We have two house cats. One is a beautifully marked tortoise shell male that began life as a barn cat. When he was three or four months old, he began hanging around our place, peeping at us from under an artichoke plant or lurking in wait to pounce from behind a tree only to dash away. I named him Mister and he and I flirted back and forth for weeks. These days Mister doesn’t often stay inside, but he visits daily. Of course, he also eats here.
Our other cat is Nosy, the remaining survivor of three tiny kittens we brought home from my mother’s house 17 years ago this October. We were helping clean and pack in preparation for selling the place. The first night there my husband and I were awakened by tiny kitten cries coming from under the floor.
Each of us took a turn crawling under the porch while the other held a faint flashlight. When we drove home several days later, there was a cardboard box lined with towels and an old baby blanket in the back seat of our VW bug. The tiny babies, two black and white males, and one even smaller calico female, mostly snuggled together and slept during the eight-hour trip.
These days Nosy is slow moving and grouchy, while Mister is young, sleek and very strong. Even though the cat food dish has two bowls, the cats never eat at the same time. When Mister begins to eat alone, if Nosy comes, the younger cat moves away, lays down and waits until Nosy finishes eating. Only then does Mister return to his meal.
The first time I saw this ritual, it took me by surprise. Nature shows and animal books often depict the natural aggression of animals toward one another, even their own kind. Whatever inspires our cats’ behavior, I am reminded of the argument about animals being sentient. The big question there is, do animals have feelings?
Since I was a little girl, I have had no doubt that animals have feelings. I remember a Siamese cat that loved my kid sister so much that when Mary left for college, Baba would pat my sister’s senior picture and make the saddest cries. Some years ago, we had a large male Basset Hound and a tiny female Shih Tzu. When the Shih Tzu died, for weeks and weeks the Basset Hound lay on the back porch and moaned, head down, big ears spread out across his paws.
On May 19, 2015, New Zealand passed a law that declared all animals are sentient beings. The law also banned many types of research testing on animals.
When he heard about that law, an old man I knew e-mailed me saying that the Bible states that God gave man dominion over all the earth and all living creatures upon it. “That means we can do whatever we want.”
While I knew better than to argue with him, I couldn’t help bringing up the word dominion, an interpretation of the original ancient language. I asked him that if the world was given into our care including the other creatures upon it, doesn’t that mean we have responsibility for their welfare? All he e-mailed back was a line of laughing cartoon faces.
Do animals have feelings? Every time I consider that question, I remember Baba calling out for my sister, Whistler the Bassett moaning his heartache, or the day I saw a family relinquish their pit bull at the animal shelter as tears rolled down his big face.