Today begins the Chinese Year of the Tiger. Reading up on it, I found tigers described as brave, confident, strong, and energetic, while at the same time strong-willed, opinionated, craving attention, preferring to give orders rather than take them, and able to go from fiery to calm in the blink of an eye. This describes my tiger cat Zerina so perfectly, I think it’s likely it was written by someone with a housecat. How many people can have been close enough to a full-size, actual tiger, to have known those things about it? So instead of garden advice, here’s a meditation on cats, as inspired by my own small tiger.
Cats are known for hunting even when they’re not in need of food. Why would they waste energy doing this? Maybe because for ten thousand years people trying to keep birds and rodents from eating our stored grain harvests reacted to hunter cats with “good kitty, come sit by the nice warm fire.”
Even today in the suburbs, someone with mice in the kitchen will think of getting a cat. How do you know you’ve got a good mouser? When Zerlina kills a mouse, she carefully lays it out where I will find it. The cat that’s a good mouser makes sure you know about it. I doubt the Big Tigers care whether people appreciate their hunting skills, which since they include us as prey, we don’t.
Here’s an interesting point of contact between East and West felines. In the Chinese Zodiac, I’m told, Tigers symbolize immortality. In the West we say cats have nine lives. Less grand for cats than for tigers, but a similar acknowledgement of what? Of their lithe and slinky ability to move without our noticing, so we think they’re gone and suddenly, there they are? When it happens in the dark, with their glowing eyes, it’s startling enough from a cat. From a tiger it must be terrifying.
Cats are the most popular pet in most parts of the world, but dogs are more popular in the U.S. This is interesting because cats, like tigers, are known for their independence, a trait Americans supposedly prize. Dogs are said to be admired for their loyalty – not a cat/tiger trait – but why then are dogs the paradigm in slurs, and cats in accolades? A cat is cool; a dog, especially a female dog or the son of one, is despicable.
And true to her independent nature, this is Zerlina’s reaction to my opinions about her.