One learns so much about American culture from the Home Improvements Catalog.

On page 16, there is an ad for a pet stairway that helps a rheumatic Rover get up on the sofa.

On page 47, they feature an electronic “scat mat” that sends a signal to your pet’s collar to “produce a harmless but unpleasant shock stimulus”… to keep Snoopy off the sofa.

It’s no wonder that our government has such uneven policies for the treatment of prisoners and detainees, when you consider the contradictions in these approaches of its citizenry to their four-legged companions-who-are-also-in-a-way-prisoners.

A note on one of our household prisoners: Nemo, a water-fearer, loves to curl up in the bathroom sink while I’m showering. I coo to him from the other side of the plastic curtain. He could be anywhere! But that he should be there near me and the scary water, shows me the profundity of his trust in me. I may be jailor to him, but I am also mama, and paramour.

I am aware of the high- or innovative-culture taboo against writing about cats – this despite Christopher Smart, Natsume Soseki, and TS Eliot (not to mention Carolee Schneemann, who really gets cats). I think of Annie Hall, the scene in the bookstore where Woody Allen, as the oppressive male principle, is trying to get the ingenuous Diane Keaton to “put down that cat book” and read something depressing. That’s because (and this is hardly an original observation) cats are inexorably feminine – male ones too. Cats’ exhibitions of pleasure are girly, the way they arch their backs, glow with satisfaction, rub up against surfaces. Alvy Singer (Woody) wants to masculinize Annie, toughen her up for a broody neurotic NYC life with him. But he can’t, finally, defeat her cat nature, and she ends up self-actualized, purring and mewing a song into a microphone at a nightclub.

Trying to trivialize a cat is like trying to trivialize a woman – strategic – an attempt to neutralize – and profoundly inaccurate. There is nothing trivial about a cat. The pathos of mouthless Kitty Chan has inspired countless poems, largely because she is an impossibility – a cat without a scratchy tongue and fangs and breath smelling of meal and animals, a cat without cat pee and claws and heat and moods. Dante’s frequent insane pouncing around chirruping chasing own tail in nutty bursts. They are real and alive and flexible and vigilant, pure intelligence (even dumb cats like Dante, who is an endearingly dim bulb). It’s an intelligence different from ours but in some ways superior. What’s more intelligent – an animal who creates sophisticated weapons and information systems and cultural codes – or an animal who sleeps all day and plays at night? I mean, really?

Anyway, I don’t understand people who hate cats. I can understand fearing them, or being allergic to them, or not understanding them, but I don’t understand hating them.

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