The clerk at the check-out stand glanced at my arm.

"So," he said, "you've got a cat, huh?""How'd you know?"

"You bought cat food," he said, nodding at a bag of Little Friskies in my cart, "and your arm is all scratched up. I can always spot the cat people."

For a second, I thought he said, "the cute people." Then I thought again.

"Wait," I muttered, "I'll be right back. I forgot to get kitty litter."

I never wanted to be one of the cat people. I've been a dog person all my life.

Dogs are a pain to put up with, but they are easy to understand. Cats are a pain of a different sort, but a pain nonetheless, and you never know what to make of them.

Also, dogs act as if they like you. They may even mean it. Sometimes they like you a little too much, but they are seldom stingy with affection.

Cats, on the other hand, wouldn't give a rip if you doused yourself in kerosene and juggled fire. Unless, of course, along with the juggling, you tied a rubber mouse to your toe and dangled it in kitty's face. That might spark some interest. No, I haven't tried it.

Then there's the whole intelligence thing. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I don't like having a pet that is smarter than I am. I never had that problem with dogs. Cats may not be any sharper than cat people, but they are awfully good at faking it.

Still, the big difference in cats and dogs is this: A dog, at least, seems to need you; a cat never will.

Or maybe it's just my cat.

She showed up one day, refused to leave, gradually took charge of the place. I knew I shouldn't feed her if I didn't want her to stay. Next thing I knew, I was buying Little Friskies and she was sleeping in my bed.

Last winter, after my husband died, friends said I should get a dog. With my kids grown and my house empty, I needed something to love, they said, how about a poodle?

"Dogs are a pain," I said. "I don't need that."

I could've said love is a pain, but they'd have jumped all over it, preached to me the same sermons I've preached to them in the past. Friends are a bigger pain than dogs.

Life would be much simpler, wouldn't it, if we didn't need to love or be loved? But there it is, no denying it, and here am I, one of the cat people.

She is friendlier now, hardly ever bites me anymore. I think she had some major issues. Maybe humans aren't the only species blessed and cursed with the need to love and be loved.

Once in while, when I get home, she acts almost, sort of glad to see me. Why on earth does that make me happy?

I don't need a cat. And she doesn't need me. But I guess maybe we need each other.