Constable: Study shows we can shed the 'Crazy Cat Lady' stereotype
In this world where we label and divide everything into two extreme camps, the pet world gives us "Dog People" and "Crazy Cat Ladies."
"Thank God. My boyfriend and I have six cats together," says Kristin Tvrdik, veterinarian for the Hinsdale Humane Society, who notes she and her boyfriend each had three cats before they merged their lives. Her cat experience shatters the idea of a cat lady being a sad loner who sits in her home and finds pleasure only by pampering her cats. The study backs her up.
"We found no evidence to support the 'cat lady' stereotype. Cat owners did not differ from others on self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety or their experiences in close relationships," concluded the study by the University of California, Los Angeles. "Our findings, therefore, do not fit with the notion of cat owners as more depressed, anxious or alone."
The United States is home to 77 million dogs in 38% of households, while a quarter of U.S. households are home to 58 million cats. "You can't pigeonhole cat owners when it's that broad," says Michael San Fillipo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, headquartered in Schaumburg.
That makes sense to me, a dog person who owns a cat.
I say I'm a dog person based only on my fond memories of the dogs of my youth, before their untimely demises as free-range farm dogs. Taffy (Mack truck), Sniffer (Chevy), Caesar (sudden illness) and Fred (Ford) brought me joy as a kid. Barn cats such as Goldwater (mortally wounded in a cat fight) and Otis (flattened by a tractor) never warmed up to me.
The cats I never bothered to name tortured so many mice, birds and baby bunnies that I figured they would grow up to be serial killer cats. (In an attempt to curb another stereotype, a 2018 article in Psychology Today says most mass shooters do not have a history of animal abuse, and the number that do isn't much higher than that found among the "normal" population.)
When we got our cat, Maggie, a day before Halloween in 2010, she was a feral kitten found on the streets by our neighbor.
"I want Maggie to become a beloved member of the family," I wrote then. "And maybe one day sit on my lap as I sip coffee and write a column."
Maggie is beloved by my wife and our three sons in varying degrees, and she has sat on their laps a few times. My relationship with Maggie is more professional. She silently waits outside our bedroom door in the morning, starting to mew only after I begin my ritual of getting morning coffee. At the top of the stairs, she pauses. I pet her for a few seconds until she leisurely walks down the stairs. Some days she will dart between my legs in an apparent attempt to kill me.
When we reach the basement, I open a can of cat food, Maggie eats, and we go our separate ways until supper time. On nights when our meals smell good enough to intrigue Maggie, we have negotiated a deal: She will follow me into the mud room. I will put a few Whisker Lickin's treats at her feet and close the door until our meal in finished. Our relationship may not be typical.
"Veterinarians are dealing with cat owners every day. They see what value cats bring to people's lives," says San Filippo. In addition to studies showing a purring cat can ease stress and lower blood pressure, "there is the joy of watching their athleticism, their grace or their goofy antics," San Filippo says.
Tvrdik says her cats also break feline stereotypes by being cuddly and social. Life with cats can be rewarding.
"It's the opposite of the crazy cat lady stereotype," Tvrdik says, noting her cats don't require that much care. "I like having cats because I am so busy and out so much."