by Alli Katz
“If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.” —Mark Twain
Mark Twain never met my cat.
Five seconds with Albany, watching him throw his body against our kitchen cabinets early in the morning (and again in the afternoon, and at bedtime) for six ounces of “classic beef” or a scoop of prescription urinary health dry food, or watching him raise his leg to lick his crotch and then forget what he’s doing, or him leaping on a tiny table that would never support his girth to try to press his face into a cactus, is easily enough to dispel the idea that a cat has any kind of dignity at all.
And it’s not just Albany. You can watch my friend’s cat Walker slide across a wood floor to play fetch with tiny foam balls, or my mom’s cats Egon and Janine spoon, pressing their back paws awkwardly into each other’s face. My childhood cats, Strip-ed Tiger and Super, would attack our toes under our blankets as we tried to sleep. Even my dad’s dearly departed Jessica Rabbit the Cat, the most aloof of felines, would drool in his mouth to wake him up in the morning.
A quick Google search would do it, too (if only Twain had been able to Google): Tumblrs dedicated to embarrassing cat behavior, and hundreds of YouTube videos of cats falling—off perches, during poorly-timed leaps, and into the toilets that they, like dogs, drink from.
The idea that cats have dignity is a lie we tell ourselves to explain why our cats don’t bother to lift their heads when we walk into a room. It’s what we say when we’re feeling down and call our kittens, only to have them slink past us on the way to the litter box.
I love my cat Albany despite his distance—just as I’ve loved my cats before him: Egg, Kitty, and the aforementioned toe-destroyers Super and Strip-ed Tiger. Loving cats is an exercise in human devotion. Cat, we love you, and we love you even if you are an asshole. Even if cats are opportunistic, emotional manipulators who make sure we feed them every day, yet would eat our corpses if we had the misfortune of dying in their presence, cats are our test of unconditional love.
Throughout the winter and spring of last year, I painted cats. I requested photos—most cat owners have a million—and whipped out watercolors to capture the cats as their cat parents see them. It was partly a selfish study. Cats come in a million colors and shapes, so painting them makes for an excellent daily exercise.
But I also just wanted to celebrate the particular weirdness of the cats—and the love of their owners.
Alli Katz is an artist, Etch A Sketcher, cartoonist, and a channeler of Ernest Hemingway. A graduate of Oberlin College, she now lives in Philadelphia, and has written for Philadelphia City Paper, The Observer, and Grid Magazine. She’s the Program Coordinator at Kelly Writers House, and posts comics and drawings at lookhowhappyiam.com. Alli is working on her fourth first novel.
1. Rufus, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
2. Rosie & Oink, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
3. James & Elvin, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
4. Lola Mae, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
5. Riley, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
6. Olivia, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
7. Walker, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
8. Wild Bill, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
9. Bearmonkey, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
10. Cobra Commander, gouache, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 6″ x 6″, 2014
All works © Alli Katz