One can be a crazy cat lady without living alone in a cavernous house with a dozen or more cats. I should know. I am one, and I don’t.
First let’s start with definitions. I’m crazy. I think we all know that by now and I don’t mind saying so. (See “Yes, I Am Crazy. Thanks for Asking” http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-4h.) I’m also a cat lady. We had dogs growing up, but I never got very close with them. I did have a rabbit that I was awfully fond of, but this was in the days before lop-eared rabbits became house pets. She lived in a cage in the garage, or in the back yard when the weather was nice.
To me a crazy cat lady is someone who has eight or more cats, lives alone with them, usually in a large house, but one not quite big enough for all the inhabitants. Often you hear news stories about crazy cat ladies who die alone and are eaten by their cats, or crazy cat ladies whose pets are taken away from them because of inadequate care – especially sanitation.
I have a friend who was had more than eight cats at once, and is just as crazy as I am. She does not, however, believe that she is a crazy cat lady because another lady down the street has more cats. And truthfully, she doesn’t meet the other requirements of crazy-cat-lady-hood. She has a family, and keeps up with the care and feeding of her menagerie.
Do crazy cat ladies have an actual mental disorder? If so, do they all have the same kind? Maybe not. The crazy cat lady on The Simpsons (Eleanor Abernathy) is pretty clearly schizophrenic, though I doubt that many are in real life. Real-life cat ladies may demonstrate obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or their isolation may be due to depression. Or something else entirely.
Psychology Today tells us there is no real basis for the stereotype.
The stereotypic term “crazy cat lady” is used in a pejorative sense to classify an older, female animal hoarder and there is no research to support such correlation. Research on animal hoarding is lacking and there is not one plausible theory that suggests why older females tend to hoard animals more than men.
Still, crazy cat lady behavior may be psychologically classified as a “hoarding disorder.” Mother Nature Network reports that the condition…
…is only now getting the recognition that will prove helpful to sufferers. Recent research has revealed abnormal brain activity in people with hoarding disorder. And both experts and hoarders hope and believe that the new DSM classification will help bring about better treatment.
I would make the case that crazy-cat-lady-hood is actually a defense against mental disorders. Carried to an extreme, perhaps, but beneficial nonetheless.
Caring for cats – even multiple ones – gives a person another living being to care about. Patients in geriatric facilities are often brought into contact with small domesticated farm animals or cats and dogs (therapy animals), which pretty clearly help them deal with isolation and depression.
For an isolated person, cats provide someone to talk to. Not that the cats necessarily listen or respond, of course, except in the most perverse ways possible. They are cats, after all.
I got my first cat when I was living alone and recovering from several years of psychological trauma. My future husband went with me to the shelter, but was studiously unhelpful in selecting a cat, thereby proving that he had some sense and a grasp of how important it was for me to find a kitty I could bond with.
“Which one should I get?” I asked.
“Gee,” he replied, “I dunno, honey. They all look like nice cats to me.” The one I chose was Bijou, a tortoiseshell.
We as a couple have since had up to five cats at one time, and through the years a total of well over a dozen.
When my bipolar disorder was at its worst, after I had suffered a major meltdown (nervous breakdown, decompensation, or whatever you call it), I was certainly crazy, but hardly a cat lady. I was unable to take care of my own daily needs, much less those of anyone else, human or feline. My husband, who was taking up enormous amounts of slack, took over pet care as well. Now that I’m back on a fairly even keel, I can do my part with feeding, litter box tending, grooming, and so forth.
Fortunately, even when I was immobilized, my cats, in addition to my husband, gave me emotional sustenance. The therapeutic effects of a purr, a gentle kneading, and a nice snuggle are not to be underestimated. The antics of a kitten may be exhausting to watch, but they provide more than a little distraction, if that’s what you need.
Do dogs have the same therapeutic effect? I don’t know. For some people I suppose they do, but I have never bonded with a dog as I have with my cats.
In psychological terms, my cats are “comfort objects,” like furry, living security blankets, or teddy bears that shit and meow. I hope never to be without a cat again. I need them for my mental health.