A close-up of Minette, a calico cat.

A Cat to Scorn Me (and Show Me How to Love)

I’ve heard it said that to achieve perfect balance in life, everyone should have a dog to worship them and a cat to scorn them. I’m proud to say that, having grown up in a household that was almost always populated by both, I must be an exceptionally balanced soul.

Over the years, three dogs have taken up residence in my childhood home, not to mention my heart, and we’ve had the same beloved cat, Minette—moderately scornful, often dog-like in her affection—for 17 years.

She is in many of our home videos. She has slept almost as many nights in my parents’ home as I have. She knows every secret nook, every cozy sock basket and every strategic perch. She made me into a cat person, all by herself.

I’ve cried into her fur after many difficult days, and stuck bows on her indifferent little head on many Christmas mornings. My parents joke that, functionally, she helped raise their kids. Few things in this world bring me more joy than the knowledge that this cat exists.

You know where this is going…

Tomorrow, Minette will be making a trip to the vet, and she will not be coming home from it.

And so, I will turn to writing, as I’ve always done when grief comes knocking, or barging rudely, as it’s wont to do. I will tell the story of a cat who remains, despite the multitude of wonderful dogs in my life, my very best animal friend—a friend who helped me grow, gave me confidence, and taught me that Albert Ellis was right when he claimed love is “largely the art of persistence.”


“You are not Special.”

From the moment she came into our lives as a delicate-looking kitten with a croaky mew, Minette made it abundantly clear she saw no reason to treat me any differently than the other members of the household. (You can try arguing she simply wasn’t bright enough to realize I couldn’t see, but given the amount of things she tried to get away with while I was the only one around, I’d beg to differ.)

No, she would not be moving out of my way, no matter how many times I bumped into her. Nuh uh, she was not going to signal when I was about to accidentally sit on her; I’d just have to learn to be more careful. No, she was not going to spare me from duties like letting her out, letting her in, fetching her water, and providing mandatory snuggles.

And, yes, I was just as capable, as loved, as wanted as anyone else.

This doesn’t sound like much, but as a disabled eight-year-old, I was accustomed to being treated differently by just about everyone in my life. Grownups had different rules, expectations, goals, fears. I struggled to be helpful. I felt out of place. I was uncomfortably aware, as were those around me, that I was the odd one out, despite my family’s best efforts.
But around Minette, I was just another member of her loyal human staff, perfectly able to do her bidding, and perfectly worthy of her unreserved affection. In scorning me–in expecting me to adapt to circumstances not tailored to my every need–she taught me that life is full of surprises that will wind around your ankles and trip you, no matter how unprepared you may be.

Humans would work around me. Dogs would get out of my way.

Minette, not so much.

Balance, right?

“Human, I Summon Thee”

Minette isn’t the least bit imperious. H. P. Lovecraft, who liked his cats “lithe and cynical,” would not have approved. The choicest spot was always as close as she could get to the nearest available lap, and her favourite activity was waking me in the mornings with a torrent of kisses. (Her tongue may have had astonishing exfoliation powers, but I would personally have preferred the alarm clock.)

Since she split her time between indoor and outdoor pursuits, she was often in need of something or other.

“Human, I have kicked my toy under the stove. Help!”

“Human, I need to take up 90% of your queen-sized bed, not this paltry 75%. Move over.”

“Human, I am hungry. I am thirsty. I need to go out. I need to come in. I need a cuddle. I need you!”

For the first time, a fellow living creature  was in sincere need of me, and I was able to fulfill that need. It was one thing to do chores, but it was another to hold, feed, and care for an animal that depended on me as much as anyone else in the family. Somehow, caring for a dog wasn’t quite as validating. The implicit, unwavering trust that cat put in me, a trust I hadn’t yet found elsewhere, not even in my dog, was transformative.

Adults were forever telling me to ‘be careful,’ ‘slow down,’ ‘let me do that for you.’ Dogs were always pushing me out of the way—of traffic, of water, of anything that looked remotely dangerous.

