First, I have not turned into someone who posts pictures of kittens on the internet. Which is something of a relief to me, since we have a new kitten and she is beguiling and if ever a person were to be moved to post such photos, this would be the time.
I’ve always been ambivalent about pets. I regard dogs with unalloyed fear and loathing. (Yes, even your dog, even if she is terribly friendly really. No, I wouldn’t change my mind if I met her. No, being ‘licked to death’ by a dog is a fate that appeals to me no more than being suffocated to death by a cloud of toxic smoke or squashed to death by a moving vehicle, though thank you for offering.) I am not afraid of hamsters, guinea-pigs and rabbits, and I can see why they would make good transitional objects for children too old for teddies, with the additional bonus – I suppose – of a lesson in sex and death. I don’t see why grownups would want rodents, or anything else, defecating in a house. I don’t see why a person would want to spend time forming a relationship with an animal when there are other people to talk to.
It’s easy, of course, to construct a Marxist argument against pets. Doesn’t it tell you all you might need to know about the decadence of late capitalism that some people buy little pouches of organic, gourmet cat food in the supermarket and then walk past the boxes for donations to the food bank on the way out? (It’s not, really, much better if they stop to put some food into the boxes: we’re still in a world where some people buy luxury food for captive animals while other people can’t buy any food for their children.) It’s easy to construct a vegan argument against pets along the same lines as the vegan argument against farming animals: pets are also creatures removed from a natural habitat and natural behaviours and bred in captivity over generations to gratify the needs of humans. In the case of my new cat, a Siamese, I could also construct a post-colonial argument against pets, since Siamese cats were brought to the UK at the height of mid-nineteenth century Orientalism. There are early photos of them posed against Oriental silk curtains with statues looted from Oriental temples. (I mean, ‘Siamese’ cats. Not Thai.)
Still, I’ve always wanted a Siamese cat. My grandparents had them. They’re slinky and mildly sinister, visually appealing, and also affectionate and amusing to watch. All the things it would be reprehensible to value in a human being. When we went to choose her, my husband and I were comparing and contrasting what became our cat and her sister. That one has nicer colouring, I said. Yes, but the other one has a pointier profile, he said. Stop it, I said , we’re treating them both as aesthetic objects. Well yes, he said, as opposed to what, exactly?
So that’s the point, I suppose. Pets are a legitimate way to violate your politics, and their cupboard love, born of confinement and dependence, allows us to believe ourselves adored. Anyway, she’s very pretty, and we’re feeding her the really expensive Danish organic cat food to show how much we care. I’ve even found some organically produced biodegradable cat litter. Bring on the revolution.