Cat Seeks Dog

When my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Oregon in June, we lived with my lovely mother-in-law for two months while we waited for our new lease to start. She’d just adopted a rescue dog, a comely—if hyper—chihuahua / spaniel mix. As dogs go, she’s a good little pooch, and getting better all the time. But I’m simply not a dog person. I get why people love dogs. I can’t criticize the impulse; dogs are charming. But dogs demand more than I personally am able to give.

I can’t say I’m a cat person either, if only because I’ve never had a pet cat. (I grew up with birds, shock of shocks.) But I’m starting to suspect I’m a non-practicing cat lover. Put a good-tempered cat in my vicinity and I will develop an immediate crush on it, wondering what I can do to win its attention, all the while wanting to appear cool in front of it. Whereas with a dog, I spend a lot of time and energy trying to deflect the love-assault. That’s the thing—dogs give out their love like buckshot sprayed at your face. Cat love is held in reserve and will only be dispensed at the cat’s own fickle discretion.

We recently settled in our new place, and a stray has been coming around—a handsome and nosy adolescent black cat I’ve named Sam Friendly. He’s even burgled his way into our house a couple times, sneaking in through a second-floor window, then sauntering past us like he has every right to be there. I sort of want to adopt this ballsy bastard, but at present I’m slightly more infatuated with my new couch, which I’d hate to see ripped up along with my newfound interest in cat guardianship. Still, I did swing by the local clinic to ask how much it would cost if I could lure Sam Friendly into a carrier and bring him in for chipping and basic medical care. He’s a good guy. He deserves that much, at the very least.

In addition to all this real-life cat and dog intrigue, I just finished revising Give It All, the second Desert Dogs book, and there’s this scene in it where the heroine, Raina, is talking with her ex, Miah (Jeremiah), about why they never worked out.

“You saw things about us I refused to,” Miah said. “Like how I’d probably have come to resent you a few years down the road, feeling like I was giving so much, when you can seem so…”


“Not quite. But indifferent.”

She nodded. “Like cat love. You’d have been stuck settling for scraps of me.”

He laughed. “I’ve always hated cats.”

“That’s so my style—stingy little morsels of affection. Give a man a taste, then wander off and do my own thing. Dogs are…”

“Dog love is like a hose you can’t turn off,” Miah offered.

“Yeah, one that never runs dry. Too much. All you can do is try to dodge the spray. Sloppy.”

My husband and I share this same dynamic. I’m the cat, he’s the dog. His well of love is bottomless—it will never go dry, and it can never be overfilled with incoming affection. It’s never not a good time to touch him. He’s never uttered the phrase, “I need some space,” in the seven-plus years we’ve been together. Not once, while I bet I say it weekly.

My well of affection, on the other hand, is finite. It needs time to replenish after it’s been tapped, or else I’m left exhausted and cranky. I mete out my more earnest and tender thoughts in tiny parcels, and it’s about a fifty-fifty split, the likelihood that I’ll be receptive to casual physical attention or not. Hug me when I’m in an anxious or pensive mood and it’s probably about as satisfying as cuddling a rock. I’ve worried more than once that if we end up having a child, I’ll be the frazzled or distant parent, compared to my husband, the all-you-can-squeeze love buffet. I’m hoping that what some friends have said is true—that parenthood opens up untapped reserves of affection and fondness in even us frosty types.

I used to feel like something in me was broken, until I noticed that dogs and cats operate in these exact same ways. If a cat’s in the mood for attention, it trots straight over and pushes itself right up against you. Once it’s content—or if you don’t pet it to its standards—it simply wanders away. Dogs, on the whole, can’t get or give enough affection. As Miah put it, dog love is a hose you can’t turn off. As a cat, that makes me feel like I’m drowning, sometimes. And my husband, as a dog, must feel like he’s giving everything and getting a bum exchange rate.

Except in our case, it seems to work. Probably because we both know how the other person operates, so no one takes it personally. He might wish I was a little less twitchy about my personal space sometimes, and I might wish he understood what it was like to be a sponge, instead of a bottomless well—I get both oversaturated and wrung out pretty quickly, when it comes to receiving and giving emotional sustenance. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to will myself into a more doggish disposition.

I’ve dated fellow cats before, and I can admit it’s not a ton of fun. Maybe I worked a little harder to earn those precious droplets of affection, and maybe I take the deluge for granted now that it’s mine to swim in whenever I like. But I have to say, I’ve never felt so secure with a man as I do with my love-hose of a husband. Like a dog, he never leaves me doubting his feelings and loyalty for a second.

And I think I’d rather drown in love than spend my life feeling thirsty for it.

About Cara McKenna

Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. Read more >
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6 Responses to Cat Seeks Dog

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m a cat with people (although I own dogs), including my son. There were times when he was little that I locked myself in the bathroom to hide from the endless need for touch and connection. But he grew up to be a terrific–and extremely independent–human being anyway. I think if you set reasonable expectations for yourself–yes, you will get overwhelmed, yes, you will need a break, yes, you’re not going to be the gushy parent–you might discover that “frazzled” and “cold” can just as easily be read by a kid as “not clingy” and “respects my space.” You’ll also probably find the unexpected reserves of affection and fondness–I love my son with the passion of a thousand suns and would die for him without hesitation (well, without much hesitation–I might ask some questions about why it was necessary and whether there wasn’t a better solution)–but it didn’t turn me into any less of a persnickety cat type. I even hide from the dogs sometimes.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      This is heartening to hear! I especially liked, “You might discover that ‘frazzled’ and ‘cold’ can just as easily be read by a kid as ‘not clingy’ and ‘respects my space.'” So thank you!

  2. willaful says:

    I have this same dynamic with my husband. And yes, there are times when my son, who is very doggy, uses me up with his needs. Plan for it… make sure there will be times for you to replenish yourself.

  3. Cate Ellink says:

    Thanks for a fascinating post, Cara.

    I have a question after reading it – how do you think this affects your writing?

    I’d never have picked your “aloofness” or the craving for space from your stories…but now I know, maybe it is more obvious.

    Cate xo

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Interesting question. I haven’t given it much thought before, but I do think quite a few of my books open with one character as the pursuer, the other one the cagier, more resisting party. Sometimes the heroine needs defrosting by the more forward hero—After Hours, Hard Time, Lay It Down, Curio, Driving Her Wild, The Reluctant Nude—or sometimes it’s the other way around—Unbound, Willing Victim, Ruin Me. In Give It All, Raina and Duncan are both chilly and aloof in their own ways. In my Shivaree series it’s two men, but still, one is the shameless pursuer and the other is the cold one, always overthinking everything. But unlike me, all those frosty characters get thawed by lurve and seem to stay thawed, whereas I continue to cycle in and out of my little warm and cold spells. Ah, fiction :-)