I have a proud black cat whom I absolutely adore. Whenever I come home, he pulls back the curtains to watch me as I bring out my keys and open the door. His head bobs up and down, this way and that—I can tell he is happy that I’m back.

But the moment I turn the knob, he leaps down from the window and waits by the door, unmoving and looking absolutely disinterested. He stays that way while my dog tries to jump into my arms and smothers me with kisses.

The cat, you see, is waiting for me to come to him and give my respects.

Unlike my dog, my cat pretends not to care that I’m back. “Pfft. No biggie,” I bet he would say if he could.

Dog Person Becomes Cat Slave

I won’t be able to tell he’s excited to see me if not for the moments he spends by the window, which are a giveaway. Despite his pretense, this cat who pretends he doesn’t miss me every single time I come home has completely captivated me. Hey, he even turned my love for him into a column dedicated to all the cats in the world and their respective human slaves!But let me tell you this: before my cat came into my life, I would never have thought of living with a meowing, purring ball of fur.

Yep, the cat’s out of the bag: I used to be a dog person. As a child, I never made friends with a cat. Dogs, on the other hand, gave me the love and companionship I needed then. But look at how one cat—one grumpy, laconic, self-important cat—has changed my life. I am his slave.With this column coming to fruition, I am now also his official biographer.

Don’t Like Cats? We Need to Talk

If you aren’t into cats, I don’t blame you. They can seem selfish, arrogant, and even ungrateful. They don’t cling like dogs. They don’t reveal their devotion like dogs. They don’t swear to follow you to the ends of the earth—all the way to hell, if need be—like dogs. Sometimes, cats even look like minions of the devil, looking at you with such calculating eyes. The way a cat stares makes you wonder, “Is he secretly planning to kill me?” They are so very much unlike dogs, who act
like innocent children in panting, fourlegged bodies.

You hate cats? Yep, I definitely don’t blame you. But if you do, then we have to talk. I need to tell you something about them, something I learned without having to read it via a really awesome cat column in a really awesome animal magazine. And it’s something that made me realize how cats, just like dogs, can also be man’s best friend.

You see, I have always believed thatcats don’t pander to our emotional needs just to prove their worth. They also hate having to show us any signs of weakness, which is why they try their best to pretend they couldn’t care less even if we were away the whole day.

Okay, sometimes they really couldn’t care less. But there is something about our feline friends that make them more than just companions. They are, in so many ways, champions.

What Makes a Champion?

Whoa. Cats, champions? “What makes them such winners?” you might ask. Could it be that I’m just infected with Toxoplasma gondii, an organism carried by cats which can allegedly drive people a little nuts, according to neurobiologists?Whatever craziness I carry, I don’t want it to hurt how you think about cats. So, before I ruin it altogether, I want to share with you the story of Bitty, a blind cat—a champion, really—who has transformed his human, Gerry Belardo, into a champion, too.“He was born blind, but he doesn’t know that,” Gerry says. “His sense of hearing is very sharp. He doesn’t like furniture being moved and he has memorized the layout of the house.”

“He’s turning 15 in July.” (Belated happy birthday, Bitty!)“When he was much younger, he would run up and down the stairs and chase the other cats at an amazing speed. His toys have bells on them. He’s my oldest and he’s the one who planted the desire [in me] to do as much as I can to help other cats.”Ah, there it is. Cats, just like Bitty, make us champions for a cause. With them around, we have very little choice in the matter.

Bitty is a blind cat. Because he couldn’t see, he gave his human a new vision. (Photo courtesy of Gerry Belardo)

Bitty: Not Small at All

“A friend told us that a stray cat gave birth and that one of the kittens was blind. We went to see them and I felt so bad for him. He was having a hard time nursing because he couldn’t keep up with his mama cat.”“So, we took him home. I was nervous that he might not make it but there was no doubt he was [coming] home with us.

”Despite being blind, Bitty was just as able as any other cat. Because he had the heart of a lion, Bitty was not at all itty-bitty.“He adapted very early. [At first, we] kept him in a cage so he wouldn’t get stepped on but he wouldn’t have any of that. He bawled his heart out until we relented to let him explore.”

“He would even [jump] on tables. I was more scared than [he was]! We would play catch—he would chase me around the chairs and tables.”Gerry, who works in the food industry, says Bitty was the first cat she was responsible for. Bitty actually didn’t always look like the healthy, handsome cat that he is now; Gerry says he was “not the cutest kitten.”

“No ugly cat”“[The] first time I laid eyes on Bitty, he was not the cutest kitten. He was scrawny, dirty, and had bald spots.”Gerry says people would call him ugly. “But of course, to us cat lovers, there is no such thing as an ugly cat.”“What a privilege it is to care for and love a differently-abled cat. Their needs are different, which just adds to the joy of seeing them blossom to their full potential. Being differently-abled doesn’t make them less, because they give back 101 percent love, trust, and loyalty.”

“Fur” the Win

Cats are champions because they transform us into champions. And they do it all without us even realizing it.The next time you meet a feline on the road, don’t hesitate to say hi. If he meows, he’s saying hi back at you – cats don’t meow at other cats, you see.If you can, make friends with him. Whether or not he’s as grumpy as the feline who is now my captor, chances are, he just may change you, too. Hopefully, he changes you enough for you to give him a forever home.

If you do, congratulations! The champion has turned you into a champion.

This appeared as “Why Cats are Champions” in Animal Scene’s August 2015 issue.