From Feline to Family Member
By Darcy Lockman
Has the idea of “owning” a cat become as dated as the three-dollar gallon of gasoline? Surveys by the Delta Society -- a Washington state group that studies the human-animal bond -- regularly show that the majority of pet stewards regard their cats, dogs and birds as family members. It fits, then, that 56 percent of pet people surveyed in 2004 by the American Animal Hospital Association were willing to risk their own lives for their pets, while 64 percent were certain that their pet would come to their rescue in a time of distress. 45 percent even said their pet listens to them best. In contrast, only 30 percent named a spouse or significant other as their most valued confidante.
Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy of Redondo Beach, Calif., supports the notion of cats as compadres. “It’s important to change the paradigm of ownership. We are pet guardians. We’re here to show them, like we show our children, how to get through life.” Read on for seven helpful tips on how to turn this paradigm shift into a reality.
Call Him Al
Whether aloud or simply in your head, you refer to your cat by name dozens of times a day. While your furry friend may not know the difference between “Fluffy” and “Felicia,” the humans in his or her life certainly do. What you call your cat will impact how you and others in the house will relate to it. “It’s about the intention, and the sentiment behind giving your cat a human name is strong,” says Galaxy. “The paradigm shift has to begin with some sort of action.”
“I can’t think of a better way to bond with a cat than playtime,” says Galaxy. “It can involve everyone in the family, and it’s crucial to a cat’s health and well-being.” Cats are hunters by nature, and manipulating their prey, which in this case could be a faux mouse on a stick, will engage them and intensify your connection. Give your complete attention to the game to make your cat feel truly valued. That means no TV in the background when it’s kitty’s quality-time period of the day.
Mi Casa Es Su Casa
For a cat, feeling at home is about believing it controls the territory. “A cat has to feel like it owns every square inch of your house,” explains Galaxy. For people, that usually involves placing your human partner’s name on your lease or deed, but cats instead respond to strategic placement of cat condos, scratching posts and the like. When these are located in well-traveled areas of your home, such as the living room, and at heights that allow your cat to gaze down upon the people in the room, they will feel most secure in their territory.
Say I Love You
While you may never meow well enough to be convincing, you can communicate with your cat in its language. The cat “I love you” is delivered with your eyes, not with your voice. Galaxy advises, “Start by looking at your cat in soft focus, not a stare. The first word, ‘I,’ is this soft look. The second word, ‘love,’ is a slow blink. Then ‘you’ is the soft look again.” Do this a couple times daily and your cat may eventually “say” it back.
Depending on how sociable your cat is, it may want to get to know your visitors. Paradoxically -- from a human point of view, at least -- the best thing your guests can do is drop food and then ignore the animal. “When your friends drop treats on the floor, your cat will develop a positive association to them,” says Galaxy. After that, all visitors should feign indifference. “Cats never go to the people who call them. Ignore them and they’ll come to you. It’s your job to trick your cat into thinking the introductions are taking place on his or her terms.”
Make Nice, Even When Al Doesn’t
Cat discipline only makes sense when you catch your feisty feline mid-act. As little as a moment later, a cat cannot make the connection between the squirt gun blast and the garbage bag they just tore into. Belated attempts at discipline will be misunderstood by your cat as arbitrary aggression. “They have no clue, so why damage the relationship that way?” asks Galaxy.
Ensure Your Cat’s Continued Care
While cat owners are likely to outlive even pets with nine lives, providing for a feline in case of an unexpected turn of events is crucial. “Again, it’s about intention, and you need to make sure that your cat has a full life after you’re gone, that your pet doesn’t wind up in a shelter,” says Galaxy. It is becoming more and more common for cat companions to provide for their animals in their wills and bequeathing money to a human loved one who will continue to value the cat’s companionship.
Treat your cat like a family member, and it will return the favor, soft-staring and blinking in response as you confide your deepest secrets.
Photo: Corbis Images
Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.