“Cats look beyond appearances—beyond species entirely, it seems—to peer into the heart.”
—Barbara L. Diamond (Queens, New York 1939-) actor and director
The capacity that cats show for love is not simply limited to their interactions with humans, as beautifully revealed in this Walter Hunt painting of a tiny kitten rubbing affectionately against a kind and patient collie dog. It is one of my favorite works, not just for the meticulous rendering of the animals (for which Hunt was famous), but for the peace and domestic tranquility it exudes. Hunt exhibited a version of this work at the Royal Academy in London in 1893 under the apt title “The Best of Friends.”
A contemporary critic once criticized the typical subjects of Walter Hunt’s works as “Victorian confections comprised of improbable collections of domestic animals.” This farm-girl begs to differ. Discrimination and differentiation by appearance are human issues. Friendships among animals are unrestricted by human abstractions of prejudice and interspecies differences.
The wonderful books Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Loves by Jennifer Holland show a few of the special bonds that form naturally between very different beings. I remember a photo on the internet following a huge fire in California that showed a bobcat and a fawn curled up together under a desk at an animal shelter.
Growing up on a small farm, I can personally attest to the love and trust that naturally develops among all animals if raised with kindness, sufficient space, and proper nourishment. Our calves slept cuddled around the shaggy pony who carefully tended them as their mothers grazed nearby, a willing, portable heater for their little bodies in the cold Sierra nights; they shared their space with goats, donkeys, chickens, cats, and the occasional wild interloper. Improbable? Nay, I would claim these unlikely friendships and loves to be both unexceptional and a trait which people might emulate to everyone’s (and everything’s) advantage.