Yes, You Can Adopt Your Co-Worker: Telecommuting With a Pet

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Mack GelberThis is Pete the cat in a drawer.
When I moved in with my girlfriend, I also moved in with her cat. That was last February, and at the time my human-animal experience was limited to the decidedly low maintenance pets I'd had as a kid: goldfish, a lizard, a couple of frogs. There was a baby snapping turtle I found in the driveway and fed live crickets until it started going after my fingers, but aside from that my pets tended to err toward the "lump-on-fake-log" end of the personality spectrum.Pete, our cat, is not like that. Take whatever you believe to be true about cats--that they are cold, that they are independent, that they are planning to murder you in your sleep--and flip it. Pete's about as independent as a kindergartner with separation anxiety. He responds to the sound of our footsteps after work by running back and forth like he's just been lit on fire, and spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing himself against our shoes, which appears to gratify him in ways I find both adorable and mildly disturbing.

I didn't have a lot of one-on-one time with Pete (named, in the heat of adolescence, for Fall Out Boy bassist and emo pinup Pete Wentz) until I started working from home off and on last April. He'd regard me around the apartment as something between a roommate and an employee, and while the balance is still tipped toward the latter (this is a cat we're talking about), I like to think that the hours he's spent head-butting my laptop while I attempt to answer emails have been positive ones.

If you're a frequent telecommuter, you're probably familiar with the despair that sets in sometime between 3:00 and end-of-day. It's a different form of the standard mid-afternoon slump: a sense that the outside world is bustling on without you while you sit around, still in your pajamas, gorging yourself on week-old onion dip.

If that sounds like you, then having an animal around is probably essential enough to your workday sanity that you should be writing off cat food on your tax return. After all, who are you going to vent to when you're swamped doing damage control and your co-workers are all off having two-hour martini lunches? Pete is there, he is interested, and he is very, very fluffy. There are some studies out there arguing that petting an animal reduces stress, and while I'd debate that on some levels (obviously these scientists have never tried to pet a cat's belly), there's certainly value to having a calming presence in your midst.

Without intending to, I seem to have become a cat person. I walk into pet stores and stare at kittens. I scarcely notice the layer of reddish-brown fuzz coating the floor of my apartment. While I'm working Pete tends to his own projects, meowing at cans of food and kneading blankets into submission. Occasionally I will read him sentences that aren't scanning quite right, or gauge his reaction to different story ideas. On this front, he is less helpful, but still appreciated.

Sometimes, Pete will stare at me while I'm writing something for work. Cats are less demonstrative than dogs; you're never quite sure if you're mistaking that look of indigestion for profundity (such is life). But, watching the cat watch me work, it's impossible not to project my own thoughts and insecurities onto his blank, football-shaped face. Is he telling me I suck? Is he telling me I nailed it? Maybe (more likely) he's only wondering how long he'll have to wait until I feed him again. Whatever the case, I'm glad he's here.
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