Things I Wish I knew

Boxes, balancing and more: 9 things I wish I knew before getting a cat

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If you get a cat, he or she may do all of the things pictured above — and so much more!

There are cat people, there are dog people, and there are both kinds of people. I’m both kinds. I share a home with a huge 13-year-old cat named Diego and two huge older dogs named Frida and Manny, and we rarely leave each other’s sight.

These three furry sentinels monitor my every move in my home. They follow me to the refrigerator. They follow me to the microwave. They follow me to the bathroom. (I don’t understand it, either.) But all this close companionship means that I also follow their every move — and I have learned some things, especially about that most elusive and mysterious of creatures, the domesticated cat.

Here are some things I wish I had known about owning a cat.

1. “Owning” a cat? Not so fast. 

Diego has no owner or master. Diego marches to the beat of his own can opener. Like most felines, he’s proud and independent and he’s the opposite of needy — that is, unless he’s feeling needy. But that’s his decision.

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Diego the cat relishes some quiet time at the top of the stairs.

2. Don’t be fooled by that “too cool for school” stuff. 

Yes, cats can sometimes act aloof. Indifferent. Overcome by a sense of ennui. But spend any time with them, and the truth comes out: They crave YOU. 

“Cats are not ‘latchkey’ pets who get along perfectly fine and happily without your attention and care,” said Dr. Frank McMillan, a veterinarian and director of well-being studies for Best Friends Animal Society. McMillan noted that a cat’s happiness depends on having emotional needs fulfilled through human interaction, companionship and mental stimulation. 

I totally get this. For instance, note Diego’s face in this photo taken during a recent party:

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TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey and Diego the cat hang out with journalist Athima Chansanchai.

Diego is having an amazing time here. He’s only acting bored.

3. Your cat will prevent you from doing any kind of paperwork ever again as long as you live. 

Want to pay a bill, draft a handwritten note or fill out your kid’s school forms? Good luck with that. 

“In a great demonstration of cats’ desire for your attention, they intentionally place themselves right where they know your attention is focused,” Dr. McMillan said.

The moment you turn your attention in earnest toward a piece of paper, your cat will sprawl out luxuriously on top of it. Think you’ll at least kill some time filling out a different form? Your cat will sprawl out over that form AND the first form. You can never win. 

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Veterinarian Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society, seen here with a feline, studies cat behavior.

4. Your cat might save you from a bear.

Remember that hero cat Tara from earlier this year? The one who saved the 4-year-old boy from the attacking dog? Tara’s fast-acting example brought to mind other instances when cats saved the day. My personal favorite: Jack, a clawless tabby who chased a black bear up a tree.

Suzanne Giovanetti / Today
An orange and white tabby named Jack showed plenty of catitude when a much larger black bear wandered onto his property in 2006.

5. Your cat might show love in painful ways. 

One of Diego’s favorite methods of displaying affection is to balance his weight on my chest and on my head at the same time — usually at around 3 a.m. when I’m trying to sleep. Once he gets himself in just the right position, he takes his needle-sharp claws and kneads them eagerly on my scalp, on my neck or sometimes on my arm. The kneading action is often accompanied by a steady stream of drool and a deep, rumbling purr. This behavior dovetails perfectly with an observation made about cats by Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network and the guy behind Lolcats: “Sleeping hours not only differ from yours, but are often entirely optional.”

6. Cats love boxes. 

See??

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Alice the cat helps with packing.
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Buck the cat loves all boxes regardless of their contents.
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A warm box is the best box of all, according to Diego.

7. Your cat likely possesses more athletic and acrobatic prowess than you ever imagined possible. 

Cats can soar through the air and catch flies in their paws like the Karate Kid. They also can do things like this: 

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Nina Moses was shocked by her cat Arya's chosen perching spot.

And this:

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No sweat: A cat named Minnehaha balances with ease.

And this:

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Ninja cat!

8. Expect long-standing cat myths to be shattered.  

Nina Moses, a mom of multiple cats in Seattle, told TODAY.com that many common feline myths make her chuckle. 

Myth number 1: Cats don’t make good watch animals.

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That squirrel has officially been spotted.

Myth number 2: Cats are solitary.

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Cats Cai, Merlyn and Arya sleep together in a cozy pile.

Myth number 3: Cats are dignified.

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Awwww!!!

Myth number 4: Cats are quiet. “They sound like a herd of wild animals when running feline Olympics through the house!” Moses said.

9. Before you fully know what’s happened, your cat will turn you into a complete sucker for zany cat videos and GIFs. 

They will hold a strange power over you at random hours of the day or night. They will suck you in at the most inopportune times. Why are we so drawn to cats in this medium? Huh of Cheezburger and Lolcats has a theory: “They’re much less deadly when seen over the Internet.” Behold the examples below and marvel: 

Need a Coffey break? Connect with TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and Google+ or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

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