There is a certain expectancy in the air around Auckland at the moment with the welcome return of Cats, the musical, and it has been very noticeable around those who deal with cats, the four-legged ones.
When T.S. Eliot had his book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats published in 1939, he had no idea that his whimsical poems about cats, written for children, would eventually burst forth into an endearing musical, or that the cats with the strange names would become so popular.
In fact, in his book he confesses that "the naming of cats is a difficult matter ... you may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter", and there followed a flood of cat names to dumb the senses.
There was Macavity (the mystery cat), Rum Tum Tugger, Old Deuteronomy, Buster Jones (the cat about town), Mungojerrie, Rumpelteazer, and of course Grizabella (the glamour cat).
Clearly T.S. Eliot had a great understanding of the mystical minds of cats, and it was fortuitous that Andrew Lloyd Webber, who according to one close associate was surrounded by cats suggesting he too had a great affection for them, had the burning desire to turn Eliot's poems into music.
And so Cats, the musical, was born. I first saw it at its opening in Auckland in November 1989 at the magnificent St James theatre, and like everyone else was enthralled at its interpretation of the curious ways of cats.
To anyone who has had anything to do with cats, be it their own companion cats, the inquisitive neighbourhood cat, a breeder of cats, or a feeder of stray cats, the words and music of Cats depict so joyously the free spirit that all cats possess that it just makes us want to celebrate their sheer existence.
Research tells us that New Zealand has more cats per capita than any other country in the world - 48 per cent of households we are told, and so in Auckland, 221,000 homes house one or more cats. That's a lot of people who, for whatever reason, enjoy the company of cats and want to share their lives with them.
Nobody really knows the reason for the popularity of cats, and if they do know they find it difficult to express it in words. Why? Perhaps it is because cats appear to be mysterious and aloof, and that poses a challenge to many humans. They certainly have very definite minds of their own. However, when it pleases them they can show a great affection, even to the point of sheer abandon.
Buddhists believe cats have the most enlightened souls and are here to teach us, and there is an element of truth in that.
Trevor Nunn, who directed a production of Cats, had a particular unease in the company of cats but has his own theory.
"We are fascinated by cats for a variety of reasons," he said, "but perhaps most of all because in a mysterious way they allow us more clearly to see ourselves".
What is interesting about Cats, the musical, is that it focuses on the individuality of cats.
They are not the fireside variety sitting on a friendly lap, they are all unowned cats living in a giant playground for cats - we would collectively call them stray cats. It is in this environment that their solitary characters emerge and we learn a little of their mysteries and we marvel at them.
Old Deuteronomy has the wisdom of age, the Jellicle cats reflect the free spirit of youth, while the tragic Grizabella ascends "up up up past the Russell Hotel, up up to the Heaven-side layer" with her memories.
Throughout history, as it is today, cats have had their detractors, but the fact remains they live among us in our communities and they are much loved. So let us take this opportunity to celebrate their existence, and that we are part of their world, and they of ours.
Bob Kerridge is executive director of SPCA Auckland.