Minette, on the other hand, saw no reason why I should not attend her as faithfully as any other. She barely blinked as I handled her newborn kittens, and was never shy about insisting I find her a treat. Speaking as a blind person who still fights to be useful, nothing builds confidence like a little bit of trust.

“I’ll Be Back”

I don’t know of any cat who loved bigger, harder, more persistently than Minette. You couldn’t get rid of her. I have many memories—God, but they hurt to think about now—of pushing her off my lap as she walked all over my book, or my keyboard, or my plate, or my fancy new outfit. (In our house, you weren’t ready to go out until you’d been sufficiently furred up.)

She had to be on you, not beside you. She had to lie on your pillow or in your arms, not down by your feet. She needed all the snuggles, all the time. And she had a special, highly effective meow pattern in place to make sure she could always get through my bedroom door:

  • Meow #1: inquisitive and chirpy. “Meagan? Are you awake?”
  • Meow #2: cheerful and warm. “I knew you were up! Let me in, will ya? I haven’t walked all over your head yet today.”
  • Meow #3: confused and injured. “You mean … you’re actually pretending to be asleep right now? Seriously? I can hear you turning pages. I know you’re awake. Not cool, Meagan!”
  • Meow #4: resigned and piteous. “Okay, you win. I am now desolate and despondent, but that’s just fine … I’ll remember that. And by the way, the guilt’s going to kick in any moment now.”

The beautiful thing about having Minette in my life was that I got to observe unconditional, extravagant love on a daily basis. I could push her off my lap five times, but she’d come back six. I could trip over her, accidentally shut her in an empty room, even forget about her. But I could not ever lose her joy at seeing me—her delight in the time I spent with her. No matter what kind of day I’d had, no matter what mistakes I’d made or burdens I carried, there was always that engine-like purr. If I had a migraine, a broken heart, truly torturous chemistry homework, she was there. For her, my need for comfort was always valid.

I hope I can learn to love like that—with a few more boundaries and a little less keyboard-trampling, of course.


Run free and chase the sunbeams, Meeners. Thank you for everything you gave us.

“Go Play With Your Friends!”

