Any single woman with cats, plural, cringes at that dreaded stereotype - the Crazy Cat Lady.
But there's another beleaguered minority that has been suffering silently in her shadow: men who own, and love, cats.
Dudes with feline friends have historically been put on the defensive. Romping through the park with Rover is one thing, but spend some quality time with Mr. Whiskers and people start whispering about your masculinity.
But recently there have been signs of change. Online, men are professing their love for cats, and congregating with like-minded fanciers. A popular Flickr group has collected more than 600 photos of men cuddling their cats. "Down with rabid dogism!" cries the group's administrator. (In many of the photos the cat is actually obscuring the man's face - displaying either the residual shame associated with male cat ownership or the feline tendency to hog the camera, I'm not sure which.)
One of the biggest YouTube hits of last year was "An Engineer's Guide to Cats," a hilariously deadpan look at the joys of sharing one's life with cats, by engineer Paul Klusman. The video has been viewed more than 3.4 million times, and Mr. Klusman received more than a few marriage proposals as a result. (So far, he's sticking with his cats.)
As it should be, the new movement is long overdue, says cat lover Michael O'Sullivan, president of the Humane Society of Canada. He and his wife have one cat and one dog now, though in the past they've had as many as four cats. It was Mr. O'Sullivan who introduced his wife, a dog person, to the joys of felinity.
"I like their independent personalities," Mr. O'Sullivan says. As for the stereotypes, he says he knows plenty of macho men who wouldn't hesitate to adopt a cat. "I think I'm fairly masculine, and it's never really mattered to me."
Perhaps the biggest proponents of men who love cats, besides the cats themselves, of course, are women. The Brooklyn blogger behind MenandCats.com says she was inspired by the cuteness of her male friends' love for their cats.
"I love cats and I love men, so I wanted to celebrate that special pairing," says Janice, who asked that her last name be withheld so as to keep her cat-blogging identity separate from her working-life identity. She believes the Internet provides a valuable outlet for proud cat papas.
"Cat owners don't get to go out and show off their cats like dog owners do. Dog owners get to walk down the street and people say 'Oh, cute dog,' " Janice says. "People are proud of their cats and they want to show them off."
And pay attention, single men: Some women just can't resist a man covered in cat hair.
"Cats are creatures of subtle communication," says Dawn Hanson of the Feline Rescue Foundation of Alberta. "The men who appreciate and recognize this quality usually bring a respectful sensitivity to all their relationships."
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