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Falling in love with cats

If not already, it will quickly become obvious that I love cats. But I didn’t always.

I grew up with canaries and cockatiels, two guinea pigs, and a family dog – a grey Maltese x Shih Tzu named Max. To say I was the furthest thing from a cat person would be an understatement. I was terrified of cats for their perceived aloofness and constant glares, and often bemused by cat people and their infatuation with felines.

It took my fiancé and I rescuing a three week old black kitten abandoned a local high school for me to learn the crazy cat lady ways of the world. The kitten would grow up to be River of my @therivercat Instagram account. But at the time, she was just a bizarre little ball of scruff that squeaked when she tried to climb into our bed at night.

Here are five of the reasons I’ve fallen hard and fast in love with cats while raising River.

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1. A PENCHANT FOR ACROBATICS

Even as kittens (sometimes especially as kittens) felines of all shapes and sizes are natural acrobatic masters.

Cats jump and tumble. They fly through the air for the birdie on a stick, twisting and dancing like a fierce ballerina, and they leap incredible distances to scale the highest heights and get a little closer to what all cats worship: the sun.

One of River’s favourite things is to tear after a toy and do a fast forward roll when she catches it, usually with an audible thump, before proceeding to attack the toy like it insulted her family.

2. HEALING PURRS

Cats purr. Purring is considered by most to be a sign of contentment, but in truth, cats also purr when they’re distressed or in pain. It’s an expression of feelings, and may be a subconscious way of self-comforting.

In all honesty, it doesn’t matter so much why they purr; what really matters is they do, sometimes cuddled up in your lap while you watch Netflix, and it’s a little bit magical.

3. BIZARRE ANTICS

I read a negative comment on an article about what makes cats great. It suggested not all cats do the crazy things seen on the internet, and the hilarious YouTube cats and meme cats the web adores are the minority.

That is simply not true. Some cats are a more hyper than others, but all cats have a crazy streak. If you don’t see it in your cat, chances are you don’t play with them enough.

River becomes The Black Flash after dinner and zooms from room to room like a mad thing. She once spent an hour and a half pawing at the window while a snail made its way slowly up the glass outside. And my personal favourite – she has the bell and ribbon from a Lindt Gold Bunny she throws up in the air, jumps after, and then throws again.

Cat antics, I’ve found, are a way of searching for attention. If I’m too busy to play or don’t respond fast enough, River makes her own fun, often to my amusement.

4. INTRICATE BODY LANGUAGE

Stigma stipulates cats are aloof and grumpy. A cat sitting high on a perch slow blinking is plotting ways to eliminate you. Possibly. But slow blinking is actually known to be a sign of affection.

Cats tend to be more subtle than the open dog with its obviously joyous wagging tail, but they have an extensive array of facial, audio, and body cues to let you know how they’re feeling.

Although rolling over to expose their belly may lead to an unsuspecting hand being gently mauled by a playful feline, displaying that belly fluff is a sign of trust. A tail wrapped around your leg shows friendliness, a hiss means stay back, and a crouch with dilated pupils means wiggle-wiggle-pounce-mode, so beware.

5. FEELING CHOSEN

Like people, cats enjoy their alone time. And like people, they also enjoy being in the company when they’re thinking about their favourite person.

It’s not unusual for me to want to scoop River up at all hours of the day – she’s known me since she was three weeks old and has always been used to excessive handling, so she usually tolerates my affection. But you’d lash out with claws if you had them, too, if you were picked up for the eleventh time in two minutes while trying to wash your hair.

Unconditional love from a canine is undeniably wonderful, but I’ve never felt so chosen as when River decides it’s time to curl up in my lap.

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There’s nothing in the world quite like a purr or that special feeling when you’ve earned the love of your feline through years of building a relationship with them.

If you think cats are boring, you probably haven’t had the chance to foster their mania like I have. Cats enjoy play. They’re fun and never cease to amuse with their flying leaps and strange games.

River brightens my life, inspires my stories and love of photography, and always keeps me entertained.

 

 

My first story

When I was about five years old, I finished my first story. Cassette players were in abundance and my family owned quite a few cassette stories and picture books – the kind where you read along with the tape and it indicates with a noise when to turn the page.

Using all the ingenuity I could muster as a kid still in single digits, I drew a cassette player on paper and cut out a slot for my paper tape. I then invented my story, wrote it out in a little picture book constructed with folded A4 paper and coloured pencils. When it was finished, I diligently showed it to my parents and had them read along as I narrated.

It was about three of my favourite plush toys at the time – a kangaroo named Joey, a well-loved little pink rabbit called Pinky, and a little grey mouse (whose name escapes me, but knowing the boundless imagination of my younger self, it was probably called Mousey).

The story was a dramatic adventure, where the three young protagonists ventured into the great outdoors during a brewing storm. As the storm grew more dangerous, they became lost and found themselves in imminent danger when a large tree trunk was struck by a vicious bolt of lightning. It plummeted towards them and there seemed to be no escape. At the final moment, a large female kangaroo came to their rescue, using its powerful legs to kick the falling trunk away from the three protagonists. It was Joey’s mother. Relieved rather than cross, she shepherded them home where they reflected on their grand journey in safety.

Creative young mind aside, I did something with my first story that only occurred to me much later on.

I wrote about what I knew.

The relationship between a child and their parent, the dream to explore and learning you weren’t quite ready for the world yet, and depending on your family to protect you. The three kids were based off my toys – partly because I could act out the story with them whenever I wanted, but also partly because I was growing up watching cartoons where animals were often the main characters.

Writing about what’s around me has become an integral part of my writing style, and my number one advice to anyone who wants to write but doesn’t know where to begin. Check out newspapers for story ideas, draw out the feelings from a negative experience and put them into words, catch snippets of conversation in public, and flesh out dreams.

Starting isn’t necessarily about having a brilliant idea or a plot already fully formulated in your mind. It’s about drawing on little details to establish a believable world, whether that world has talking plush animals or otherwise.