They Just Can't Help Themselves -- NOT

We have two indoor cats, Shekie and Portia, whom we adore. We believe they are safer enjoying the view of nature from our large, arched windows, as are the birds, squirrels and other wildlife that frequent our backyard. A report from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that domestic cats kill 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year. Some people characterize cats as "super predators," but we don't subscribe to that. A January 30th New York Times article reports that cats can't help themselves -- if they see something flutter, they go in for the kill. Well, perhaps out in the wild, but we can't even get our cats to earn their keep by killing the non-rent paying interlopers, the bugs and spiders that enter our home uninvited.

While our cats may not be the "killing machines" others perceive them to be, they exhibit other instinctive behaviors that endear them to us -- they know how and when to comfort. When my husband was hospitalized for several months after suffering a debilitating stroke, I would return home totally exhausted each night from my days in the hospital. Shekie, my green-eyed fluffy male, would greet me at the door, present himself to be petted and then follow me up to my bedroom. Within moments of collapsing in bed, I would hear his sister, our petite Portia, run into my bedroom and then jump on the bed with me. She would settle in and cuddle next to me. Then she would stretch her entire body out on top of me, filling me with her warmth, and the vibrations of her purring would massage and soothe me. With one hand I would methodically and rhythmically pet her, while the other hand would receive hundreds of sandpaper tongue licks. Although everything wasn't OK, they made it better.

They are the first ones I see in the morning and the last ones at night. Shekie is my furry alarm clock, waking me at different hours by licking my eyelids and hair. We just have to remind him of the change from daylight savings time as his inner clock doesn't get reset and he loves me an hour earlier. Portia covers me with her warm body while I read in bed at night and I am well-trained -- I have learned to pet her with one hand while holding my book with the other. Sometimes, just looking at them in a totally relaxed posture on a chair or in an old Costco box will be sufficient to calm me.

Most of the time, our cats enjoy being inside our home. Shekie, (whom everyone mistakes for a female because he is so beautiful) loves to bask on the amplifier that sits downstairs in the family room. We leave it on so that it stays warm. Occasionally Portia gets the "hot spot" first and Shekie will sit close by and eye her, willing her to move. She pays no attention to him. So he takes matters into his own paws and jumps up onto the amplifier and shoves her off so that he can get back his preferred spot. Usually, Portia prefers to remain upstairs where her favorite spot is on top of the cable modem in my home office. Like the amplifier, it is warm and she drapes herself over the box, and in doing so manages to dislodge the cables so that we lose our Internet connection. She is my unofficial editor, making forays over the computer keyboard, inserting random letters in my work and leaving a trail of black fur all over.

There are times, though, when they would dearly love to be outside. When the neighborhood squirrel taunts them from the tree that sits adjacent to our home, they watch his shenanigans sitting still as statues on the windowsill. I know they would love to teach him a lesson. For several years we've hosted a maternity ward in a light fixture in our back porch. A couple of mourning doves have built a nest and raised their young there, returning each year to add to their family. Shekie and Portia are fascinated by the activity in the nest and while it is obvious that they would like to engage more with our yearly visitors, they somehow know that their primary job is to love and comfort our family.

Our cats are very independent and we love that about them. They are not trainable like dogs; they choose when to give and receive. A special treat occurs when one of my cats chooses to knead its paws on a part of my body -- a truly blissful massage. Shekie is not a "lap cat" and will not sit in a person's lap for even a short period of time. He loves to be petted and picked up, but will jump out of your arms in a short period of time. When Dan returned home from the hospital after being there for two months, Shekie came and sat in his lap and stayed with him for a long time. Somehow, he sensed that Dan needed his warmth and love.

A few years ago after a day filled with adolescent angst, my youngest son came home, picked up a cat and said, "They make it all better." And they do -- for all of us.