It has been said that you are either a dog person or a cat person. Well, I'm a cat person. Always have been, although I suspect that we humans become more attached to our cats than they do to us. It is a truism that dogs have owners, while cats have staff.
With these fluffy felines being so much a part of our lives today, I was surprised to find, when doing a little research, that domestic cats are not even mentioned in the Bible. We know the Holy Land had lions, their nearest relatives, but even these big cats became extinct in Palestine seven centuries ago.
Quite possibly the Babylonians had domestic cats from early on. Certainly the Romans did. Although domestic cats were familiar to the ancient Egyptians, and even worshipped by them during some periods, these cuddly pets seem to have been unknown to their neighbours, the Hebrews.
Nowhere does the Bible address the issue of keeping pets, but it does tell us that God is concerned for all of his creation, including the animals. In Psalm 104 verse 21, we read that "the lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God." So God feeds them, just as he feeds the sparrows. Also, in Luke chapter 12 verse 6, Jesus says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God."
If God remembers the animals, even wild ones, we should too. Since the Lord created humankind in his own image, it is likely that we have inherited that part of the divine nature that cares for his non-human creatures.
All of the above, however, is by way of introduction. I want to share with you one my family's more memorable cat stories.
By the mid-1980s our family had been living happily in the USA for a number of years, but we'd decided it was time to move back to New Zealand to be closer to our aging parents. At this stage we had two childrenââTony aged fourteen and Joanna aged elevenâso it was going to be a huge upheaval for themâeven a culture shock. Nevertheless, we put the house on the market, packed everything up, booked our plane tickets and prepared to depart for our homeland.
Then came the awful question: what would we do with Minnie, the beloved black cat we had reared since kittenhood? Back then you just didn't transport common cats on international flights (or at least our family didn't.) None of our friends was interested in adopting a plain black adult cat, and we were reluctant to drop Minnie off at the local SPCA, having a sneaking suspicion of what would be her fate if we did.
The Cat House
At the eleventh hour, we discovered the perfect solution. Someone told us about a Cat House in Long Beach, about 40 minutes' drive from where we lived. Some rich old lady who loved cats had willed her home and substantial estate for the purpose of caring for unwanted cats. (This could only happen in California.) As long as the moggies had been neutered, they would be welcomed and cared for by a round-the-clock staff. For a small registration fee (just $20 as I recall) they could then live out the rest of their natural lives at this place. Euthanasia was simply unthinkable.
So, one sad Saturday morning in June 1986, I drove with Joanna to Long Beach, with Minnie yowling disconsolately in the back seat. The Cat House was mind-blowing. The entire interior of this large house had been gutted, to be replaced by bare tree branches for the cats to stroll along. The place was clean and odourless. And it was full of catsâbig cats, little cats, black cats, white cats, tabby cats, marmalade cats, Persian cats, alley cats... you name it. Litter boxes had been placed at strategic places, along with bowls for water and food. Moreover, the cats seemed to be contented enough. In fact, if they were not getting along famously, they were at least ignoring one another, as cats tend to do. I suppose they had little choice but to be cooperative.
After paying our $20 to the receptionist we released Minnie, who wandered off nonchalantly to explore her new home. She didn't seem to miss us, but it was a heart-wrenching occasion for Joanna and me.
We returned to the car park, where my daughter was by now visibly upset.
"Could I go back and kiss Minnie goodbye one more time?" she asked me.
"Of course you can, dear. I'll wait in the car."
Off went my eleven-year-old, back up the path. A few minutes later she returned, with tears streaming down her face.
"Oh Mommy," she wailed, "I hope I kissed the right cat!"
Julie Belding is a freelance editor, ESOL teacher and grandmother of five.
Her previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/julie-belding.html