ID Your Relationship With Your Cat

Cats are thought of as family members by 89 percent of feline owners, according to a Harris Poll from December 2007. Gone are the days when kitty had to sleep in the barn and is expected to earn a daily ration by chasing mice. When you're a feline family member, such status affords you the right to sleep in the master bed (78 percent), receive gifts during the holidays (63 percent), and even for some, get a mini vacation at the owner’s place of work (10 percent).

"Cats are quietly becoming our allies and pals," says Arden Moore, author of Happy Cat, Happy You (Storey 2008) and editor of Catnip magazine. "They're no longer being regarded as furry pieces of furniture. We don't need them to be mousers anymore. Quietly and with dignity, cats have won us over. We know they can give us real affection."

The type of relationship you have with your feline can vary, however, between parenting your cat as if it was a coddled babe-in-arms to cherishing your purebred as if it were the Queen of Siam to confiding in your mixed breed as you would a best friend. How you see your relationship with your cat can be a function of several factors, including your cat's temperament, your expectations in the relationship and your understanding of cat behavior.

See if any of these relationship types matches the bond you have with your furry friend:

Pampering Parent 
You regard your cat as the child you never had, as a replacement for the child that flew the coop or simply as yet another babe to care for. The sure signs include talking baby talk to kitty, co-sleeping, throwing birthday parties to mark each of your pet's new years and scheduling your cat for all different types of enrichment -- from grooming to training to feline dance classes.

Benefits The relationship can be rewarding and comforting to both cat and pet owner. The unconditional love that a parent has for a human child -- and vice versa -- can be brought to this parent-cat relationship. All pets need to be nurtured. Every pet owner wants to be needed.

Pitfalls There is the potential for the “soccer mom syndrome” -- over-scheduling your little one. Sometimes, for example, a parent's exuberance can get out of hand, according to Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant in Northern California. Krieger recalls hearing about a cat owner who bathed her pet every few days and then applied perfume. "This was not healthy for the cat," Krieger says. "The cat developed over-grooming problems as a result."

Feline's Best Friend
Move over, Rover. Let Fluffy take over. You see your cat as man's (or woman's) best friend. Your cat is your true companion that you can tell all your troubles to -- and it'll still purr and rub around your legs as long as you treat it kindly. Some cat owners swear that their pet, like a true buddy, is the perfect barometers for whether a new boyfriend or girlfriend is a keeper -- or whether he or she is "hisss-tory." Your cat doesn’t care if you gained weight or if you made a mistake at work.

Benefits Feline friendship may bring health benefits. University of Minnesota researchers recently found that over a 20-year-period, people who never owned a cat were 40 percent more likely to die of heart attacks than people who owned cats or who did so in the past. "A lot of people are lonely out there," Krieger says. "Instead of coming home to an empty house, they come home to a pet. Cats are affectionate. They talk and listen and respond."

Pitfalls Unrealistic expectations may lead to friendship fallouts. You may want your cat to be like your long-lost human friend -- or maybe more like your last cat -- but the truth is that you have to accept them for what they are.

Proud Collector
You are a cat lover because the species is so regal, so mysterious, and so exotic. You may have a beautiful cat -- maybe an expensive purebred -- that you treat like a trophy pet. You put that cat on a pedestal. You make sure it’s brushed, well fed and has all the right toys. You may not ask for anything in return -- except that your meower looks good.

Benefits You make sure your cat is brushed, well fed, and owns all the right toys. Your cat just has to look good and proudly revel in the admiration.

Pitfalls "We still see people adopt a cat strictly on looks, and they don't necessarily pay attention to personality," Moore points out. Some of the exotic breeds may match your sofa, but they're cats -- and they're going to exhibit very cat-like behaviors such as scratching up that sofa if you don't provide them with a better scratching post.

Pet Savior
You are the antithesis of the pet owner who views his or her cat as a piece of property. You're looking for a companion -- or two or three or more -- to save. You can't turn down a stray. You may start by putting some cat food out on your doorstep. The next thing you know, another cat is sharing the litter box.

