The Confessions of a Primal (Cat) Guardian

Posted November 13, 2018 by


When Monica opened the plastic cat-carrier, I saw three little balls of fluff. It took me a few seconds to tell which ones were stuffed animals and which one was a sleeping, two-week-old black kitten. For the next week, Monica and I fed Peyo every four hours, mixing kitten formula with hot water and feeding the little guy with a bottle. We traded off on the overnight shift, and I actually looked forward to waking up at 3am. Each morning when Peyo gripped the bottle with his tiny front paws, he was a little stronger. As his nubby teeth latched onto the rubber nipple, his blue eyes were a little clearer. Just a week or so earlier, well-intentioned humans had discovered Peyo and his sister without their mother. His caretakers started feeding Peyo cow’s milk, and his health nosedived. (Please don’t feed kittens cow’s milk.) Luckily, those folks turned him over to Treehouse Cat Shelter, where Monica and I had just signed up as volunteer foster guardians. Within a week of living with us, Peyo was thriving.


One week to the day later, Treehouse called again. They had four more black cats, all from the same month-old litter. It was around 5pm, and everyone at the shelter familiar with bottle-feeding had already left. Could we help? Monica and I talked about it. Based on their ages—and because we were only temporary guardians—we would only need to keep the kittens for another eight weeks or so, at the most. After a couple of months, we would return all the cats to Treehouse to wait for adoption. Eight weeks sounded doable. Besides, we enjoyed helping Peyo. Five cats would be five times the fun, right?



Five cats were not, as it turned out, five times the fun.

It took 90 minutes for everyone to eat, which left us only 2.5 hours until the next feeding, at which point the whole production started over again. Because Peyo was from a different litter, we kept him and the new cats separated. After feeding Peyo, we had to change our clothes and scrub our hands before helping the four littermates. Using cotton balls to “express” Peyo had seemed cute, but prompting bowel movements for five cats every four hours quickly lost its charm. I started a new job within a week of getting the siblings. After my first day at work, I returned home at 7pm and had a kitten in my hands every minute until midnight. I called Monica and asked her to cut short a business trip. I had been worn into submission by a gang of domestic cats.


Eventually we got into a manageable routine. But no sooner than we did, it was time to wean the cats off milk. This transition involves combining meat and warm formula into a porridge. The kittens mostly responded by walking through their new food. Occasionally, they sat down in it. With luck, a little porridge would end up in a kitten’s mouth by accident. Each cat eventually developed a taste for meat, but until that happened, every feeding ended with five baths for five little cats in the kitchen sink. The kittens were small enough that their soapy bodies, neck to tail, fit inside my palm, with their little wet heads poking out above.


Coco Chanel was a hot mess. Unlike any of her three siblings, Coco had oily skin. Her fur clumped together, exposing pale hide. Her eyes bugged out, and she cried constantly at our feet, begging us to lift her greasy body into our arms. For the first time, we started thinking about adoption. “We have to keep Coco,” I remember telling Monica. “Nobody else in their right mind would adopt this cat.” Then we started talking about the clowder being split up at the shelter, after having spent almost all their early lives together. (We introduced Peyo to the larger group after everyone tested negative for the FIV virus.) We began to feel strongly that the entire group should be kept together. We called Powers “the bandleader” because he would prance around the house with a toy birdie in his mouth, while the four other cats followed him. We didn’t want to break up their merry little band. And we made the mistake of naming the cats. Powers and Peyo kept their shelter names, but we called the others Coco, Jean-Paul, and Bear.

When we talked to the foster-program manager at Treehouse, she was surprised. “This is very rare,” she said. Were we sure? Yes, we said. She told us that we had become “failed fosters.” We all laughed together, and then Monica and I signed five adoption forms…




I previously wrote about my skeptical reaction to my Inside8® test results. How could I be a Primal Guardian® when I didn’t like hiking (an activity suggested in my personality assessment) and I most certainly did not like people? When the “Meet the Inside8” eBook says that Guardians “tend to care first and foremost about others, placing family, friends, and community ahead of themselves,” that doesn’t sound like me. Kierkegaard’s words resonate much more deeply: “The crowd is the untruth.” If a crowd of people can corrupt the truth, humanity as a whole, all 7 billion and counting of us, must be more than untrue. We must be, I tend to think, a collective hallucination in which avarice and cruelty trump integrity and kindness.

So, yeah, not really a people person.


But what if we expand the definition of “family” to include animals? Setting your alarm for 3am to feed and “express” a kitten qualifies as “placing family ahead” of yourself.  At least, it certainly feels that way when you’re doing it.

I didn’t realize this until recently, but I have always described myself as a cat “guardian,” as opposed to “owner.” From this perspective, being a Primal Guardian® makes total sense. This is another example of how my Inside8® results have pointed towards possibilities that I didn’t see at the time. It’s weird to think that a personality test can identify things we don’t see. Most personality tests are fun because we read our profile and identify with it: “That’s so me!” But instead of saying, “This is who you are,” Inside8® says, “This is who you can be.” If I didn’t see ways that I am a caring and protective Guardian, what other things about myself am I missing, good and bad?



This summer two calico kittens popped up in my Instagram feed. In the photo, my friend Sarah held the sisters in her hands. The cats were all of five days old with closed eyes and flat ears. Sarah worked at a catering company that had its own on-site garden. The garden was patrolled by the company cat, who had recently given birth. When momma cat relocated her litter, the two girls were left behind and later discovered by Sarah’s coworker.

When I saw the Instagram photo, I immediately started worrying. What were the kittens eating? Did they have a heating pad in their den? Did they have a den at all? As Sarah kept posting photos of the kittens, I nearly unfollowed her. Each new photo was stressing me out. Thankfully, the pastry chef at the catering company had experience fostering, so the girls were warm and well-fed, at least temporarily. Staying in the company’s office wasn’t a long-term solution. So Monica and I decided we would become fosters again. And of course, after a couple months of hemming and hawing, we became failed fosters again, welcoming to our home Rose and Mary, two sisters found in an herb garden. This particular adoption was difficult because we had to quarantine the girls from our five big cats until the little ones were old enough for vaccines. Then we faced the long and difficult process of introducing the two girls to the group, which finally ended when the alpha, Powers, accepted the girls and started grooming them.

I tend to think of myself as someone who above all else wants to be left alone. I’m not proud of that. It’s just my observation. But after getting my Inside8® personality assessment, I stepped back and saw that I am capable of caring about others. In fact, I often care a great deal about others. It’s just that those others tend to walk on all fours and enjoy chewing my eyeglasses.

We are fluid beings. Our personalities are not set in stone. Who knows, maybe I can even find ways to love the beasts that walk upright.


Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis is co-founder and editor of Someone Else, a style journal and production agency based in Chicago. Joe focuses on the core motivations of clothing designers and artists, to help tell their stories. With The Jarvis Report, Joe uses the same approach to discuss personal fulfillment with people in the world of Inside8.

All stories by: Joe Jarvis


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