passive-love-consuming, purr-addicted, aloof knocker of pencils off desks: an ailurophile. Show me a proverbial high dollar rug and I’ll proverbially claw it to shreds or proverbially puke on it.

Alas, the traits we love in our pets don’t define us. They may expose our affinities and help to provide kibble for our therapists, but that’d be too easy for pandering identity warriors. As with most this-or-that’s and top-bottom designations, dog guys against cat ladies lacks the narrative nuance we need in 2024.

By our forties, we’re all pretty much verse—amirite?

At the rainbow’s end—and especially in a community that doesn’t, as a rule, make lots of children—our pets become our family. Cat ladies and dog guys love our animals and are really on the same side against those monsters who don’t.

And yet, the constant through it all is that I’m Always. Picking. Up. Poop.

Cats and dogs alike crave attention, require shelter and sustenance, enjoy chasing lizards, and live for belly rubs. They may show their affinities differently as species, but they have us attuned to their needs: the needs of those who have been domesticated to interdepend on us. We are the government in our homes: identifying priorities, allocating resources to meet budgets, providing for common defense and forwarding the pursuit of happiness: working hard to please our cats and dogs and deriving value as a family from that effusive love and generalized good.

Speaking of poop-management, it’s April and the tax bill’s come, “on little cat feet…looking over harbor and city, on silent haunches, and then…”well.

A few years ago I noted that what I paid in federal taxes had exceeded my entire annual income from earlier in life. Most of us, I suppose, cross this threshold at some point: along the earning trajectory from our first high school jobs to higher-paying career plateau points. One should expect that, given inflation, ability, luck, experience, and opportunity, that our income should grow. And so should, of course, our spending power and responsibility to pay taxes. Now, in the fog of middle age we are really handing our taxes back to our younger selves—an intergenerational, inter-time-spatial resource transfer. We are scooping up our excess and tossing it back. Meanwhile, our eighteen year-old selves had been tossing it forward: paying into Social Security, registering for selective service, pursuing higher education: investing along the way, according to our increasing ability to push forward civil society in this greatest nation.

As tax responsibility increases over the years, so too does our “extra.” I am more able to care for my cats today than I was for my dogs when I was younger. I’m also more able to give to my church, to support the local basketball team when they make it to States, to sponsor scholarships, to hand a homeless person twenty bucks, to give my employees raises, to donate to the local cat shelter, and yes, to buy myself something nice every once in a while.  

And that I have to pay 6 percent on my consumption to ensure Medicaid and education are funded in Florida AND if I have to pay 1.47 percent of the value of my Hillsborough home to ensure that we are police-and-fire-protected and that the schools where my neighbors kids go are safe AND if I have to pay 20 percent of my income to ensure that America isn’t attacked by foreign enemies, that the arts and sciences don’t wither, and that families that I don’t even personally know are assisted in the midst of natural disasters, then so be it. The value-oriented, coupon-clipping cat lady in me doesn’t want to pay more than he can, but she also doesn’t want to pay less than they should. Where my dogs at?

While I’m no longer canis alpha, I’m not pusillanimous either. I’m a proud, loving, somewhat eccentric, anti-monster-active, American taxpaying cat lady whose gotten a lot more back than he’s put in—and he’s put in a lot. Taxpaying isn’t just scooping and disposing, it’s having enough to throw a little forward to our future selves and to toss a little back toward our past selves. But more importantly, it’s recognizing that there are those who are dependent on us right now. Some of these dependents are in our home, cuddling up to us, offering up their bellies, purring on our chests at night. Some of these dependents are our neighbors or strangers who need a hand up when life kicks them in the guts. Some of these dependents are ourselves, trying our darndest to be good citizens by making life better as we progress on the civic trajectory from youth to our rainbow’s ends as citizens and poop-scoopers—dog devotees and cat ladies—with extra means to give back and extra love to share with our four-legged families along the way.  

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