Benefits You try to tame even feral cats with your heart of gold because you love feline companionship. You're doing a good deed by rescuing cats from the streets or the shelter and making sure they're neutered after you adopt them. They'll shower you with affection -- each cat in its own way.

Pitfalls Picking up strays can pose some problems. If you have more than one cat in a house, you need to set up -- and continuously clean -- more than one litter box, more than one food bowl, and so on. Cats also need vertical territory to establish the hierarchy, Krieger says, so make sure you have enough places to climb. Trying to be a cat savior can cost you in terms of human relationships. You may have to choose between your feline companions and a spouse.

When developing your relationship with your cat, it's important to realize that each cat likes to socialize in different ways. Some may give you head butts and purrs. Other cats need to have all four feet on the floor and are uncomfortable sitting on anyone's lap. "You have to read the cat's cues," Moore says. "It can be like the difference between the relative that gives you the bear hug and another that will freeze if you touch them."


Photographing Your Elusive Feline

Linda Formichelli of Concord, N.H., would love to have a photograph that does justice to her 11-year-old cat, Sasha. However, the black-and-tan feline apparently does not share Formichelli’s desire.

When Sasha sees the camera, “she won’t stay still for even a second,” says Formichelli. “It seems that if she’s not lying down, she’s in motion. We tried to get a photo of her on a bench with my other two cats to create a birthday card for a cat-loving friend, and she kept jumping down.”

Plenty of cats share Sasha’s dislike of being photographed. Some fear the camera and disappear, while others simply saunter off or otherwise refuse to cooperate. And even if your kitty is willing, your photography skills may be inadequate, resulting in blurry, off-center photos that make your cat look as though red is its natural eye color.

Don’t despair, though, since professional photographers face similar challenges. “Some cats are very shy and may want to go and hide,” acknowledges Robin Burkett, owner of PawPrints Photography in Annandale, Va. “And most cats are very independent; they only do what they want to do.”

That said, you can still try and capture your pet’s Cheshire cat smile with these seven tricks:

Let the cat rule Trying to force your cat to cooperate is a recipe for disaster, according to Shawn Green, co-owner of Animal Images Photography in Michigan City, Ind. “The worst thing you can do with cats is to try to force your agenda on them,” she says. “That is when a battle of wills begins. Make them think it was their idea to sit on the velvet chair on the forbidden side of the room and that this time you approve.” 

Burkett agrees. “The cat runs the session,” she says. “If we can’t get them to go where we want them to go, we go where they want us to go.”

Create distractions If your cat isn’t cooperating, try diverting its attention away from the camera and toward something novel. Burkett coaxes shy cats into coming out of hiding by offering up interesting toys, catnip or food. “We bring lots of interesting-smelling things to a photo shoot, and cats usually like to explore the new stuff,” says Burkett. “The key is to use something they don’t usually get.” Just having another person in the room can provide a welcome distraction, too.

Don’t flash To combat red eyes in cat photos, put away your camera’s flash attachment. “Unless you have a professional lighting arrangement, the easiest way to prevent red eye is to rely on natural light,” says Green. “Do not use a flash.”

Work the angles Sometimes you may have no choice but to use a flash.  According to Green, you can still avoid red eye if you “try to shoot from an angle where the cat is not looking directly at the flash. Have someone distract them so that their gaze is at about a 30-degree angle from the camera.”

Keep your cool If the photography session is not going well, don’t give in to frustration. “Animals have their own ideas, issues, fears and agendas,” says Green. “The more frustration you show, the worse the situation will get. So stay calm. And if it doesn’t happen, tomorrow is another day.”

Be patient Sometimes a great shot will materialize if you’re just willing to wait for it. For a photo of a kitten peeking from behind a curtain, “I just waited until she went behind the curtain, which is her favorite bird-watching post,” Green recalls. “It was perfect and the kitten never knew she was being stalked.”

