academic work · animals · appreciation · best laid plans

Animal Magnetism

I want to write something about being a university administrator in an time when the ills of the university are being blamed, almost solely, on the bloatedness and the bad decision making of the administrative ranks. I can’t, just yet. I haven’t figured out how to write it in a way that accurately reflects the inherent contradiction of simultaneously being a graduate student, one critical of the administration, and one of the very administrators of which I have so long been critical. I also haven’t figured out how to write about that contradiction in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m risking my professional stability and credibility. So instead, I’m writing about pets. Give me time. 


Collectively, the ladies of Hook and Eye have quite the menagerie of furry companions. Erin has her two gorgeous rescue pups, Felix and Marley. Aimee shares her lap with a cat named Lulu and a whippet named Buddy. Boyda has sweet marmalade Theo. And I have this handsome guy. His name, for reasons of size, sweetness, shyness, and my partner’s unaccountable love of terrible teenage dance movies, is Moose.

I didn’t think I wanted a cat. When we rescued Moose just more than a year ago, the deal was that I’d get a Greyhound rescue and my partner Alex would get a cat. As we waited for the Greyhound organization we had chosen to schedule a pickup run to an American racetrack, we went looking for a feline friend. I don’t know what it was about Moose’s adoption listing, but it caught me despite (or perhaps because of) its open acknowledgement of his shyness and anxiety. We went to visit the home where Moose had been fostered for the last year, for a whole year after being abandoned, and didn’t get to meet him. He wouldn’t come out from under the sofa. And yet I still knew he was the one for us. His foster mother dropped him off, on trial, and then we didn’t see him for a month. I still don’t know where he was hiding. But one day he decided to relocate to the office, amidst my binders of comp notes. He soon decided that the sofa was his spot. And then the living room armchair. And then our laps. A year later he’s friendly to strangers, chatty and cuddly, and absolutely essential to my mental health.

One of the first things I said about Moose after we got him, and after he decided that it was safe to come out of hiding, was that I wished I had known I was a cat person before I started my PhD. On those days when I studied or wrote alone (and there were lots of them), having him around could have made a world of difference to my working days. It certainly does now. Between a full-time job, a dissertation, a handful of other ongoing academic projects, and a couple of blogging gigs, I spend a good number of my evenings and long stretches of my weekends glued to the computer. I used to get more frustrated with that, more resentful, than I do now. I used to be less productive, or at least less painlessly productive. And Moose has lots to do with that. Instead of being greeted by a glaring to-do list when I get home, I’m greeted by the thud-thud-thud-thud of Moose running down the stairs to say his very vocal hellos. I never have to eat dinner alone, because the Mooster is usually crouched over his kibble bowl just outside the dining room. And when it comes to starting work and sticking with it, I don’t usually have a choice. Moose likes to herd people, and so he herds me up to my computer and then he sits on me. It’s hard to argue with being forced to sit and work–and even harder to get up and do something else, like raid the fridge for no good reason–when the creature doing the forcing is twelve pounds of adorable fuzz who is soundly asleep and dreaming of mice.

Having Moose around has been good for me in all sorts of other ways. I’m oodles calmer, and regularly suffused with all of those lovely purring- and fur-stroking-induced endorphins. I’m less prone to anxiety. I’m never lonely when I’m at home alone, which I was sometimes prone to being. I’m less focused on myself because I have no choice but to focus on what this tiny and totally dependent creature needs of me. I am, in a word, happier–and that has done wonders for all aspects of my life, academic and otherwise. There is very much something to be said for the unconditional love and support of a furry friend or two, particularly when the going gets rough. We live in a pet-obsessed culture, where our Facebook feeds are filled with children reading to shelter cats, with grouchy felines, with toddlers and puppies taking daily naps together, and with our friends (guilty!) posting snapshots of their cuddly companions. This does not surprise me. Just as fashion tends to favour flowing fabrics and florals during times of economic and political instability, social media favours photos of felines. Animals, even just on social media, make many of us feel better. Erin and her colleagues on the picket lines in New Brunswick certainly know this, as their Mafa Picket Lines Pets tumblr attests. It’s no surprise that some of the smartest and most effective women I know share their lives with animals. They’re smart and effective because they do, and they do because they’re smart.

What about you, dear readers? Do you have furry friends, and what part do they play in supporting your mental health and happiness?

10 thoughts on “Animal Magnetism

  1. Hey, longtime reader first time commenter. This really resonates with me. I have a rescue rabbit and he is just the sweetest guy. When I got him, I did not want another rabbit. I already had a cranky, elderly rescue rabbit who did not like to cuddle but who would sleep in the sun that came in through the windows of my apartment while I worked. She was a great friend. But on a business trip, my husband met some people who were looking for a new home for their rabbit and having trouble finding one. So of course we couldn't not take this rabbit, and that was one of the best decisions we ever made. Having a pet is what really makes the apartment feel like my home rather than just a place where I live.


  2. Melissa: ABSOLUTELY!!! I know you already are aware but I got Felix (who is 11 1/2 now!) when I was writing my MA thesis. I was one of two people in my cohort who decided to go the thesis route and it was a solitary task. Having little Felix need to be walked and played with and taught things kept me on track and really really happy. (& he continues to be the best napper ever)


  3. Yes! I always have a cat. My current kitty is named Earl. My dog passed away this summer but she worked as a therapy dog for at risk youth and adult autism. I'm waiting on a new puppy to train.


  4. Oh Lulu runs down the stairs to say hi as well, and traps me on my chair. Hilarious lately is watching her occasionally groom Buddy, and he occasionally groom her. It always ends in hissing and chasing and biting, but I feel they might be friends someday … it's better than TV at my house.


  5. Oh yes, a cat is a constant in my house. I think a cat has been a constant in my life. The Cat of the Moment is Lennie, a large long-haired, part-Maine-Coon who is always ready to eat, who rips and tears through the house, plays in his cat tunnel, wants lap time as soon as I get up in the morning, and who rolls on the floor like a corkscrew when I come home from work, saying “Tummy-rubbing time!” Like all his predecessors, he keeps me from being lonely when I'm alone.


  6. The last line of your comment really resonates. My partner and I live in the house where he grew up, and we did a ton of renovations a couple of years ago, before we moved in permanently. It no longer felt like his mom's house, but it didn't quite feel like home. But we got the cat, and bingo! Not only did it feel like home, but we three felt like a capital-F family.


  7. It's gotta be dangerous to your various passwords to actually post your pet's name on the internet, surely.

    This post reminds me of the wonderful stray who adopted us when I was a kid, who for different reasons than Melissa's—size, clumsiness, a tendency to knock things down—was The Moose Cat.He was, in fact, the best cat ever, until my brother had to give up his cat Micia and my partner and I adopted her into what seemed for a while to be our cat orphanage. It's just great to have a critter around who absolutely does not care what happened at work today.


  8. The photo where they're both trying to share your lap is pretty hilarious. I'm impressed that they manage it. Moose gets offended when the computer has taken his spot, although he has recently realized that if Dad's lap is unavailable, my shins are not a terrible place to sleep. Glad too to hear that the interspecies thing is working out. I'm still on the fence about getting a Greyhound, but I think they could get along…


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