When I was a young boy, I was absolutely vile to our family cat. I didn't cut it up or torture it or anything, but let's just say that, looking back, I'm amazed to have retained any memories at all of the poor thing purring in my lap...
Don't get me wrong - I still terrorize my current cat. Only now the terror is tempered with a tender, loving benevolence, a genuine desire to nurture and protect, as opposed to the thoughtless cruelty that comes so naturally to children. I might joke around about murdering her in all sorts of fun and interesting ways, but usually this is well within the context of a spirited play-time chase around the apartment.
This book seemed to encapsulate my own evolved attitude toward cats these days. It's not The Western Lands, which he was writing around the same time, but it's not exactly the warm and fuzzy thing some reviewers have described it as, either. At points it's downright horrific.
If you happen to own one of these remarkable creatures, at once so independent, yet so in need of our affections, then you probably enjoy a similar love-hate relationship with yours. Burroughs takes this a step further, showing how the same reason why we can't seem to live without the little buggers is the same reason why we can't seem to live without other people, however troublesome they can be at times.
Some folks prefer dogs. Burroughs is not one of them. He provides the following explanation on page 63:
"I am not a dog hater. I do hate what man has made of his best friend. The snarl of a panther is certainly more dangerous than the snarl of a dog, but it isn't ugly. A cat's rage is beautiful, burning with pure cat flame, all its hair standing up and crackling blue sparks, eyes blazing and sputtering. But a dog's snarl is ugly, a redneck lynch-mob Paki-basher snarl... snarl of someone got a "Kill a Queer for Christ" sticker on his heap, a self-righteous occupied snarl. When you see that snarl you are looking at something that has no face of its own. A dog's rage is not his. It is dictated by his trainer. A lynch-mob rage is dictated by conditioning."
It is perhaps a debatable distinction he makes here, this idea that cats have admirable qualities of their own, while dogs simply reflect their (often quite vicious) masters, but I for one might be inclined to agree.