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Painted Brain | Life Lesson Two: Cats
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • December 16, 2014

Life Lesson Two: Cats

While preparing for another day at the Painted Brain world headquarters in Koreatown, Los Angeles this morning, I was checking emails and sipping my coffee on the floor of my apartment as I am often wont to do. From behind me I heard a roar and the crashing sound of paper exploding, like a box of styrofoam popcorn bursting open from its own internal pressure. No, I am not under siege from packing materials, it is instead my young, wild cat friend, lovingly destroying one of those fancy gift bags that people give gifts within. With the bag on her head, her head and front right leg somehow wedged into the tiny cardboard loop of a handhold, my cat was spinning like a dervish around the legs of a small wooden table, causing a horrible racket. Ah, love.

I have mentioned my new life partner before, and she was recently featured in a photograph here as well. I have a new cat, Sadie, or Sadier if she’s in a more formal mood (her namesake is the singer from my favorite band Stereolab). I picked Sadie out this summer with the help and emotional assistance of Anthony Isome, of Conservation Corps fame and now a student at Pierce College. Sadie came into my life as a shy innocent black kitten six months old with a tiny medallion of white fur under her neck. She hid in the cat carrier for a good three days after I brought her home from the Long Beach shelter where Anthony volunteers his time. I was worried that she might stay in the shadows forever. Well, that certainly did not last long. Having had Sadie in my presence for the past six months, I can certainly attest to her wild side.

There was a really cool article in the NY Times last month by Razib Khan talking about the differences between cats and dogs in terms of their domestication. Dogs are often thought the more domesticated and more responsive to human interaction, and this is often assumed to be a trait of dogs. However, as this article points out, this social-cue advantage over cats may just be a result of their 21,000-year head start in hanging with the homo sapiens. Cats did not start to regularly socialize with humans until just 9,500 years ago, once human agriculture began to stabilize and attract tasty rodent treats for our feline friends. From the beginning of our shared history, cats have tended to fend for themselves and stay less dependent than dogs on the kindness of human strangers. Tell that to my cat.

Sadie is truly wild, she is a bottlecap ninja, a stealth leg jumper, an aerialist, a destroyer of string and, given the chance (no doubt) a stone-cold killer of all things smaller than she, yet I wake up every morning to her tiny, meowed question. Though only a lilting, lifting single syllable, “eeyow?” she is good at getting her point across, attacking my feet only the more insistently as I approach the fridge where her cans of wet food are stored. “Eeyow? eeyow? eeyow?” Meaning, essentially, where’s my damn turkey giblets breakfast? She’s cuddly, insanely cute in that way that only one’s own special pet can be, yet I know she is just in it for the lulzcats!

As the holidays approach, I have been thinking about the mental health benefits, personal ones, afforded me by cat ownership. I have someone to come home to. She’s always happy to see me, even if only because I just might give her a tasty treat. She listens to my rants and understands, completely, my many concerns about our public mental health system. But she doesn’t let it get to her, and neither should I.

Dave Leon is the director and founder of The Painted Brain

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