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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a good number of cats must be in want of a good cat mug.

I have three cats, so naturally people like to buy me cat themed gifts, especially oversized mugs. Whether earthenware or bone china, these mugs all tend to feature frolicking felines with such captions as “Knit One Purr Two,” “I’ve Got Cattitude,” or “Chairman Meow.”

I’m not sure if these gifts are intended to say, “Here’s something I think you’ll like”, or, more likely, “Honey? You are one cat shy of being declared a crazy cat lady.”

So how many cats does it take to tip you over the threshold? Five? Ten?  Twenty-seven? When do you cross over the border between pet lover and crazy cat lady?
Just like the famous judge who said “I know pornography when I see it,” I can spot a crazy cat lady when I see one, and I’ve seen my share at the annual cat show at County Center. They’re the women decked out in dangling cat earrings and cat themed sweaters, hawking the homemade kitty condo towers covered in organic tree bark.  It’s not a far leap to imagining them lounging at home in a Collyer Brother squalor of cats and uncollected newspapers, wearing puffy chenille bathrobes, cramming down Kit Kat bars and watching old Tom Selleck movies on the Hallmark channel.

Crazy Cat Ladies are such a cultural cliché that Amazon even sells a crazy cat lady action figure. She “has a wild look in her eye, offers all the fun without the allergies, and comes with six cats.” There’s even a Crazy Cat Ladies Society. According to their webpage, their mission is to appropriate the term “crazy cat lady” for themselves as a way to combat stereotypes about cat-loving folks. Their attitude:  “You say crazy cat lady like it’s a bad thing.”

Isn’t it strange that you never hear about crazy dog ladies? And who said cats are the sole province of women anyway? In Key West, Florida, Ernest Hemingway, that most(ly) manly of men, is fondly remembered as a famous collector of cats.

Hey, it’s not as if I’m not taking my cats out for a walk on a leash.  I don’t let them eat at the table with us often. (Kidding.)  It’s not as if I’m feeding the ferals down the street.  Sure, I frequently forward cute cat videos. I’ve referred to our three cats as my “furry children;” I confess to keeping a calendar on my desk called Kitsch Kittens of 2012.  I’ve posted a picture or three of my cats to Facebook, and maybe I’ve even been known not to answer a phone because I didn’t want to disturb the cat sleeping on my lap.  But when people try to tempt me with terrible tales of strays in dire need of homes, I always refuse. I’m not about to upset the cat equilibrium of our household.  You know what they call a woman who houses twenty cats? A hoarder.  But you know what they call a woman with twenty kids? A reality TV star.

In our complicated household, cats are the comic relief. They lower my husband’s blood pressure, keep our autistic son company, and generally amuse and delight our human family of four. To have and to hold them, in sickness and in health…when all is said and done, our cats are family too.

One night at the dinner table my husband started to hiccup badly. Our son looked up in consternation. “Dad?” he asked. “Are you having a hairball?”

Clearly, we’re all a bit invested in our cats here.

But please: keep the cat mugs and refrigerator magnets to yourself. Stop calling me a crazy old cat lady.

Because I’m not old.

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