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The Truth About Cats and Dogs

By Kevin Isom

Gay men and lesbians seem to have more pets per capita than Dr. Doolittle. Which is pretty impressive, given that the Doctor could actually TALK to the critters.

I don't know any lesbian couples who don't have cats or dogs. That's plural. There's rarely just one per household. And most gay men seem to have either a really big dog or a little ole cat. Either way, gays and lesbians beat the straight folks in the pet department hands down. Er, paws down.

I've always admired this trait among other gay people, but I'd never been able to emulate it. I tried once. I got a fancy gold fish. The kind with bulging eyes. I figured if I ever wanted children, I should probably work my way up to mammals. And before mammals, fish should be easy enough, right?

Then one day I cleaned my fish's mini-tank and accidentally left some water in the light bulb socket. When I reconnected, there was a buzz, a pop, and the fish had an apparent seizure. Either that or he was practicing the Macarena. In the weeks following his electrifying moment, one of his bulging eyes grew twice the size of the other. He swam lop-sided. I never dared tell my gay or lesbian pet-positive friends what had happened. I just named him "Mutant."

Later, after the fish had lived out his lop-sided life and been flushed out to sea, I moved into an apartment with a roommate. A roommate with a cat.

I'd never had cats, though I'd seen a lot of them at lesbian friends' houses. I tended to be more of a dog person. Which worked out perfectly, because this cat (I called him "Cat") thought he was a dog.

He was thrilled to be petted while lying on his back. He liked crawling in bed with me. He liked nuzzling me and sitting in my lap. Just like a good boyfriend, come to think of it.

I even taught Cat to beg like a dog. It's a useful skill. For me, that is. I figure if I can teach a cat to beg, imagine what I can do with a guy.

When my roommate moved on to live with his boyfriend, I missed Cat more than I missed my roommate. But I wasn't ready to go out and adopt a cat or dog. Or even a gerbil. I simply didn't want the responsibility, even though other gay men and lesbians seem to assume it so easily. I found myself wondering, "With all these super animal people around who are queer, what's wrong with me? Didn't I get that gene?"

Over time, I pondered my inability to reach a decision to adopt a pet. I watched each guy and girl riding around in a jeep or convertible with a dog. Tongue hanging out in the wind. Actually, that would be my tongue hanging out, depending on the guy.

I told myself that I just couldn't decide between a cat or a dog. That I didn't want to be limited in where I could live. And what if I moved to Europe?

Then it hit me. I was coming up with excuses to avoid commitment. Ouch! It was the same rationale--except, of course, for the dislike of cleaning litter boxes--that I've used before in dating. I suddenly realized that, to my dismay, all those gay and lesbian folks out there with pets were experts at commitment. And per capita, queer people probably commit more often than straight people. While I've always liked certain straight people--I try never to feed or tease them--I wanted to be better at commitment.

So I made my decision. I couldn't see a super-needy puppy fitting into my no-yard lifestyle, but I could see a needy, docile cat. I had an image in my mind of the kitten I wanted--black with green eyes--and I sallied forth to the humane society weekend after weekend. Sort of like dating and going to bars and parties. Looking for an image of what you want.

Then, three weekends later, I fell. For an eggshell colored kitten with eyes the color of blue jeans and little white paws. Not at all what I'd pictured I'd end up with. Just like in dating. I had picked out a name before I even went looking, and this kitten looked like she could handle it: Shelby. I'm from Memphis, which is in Shelby County, Tennessee. (Elvis didn't seem like a good option). Since I retain my Shelby County car tags, Shelby's name is actually on my car. How many other kittens have cars with their names on them? I mean, besides kittens with lesbian moms.

Shelby is adapting well to her new life with me, though I'm still a little shaken over the whole commitment thing. That and the instinctive nipple suckling thing she keeps trying to do. At least it's fun with a boyfriend.

But when Shelby climbs onto my chest at night, she looks at me with those blue jean eyes and starts that strange purring sound that cats do. I realize I'm in uncharted territory for me, yet I feel a certain solidarity with all the other pet-owning gay folks. Then she puts her head down and closes her eyes.

I think maybe I'll keep her around for a while.


Kevin Isom is a syndicated travel writer and humor columnist. His short story "The Brothers Mangrum" appears in the Spring 1997 issue of Paris Transcontinental.


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