The cats are alright

Shadow. She would sit here for HOURS.

I felt a quiet glee when years ago - at a web analytics seminar - I was told online dog videos garnered far more views than cat videos.

At the time, cat videos were the socially nihilistic symbol of the digital era. They were referenced as a malign distraction, when crusty old newspaper people grouched and commiserated the “fall” of journalism and the fatality posed by Buzzfeed et all: “all the internet now is cat videos and cat listicles”.

Or they were tut-tutted over when repetitive footage of a feline’s inevitable descent into (and frenzied escape out of) a full bathtub went viral, and disrupted whatever nebulous “serious” pursuits lurkers were supposed to engage the internet for.

But I was reassured and happy to hear dogs were where it was really at. Now, of course, we have Cool Dog Group (we have Cool Cat Group too, but it has a couple hundred thousand fewer members than its canine equivalent). And there’s even an internet “language” for dogs, which NPR decided was worthy of a feature earlier this year.

I wasobsessed with my Labrador, Max, for some years — let’s say 16, his entire lifetime — and actively pine for the day where I may be surrounded in whatever lair I inhabit by a menagerie of dogs, from border collies to kelpies to Jack Russell Terriers and everything in between.

For years, to anyone who would listen, I was a self-professed “dog person”: “They’re playful! They’re goofy, loyal, silly, active, rambunctious, idiotic, delightful, constant. They love you! I hate cats!”

I now perceive this time with the same sad, retrospective lens and lower head shake as the years I also self-described as a “I just get along with guys better, y’know?” type of gal.

Of all things, it was Airbnb that changed everything. Catbnb became my entry to the arena of feline mystique and delight.

I left Australia in October last year and have stayed in people’s homes in Canada and the US regularly since.

And most of them have had resident cats.

My first was called MC, and I was warned: if you’re allergic, shut the door. If you don’t want MC in the room, shut the door. If you don’t want her going through your stuff and/or food, shut the door. She will stay in there unless you make sure she doesn’t.

I was not vigilant with the door, but mostly from jetlag rather than invitation. And so at 4am on my first overnight stay as an expat in Canada, I woke to discover MC casually sitting on my head. She was unperturbed by my wakefulness, and kept her paws on my forehead. Then leaped silently to my sleeping partner’s thigh, before assuming a tight position between us where she purred for the rest of the morning.

This was a novelty for me, a delightful display of nature. How cute! How idiosyncratic! How amusing! Immediately, insufferably, I exhumed all the asinine language and disposition of a human with years of practiced anthropomorphism.

MC repeated this pattern each night. She sneaked in and out of our room and danced around us. She browsed constantly for physical affection, only to assume extreme nonchalance at its delivery. She once sprinted down the stairs when my partner arrived home, only to stiffen and assume disinterest when he returned her greeting with a stare.

I realized all the characteristics of cats I had previously identified as my reasons for disinterest or dislike of them quickly became the very things that made them so lovable.

Attribute the affection partly to my extreme vulnerability — having just relocated to a new country, and all — but I became enamored and fascinated with everything MC did.

She was the first, and that was it forever. Canada became Catada. Airbnb became Catbnb.

Since MC, there’s been Lila, Shadow, Dixie, Grey, and Annie, and they’ve been wildly variant. Affectionate, evasive, sneaky. Shadow would creep into my room to sit on the window sill, where she was not allowed, and would stare into a garden for hours. Hours. Intently.

There’s been dogs, too, of course — Mackie and Sam and Salty, but they don’t give me quite the same fresh hit of interest as a cat does. Cats intrigue me far more. I now find the fact that they don’t give a fuck about basically anything or anyone amusing, rather than snobby. I find their gymnastics and general physical antics hilarious, their determined avoidance of water, their instinctive need to push anything not too big and above their eye level down onto the floor.

And I am not ashamed to admit that whether an Airbnb host owns a cat or not now occasionally factors into my booking choices.

Occasionally…