“Meagan, what are you doing over here by yourself?”
The daycare worker stood over three-year-old me as I crouched by a wall, well away from the groups of laughing children. I remember holding a toy giraffe (which I was pretending was a pony), and babbling happily to myself, weaving some far-fetched tale or other to while the hours away. I raised my head reluctantly but obediently; I was loath to interrupt my highly-enjoyable game, but I was a relatively respectful child.
She waited.
“Well? What are you doing?”
“Playing.”
“Put that down and go play with your friends.”
It’s astounding, really, the level of clarity this memory still holds for me. My head is full of fuzzy childhood memories, but this one stands out. If I concentrate, I can still feel the cynical amusement her comment had provoked—an amusement that was distinctly unlike what a child ought to feel.
“I don’t have any friends.”
How could she not know this? Was she not paying attention when kids turned their backs as I approached? Did she miss the very public incident when a toy crate was placed directly in my path in the hopes that I’d trip?
“Yes you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, go make some then.”
As she walked away, my child self felt absolutely nothing but relief: I could get back to my giraffe—ahem, pony—without further annoyances.
What I find remarkable about this memory is not the underlying theme of social isolation and bullying. Bullying had tapered off almost to nothing when I went to grade school, I was extraordinarily lucky, but daycare was somewhat different. I faced relatively little direct confrontation—I was certainly never abused or put in real danger—but social exclusion was at its height. No, what I always dwell upon is how very unaffected I was by all of it. Kids are all supposed to crave a peer group, but for whatever reason my rejected social overtures didn’t faze me. I didn’t try very hard, and once I realized it was basically futile, I retreated to the safety and endless entertainment that could be found inside my own head. I was aware on some level that this made me different, but I simply don’t remember being bothered in any way by it.
I was not a socially starved child, generally speaking. I was forever pestering my elder sister to play with me, enjoyed the company of adults immensely, and had a huge, welcoming extended family to keep me company during gatherings. If I had the opportunity to play one-on-one with accepting kids my own age, I took it quite contentedly.
Despite this, my introversion seemed to be a source of ongoing anxiety for the adults in my life. Daycare workers, teachers, consultants, and all manner of others concerned themselves with my social development, no doubt worried that a disabled child left to her own devices would morph into a stunted mess. Their fears weren’t entirely unfounded, and my isolation did facilitate certain quirks it took me a bit too long to eliminate, but my intelligence, contentment, and overall growth didn’t feel impeded by my apparently-tragic lack of friends. At least, that’s how I tend to view it.
Frequently labeled antisocial and stubborn, I noticed that my personal preferences were considered partially or wholly irrelevant. This is true for many children, I think, especially when they grow up surrounded by people who fear they’ll turn out wrong, somehow. I don’t know that any adult stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, Meagan was at peace with not having many friends, and that she’d make them when she was ready. I’m not sure anyone recognized that introversion and antisocial behaviour are worlds apart.
As I grew older, I did begin to amass a very small, very selective group of friends. I didn’t always choose adults’ perceptions of ideal candidates—that is, I did not necessarily gravitate toward popular kids. In fact, I tended to avoid them, and they likewise avoided me unless they thought I’d give them the answers to the homework that had just been assigned. (My studiousness was attractive to just about everyone in my classes over the years, meaning everyone wanted to sit next to me inside but scattered at recess time.) The steady friends I did have were a bit like me: introverted, slightly eccentric, and entirely content with being both. Throughout my childhood, all the way up to middle school, the refrain continued: play with your friends. Be more social. Don’t just stand by that wall all the time. Go play with these girls and those guys and that group over there.
Sometimes, the concern, which I know to be benign and not entirely misguided, got a little out of hand. Fellow students were ordered to play with me (please never do this to any child), and didn’t always hide their resentment over it. Others would allow me into their group briefly, but were just as happy as I was to see me go. Probably, if I’d tried harder, been chattier, been more charming, I’d have made progress, but it all came down to the inescapable facts: they didn’t really want me around, and I was in no mood to waste energy trying to persuade them otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong: I nursed my moments of loneliness, especially as a teenager. Sometimes it seemed as though having more friends would be an express line to a better life, within the confines of school, anyway. When I became a bit more popular in middle school and my social group got larger, I welcomed opportunities to experience new people and activities. When I got to university and was totally alone again, I felt hollow and far more desolate than I’d ever felt as an excluded child.
On the whole, however, I don’t believe my personal growth was much improved by the constant commands to be more outgoing. The social butterfly wings don’t suit me, and they never really have. I applaud the efforts of those who cared for me; I know they were aware of the risks inherent in an isolated, sheltered child, and I see the effects of this isolation in other blind people. Some of them can’t shake a pronounced awkwardness, even as an adult, and I’m grateful to have navigated that particular minefield fairly successfully. I owe much of that to the efforts of the adults closest to me, who were just trying to make me into the best person I could be.
These things aside, I believe my intense introversion, so often judged and found wanting, shielded me from so much of the drama and misery that are youth’s trademark. Other kids were worrying endlessly about who was out and who was in, but I was busy reading yet another book. Other children at daycare were fighting over toys while I sat safely in a corner, knowing my giraffe-pony was mine, all mine. My ambivalence toward my peers wasn’t always an asset, and it definitely got me into trouble a time or two, but it also insulated me from a lot of pain and self-doubt I really didn’t need. Childhood and teenage years are difficult for anyone, but I had separate challenges that meant I would have had precious little time to waste on being lonely anyway. I was way too concerned with a mental illness I did not understand and a disability I didn’t always know how to deal with to cry my eyes out over whether the girls on the tarmac would let me skip rope with them.
Today, I’m still an unapologetic introvert, though with far more friends and a much richer social life. I’m no longer content with total exclusion, and I spend way too much time these days agonizing over things I would have thought silly and worthless as a child. I like my life, and I like who I’ve become.
Still, once in awhile I appeal to that three-year-old I once was. I ask her to lend me her shamelessness and her practicality. I ask her to remind me that I can be my own best friend when the need arises, and that what other people think, well, it doesn’t always have to matter.
Don’t worry, introverts. You’re okay.