THE BLOG

<i>Not</i> a Cat Person

05/12/2014 04:37 EDT | Updated 07/12/2014 05:59 EDT

When my brother Niel and I were young, we begged our parents for a dog. After finally wearing them down, they said "yes" and my lifelong love affair with dogs began. My experience is that dogs are great givers of unconditional love. However, had you asked me about cats, I probably would have said what many people typically say. "I'm not a cat person."

Then my daughter Lani moved home with her dog Gunnar, (who I already adored) and her two cats. This happened while I was away from Toronto in the depths of winter and although I knew I was coming home to a houseful of new adventures, I honestly was not fully prepared for it.

2014-05-12-IMG_1486.jpg She reported that Jack (the older one at two) was hiding under the couch...all the time. The little guy Jinx, (just over a year old), the daredevil of the two, was exploring his new-found freedom in my two story home, sprinting up and down the stairs, even leaping from pretty scary heights off the top landing to the level below. All this, during the middle of the night. The truth is that cats like to sleep all day, waking up during the hours when we humans are hoping to sleep. None of this sounded at all appealing to me.

It's interesting, however, as I began to reflect a little more, I wasn't really sure why I was "not a cat person." I'm not knowingly allergic to them. Other than a rogue black cat who darted across my path one time, I've never had an unpleasant encounter with one. And, to be honest, I've never really had much interaction with cats at all.

Cat stereotypes abound. Cats are aloof and loners. Or mean-spirited and sneaky, not to be trusted. Anytime I'd visit someone with cats, well frankly, the cats weren't around too much. Seemed the outdoor cats preferred to be out exploring and hunting prey. Indoor cats found their preferred nooks and crannies to lounge in, keeping to themselves, coming and going as they pleased.

It's been a few months now and after several weeks of disrupted sleep, listening to them come alive in the dead of night, I'm pleasantly surprised to announce that I'm officially a convert. A fully transformed cat person. Watching these two guys gives me great pleasure, as they each display their own unique and charming personalities. Although they don't show love in the same way as dogs, they still have their own ways of expressing it. And seeing them not only brings me joy but makes me laugh. They're both entertaining and fascinating, offering me wonderful moments of escape from life's daily stresses.

This personal experience had me thinking how easy it is to form preconceived ideas about things in our lives, even before we give them a chance and try them. It got me wondering, how does our resistance to something, based on something we heard, or some fear we have, rob us of new opportunities before we even begin? Sometimes we stop ourselves from being open to explore something new, based on someone reporting their experiences.

That got me curious to see what came up when I searched for stats on people's regrets. The first thing that appeared was that a lot of people (more than 1/3) who got tattoos, regret it after. That's probably a whole other article, however, if you're thinking of getting a tattoo and haven't yet, you've officially been forewarned. And for those who already have tattoos, congrats on following your heart's desire on that one.

Based on questions asked of people on their death beds by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, number one on the list of the top five things that came up repeatedly was, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." That speaks volumes to me, as how many of us can relate to this in some way in our own lives? Regardless of our age, we might have to admit to ourselves that there's something that stops us from living the life we want, settling for the life someone else wants for us.

When I was critically ill, (a topic I write about in my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie), it became crystal clear to me that our dreams are too precious not to pursue. Especially when we're compromising to fit others expectations of us, or doing the right thing according to someone other than ourselves. Having regrets at some point later in life, when we might no longer have an option, sabotages not only ourselves, but what we have to offer the world as well.

It's interesting that the other four most common regrets were also prefaced by the words "I wish." I wish I didn't work so hard. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I had stayed in touch with friends. I wish I'd allowed myself to be happier.

This last one intrigued me, as there's currently much attention and discussion about our desire to live happy lives by doing what makes us happy. Yet, we humans can get stuck in old patterns and habits that don't serve us anymore. Some deep-seated fear of change, has us pretending we're fulfilled and content, leaving us longing for more fun and happiness in life.

Writing about my 98-year-old mother, who truly appears to have no regrets and has lived a very happy life, made me realize that life is too short not to, (as a favorite Gaping Void cartoon so perfectly puts it) "shine your light on the world". We have the choice in every moment to create the life we want to live.

With the 24/7 stream of information overload to distract us, it's easy to get caught up in perpetual overwhelm, losing touch with what does make us happy. Cloud watching has always been one of my favourite all-time happy making things to do. Now I can add another. Watching the captivating behavior of my house guests, as what my cat men do, brings great wonder and happiness to my life.

As an amazed newbie cat lover, I'll suggest that before you knock something, (whatever that is in life), try it! Dare to live your passions and dreams. And to my dear mother who claims she is "not a cat person" (maybe I got that from her), I'll have to tell her she doesn't realize what she's missing. I wouldn't want that to become her first regret this late in life.

What's your preference -- cats, dogs or both?