This was the day that I determined that I would hate cats forever: I was about six or seven years old and my mom was talking to one of our neighbors down the street. I decided to walk home, and along the road I noticed black tabby grooming itself. My first impulse at the time wasn't to simply overlook the stray animal, but rather to pick it up and take it home. I already had two dogs, and my understanding was that if you took an animal home, it just belonged to you. A cat would be a fine addition to our mini zoo that consisted of dogs, fish and an unfortunate outbreak of hamsters. As I went to hoist the cat, it took the most practical measure that could be expected from a feline surviving in the wild, and scratched my shirt before biting my kneecap. At the time my thoughts weren't, "How did I provoke such a rash response from this animal?" but trended more towards, "I hate cats forever. Cats are the worst."
This impression of the entire species held pretty strong over the years, especially as my family continued to adopt several dogs. My main perception of people who owned cats was ultimately shaped by my religious watching of The Simpsons, which depicted cat owners as such:
Indeed, the crazy cat lady has become sort of cultural meme that signifies rock bottom. One can lose their mind and live alone in a dilapidated shack, but you haven't truly scraped the bottom of the barrel until you've decided to throw a few cats into the fold.
"Cat lady," of course is the only term I know to use, as there is no male equivalent. Referring to myself as "cat man" would just sound like I had adopted the alias of a shitty super hero.
The stigma surrounding cat ownership isn't too difficult to figure out. Owning a dog is generally associated with an active, healthy lifestyle. Owning a cat is generally associated with owning a couch. Dogs play fetch. Cats play "claw at this thing until it goes under the couch." Dog owners visit dog parks. Cat owners visit Reddit.
But despite a lifetime of dog bias, I eventually found myself ready, and even eager, to become a cat owner. And this is how:
Step 1: Feel Like Something's Missing From Your Life, But Not Enough So to Spice Things Up in a Meaningful Way
A few months ago I was feeling kind of down in the dumps. Unfortunately I couldn't peg a specific reason for this. I had a job I enjoyed, a livable apartment and a girlfriend who more than tolerated me.
I didn't really have the desire to get into some Eat, Pray, Love shit and had no interest in getting a tattoo of a musical note on my ankle. So as you can imagine, my quarter-life crisis cures were limited.
Upon reflection, "my life felt lame so I decided to get a cat" doesn't sound that good when written out, but it's sadly accurate.
Step 2: Realize That You Can't Take Care of a Dog
My family dog had to be put down a few months ago and I realized how much I missed taking care of animals. And it was at that point that I was positive that I wanted a dog.
Then I remembered the work that went into taking care of a dog.
I decided I didn't want a dog.
Step 3: Google 'Are Cats Good Pets?'
To give you an idea of where I stood with cats, this was an actual thing I Google'd. The results were promising -- it turns out that the Internet is full of people who own cats.
After talking with a few cat owners and researching the work involved in raising them, I decided that I was going to become a grown man who owned cats. I was ready for the world to endorse me for cat ownership on LinkedIn.
Step 4: Find a Cat... Then Find Another Cat
I then began my process of searching for a cat, which involved visiting an "Adoptapalooza" in Union Square and scouring the Internet in search of cute.
After a week, my girlfriend sent me an adoption profile for this little thing.
And I immediately said "Yup, that's the one." But not before I noticed a note at the bottom of the profile saying that she had a sister being fostered at the same place.
"Well, shit, looks like I'm getting two cats."
I contacted Brooklyn Animal Action, which is a fantastic organization dedicated to rescuing and fostering animals, and asked about the girls. And after a few days of filling out forms and, without exaggerating, a 45-minute long conversation with a pet store owner about brands of cat litter, I became a proud cat lady.
Step 5: Embrace What You Have Become
Case in point, now when I tell people that I own cats, one of the first questions I get is "do you walk them on leashes?" The frequency that I get asked this makes me believe that I must give off a regrettable "type of guy who walks his cats on leashes" vibe, which is pretty much the exact same thing as a cat lady vibe. This is what I've become.
And I've never been happier.
But for the record, I have no plans to ever walk my cats around Park Slope on leashes.
Follow Dan Treadway on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dan_treadway