In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Never trust a cat,” he told me. “They are far too independent for their own good.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to avoid all cats, a habit that has opened up many curious social episodes to me and also made me the victim of not a few self-righteous cat-lovers, usually women of a certain age and hair styling. Indeed, the feminine mind is quick to detect and attack such a quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being the inflictor of abuse upon animals, because I was privy to the secret prejudice of wild, unknown dog-loving men. Most of the arguments were unsought – frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that the ‘dog or cat’ question was quivering on the horizon. Preferring dogs to cats is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of fundamental decencies is to be found in the submissive, dependent qualities of a domesticated canine.
And, after boasting this way of my preference, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Dogs may be exercised on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care for any animal. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be only human and at a sort of distance from the animal kingdom forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged poodles or hungry Dachshunds. Only Catsby, the cat who gives his name to this book, was exempt from reaction – Catsby, who represented everything about cats for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful meows, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of mice, as if he were related to one of those powerful felines that stride the African planes ten thousand miles away.