Emer McLysaght: In defence of being a Crazy Cat Lady

I used to hate the misogynistic cliché, but now I’m leaning into it

I was away for a few days last week, and before I left I was re-reading some of the instructions I was leaving for the pet sitter. I was struck by how they might look to a civilisation uncovering them in the distant future, looking for clues as to how we lived in the early 2000s.

“The cat sleeps wherever she likes, so please make sure interior doors are left open. The cat can spell words like ‘ball’ and ‘treat’ so please be careful how you use these words – she also responds strongly to the word ‘nice’ and in particular the phrase ‘something nice’. The cat will only eat this very specific food, but then occasionally and inexplicably rejects it like it’s poison.”

There is a kind of a shared burden between cat owners in that we've accepted our fate but we love the little feckers all the same

Any intrepid archaeologist from the year 4587 might take this artefact and use it as evidence that cats were worshipped far beyond the days of the Egyptians. They might think that the people who lived circa 2021 lived under the reign of the cat and gave their humble homes over to the whims of felines, who roamed where they wished and gave orders day and night. And I would argue that they wouldn’t be far from the truth.

Whenever I talk about being a cat owner I often find myself leaning away from that old misogynistic cliché of the “cat lady”. Just the other day I told a delivery man that I have Pip (the cat) because I don’t have space for a dog. I’ve repeated this excuse dozens of times, keen to distance myself from the stereotype of woman-who-lives-alone-with-cats. It feels traitorous both to myself and feminism to act like this, because I am a woman who lives alone with a cat and much as I try to avoid letting Pip have the upper hand, I usually give in to her every whim because I just want her to be happy.


A fundamental difference between cats and dogs is that dogs are usually eager to please their owners and may even understand the concept of remorse. Cats, meanwhile, are mostly concerned with their own comfort and needs and will offer affection only when it suits. It can sometimes feel like I’m trapped in a toxic relationship with Pip; I want her to feel comfortable and safe and loved but often to the detriment of my own peace of mind, peace while watching telly and peace while trying to sleep at 4am.

There is a kind of a shared burden between cat owners – similar to the burden shared by parents whose toddlers are in the drawing on walls phase or whose babies are cutting incisors – in that we’ve accepted our fate but we love the little feckers all the same. We all know the dangers involved in administering the incorrect number of head rubs. Then of course there’s the phantom howling, whereby a cat picks a space on the wall – usually a corner, Blair Witch Style – and keens up at it, often in the dead of night. Extensive googling offers no concrete evidence as to why the cat does this, so I often just try to distract with s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g n-i-c-e and hope we’re not being haunted.

A Crazy Dog Lady is a kind person with a reliable mutt by her side. A Crazy Cat Lady has been hypnotised by a cunning feline and cannot be trusted

Despite all of these admittedly awful-sounding cons of owning a cat, they are actually great pets. They’re funny, loving, soft and often eager to sit on a lap/neck/head or in whichever position is most inconvenient to you for seeing the telly. They are laden with personality and it sometimes feels like they really are talking to you. But now, you see, here I go into Crazy Cat Lady territory. If it was a dog I was talking about I would be safe to wax lyrical about how my pet is my best friend and how much she must miss me when I go away on holidays but because it’s a cat I’m in danger of becoming a satirical headline about dying alone among the Whiskas tins. Why is that?

I think it’s because there’s a general feeling that cats can’t be trusted. There’s an aloofness about them. They don’t really seem to need us, rather they choose to be around us. Their behaviour is puzzling and mysterious. Dogs on the other hand were domesticated by humans 30,000 years ago and are very much in union with humans. They read our emotions and need us to love them. A Crazy Dog Lady is a kind person with a reliable mutt by her side. A Crazy Cat Lady has been hypnotised by a cunning feline and cannot be trusted. She talks to her cats and caters to their every whim. She is a witch, possibly.

And hey, I do talk to Pip about how hungry she is or how she slept or the things she must have seen while she was off doing her gallivanting (her gallivanting is usually short-lived as she is afraid of the wind). I do spend more on her cat litter than I do on toilet paper for myself and I would do anything to make sure she’s happy. If that makes me a Crazy Cat Lady, I’ll take it.