Hire a pro To get a truly artistic or high-quality portrait of your cat, consider hiring a professional photographer -- but not just any photographer. “You want someone who knows, loves and understands cats,” says Burkett. “And you want someone who has an incredible amount of patience, is flexible and understands photography so that when the cat moves to a different room, the photographer can adjust and still get great images. And you want someone who brings their own cat toys.” Find an animal-loving photographer by looking at local trainer, or other animal expert, Web sites. Note who is credited with the photos on the sites, or if the credit is not available, ask the site owner where he or she obtained the photos.  

No one would say that photographing a cat is easy. But if you’re patient and flexible -- or willing to pay for a pro with those characteristics -- you’ll stand a good chance of getting some pictures that really do justice to your feline friend.

Unconditional Love: ‘My Cat Forgives Me Every Day’

Welcome to the Unconditional Love series, where we bring you heartfelt stories from bloggers around the Web about all of the ways their animals have shown them unconditional love through the years. Be sure to check back each week for a different post -- and share your own story for a chance to win $50 worth of pet food.

This week, we talked to blogger Roslyn Ayers from Petsafe. Here’s what she said about her pet:

What does your pet’s unconditional love look like?

Forgiveness. After I take my cat, Lily, to the vet, she still lets me pet her. When I forget to give her dinner on time, she meows to remind me, then purrs to let me know it’s OK. When I brought home Doc, a bumbling, hairy, drooling beast of a dog (in her mind), she was terrified at first. She didn’t know what a dog was! But after a few weeks, she overcame her fear to jump in my lap even though the dog was nearby. I would watch her staring at the dog, creeping closer to my lap, hoping the dog wouldn’t move. Now she sits in my lap even if she’s touching the dog, and it doesn’t bother her. She forgave me for changing her life because she loves me.

When did you realize you loved your pet unconditionally?

It was 2 a.m., and I woke up to my husband saying, “Did you hear that? It sounds like fighting. Where are the cats?” We went downstairs to find the window screen had been popped open. After a frantic search through the house, we could only find three out of our four cats. My cat Lily was nowhere to be found.

I’d seen Lily attack the window when stray cats get near the house, so we concluded that she had tried to get to a stray and actually succeeded this time. We split up and walked through the neighborhood, shining our flashlights under bushes, shaking food cans and calling “Lily!” After two hours, we only found a skunk and the stray cat I suspect she went after.

We decided to do one last circle and start again in the morning, with the hope that she would come out of her hiding place and head home for breakfast. As we were heading back out, my husband heard rustling in the tree next to our house. Lily had been hiding not 20 feet from the house.

She was a little startled at the noise as he walked toward her, but he spoke to her in calming tones and approached her slowly. She seemed hesitant to get near him, until he pointed the laser pointer at the ground. Her fears forgotten, she stalked toward the toy. When she recognized him as one of her humans, she came up to him happily, and he whisked her back into the house.

Lily got a clean bill of health from the vet, and we learned not to trust window screens to keep cats inside. I see her little escapade as her way of defending us and protecting our house. This incident made me realize how much I loved her and how much I would miss her if she was gone.

Why is the bond between a person and her/his pet so special?

My pets bring out the best in me. For example, with my dog, I have to exercise even when I don’t feel like it. And when Doc wants to play, it’s hard to say no. I often give in -- his playful attitude makes me want to play too.

Pets also make you feel special. When it comes to cats, you have to pay attention to body language to get them to like you. You have to be quiet and patient, and it feels like an accomplishment when a cat jumps in your lap. You have to win cats over, and when you do, it feels like they have chosen you. That makes you feel special, and that feeling’s especially nice when you’ve had a tough day or just had a disappointment.


Do you have a favorite pet from your childhood? What made it so special to you?

My first cat was a tortoiseshell kitten named Skittles. All of her littermates who had remained at the shelter died of FIP shortly after we rescued her, so I believed that fate had led me to rescue her.

She liked to cuddle on my lap when I did homework, and she slept next to me most nights. We got her a kitty harness to take walks outside together, and later we had an in-ground fence installed so she could safely explore the backyard too. During college, one of my favorite things about coming home was getting to spend time with my kitty.

She passed away due to kidney failure when she was 10, but she wouldn’t have had those 10 years if I hadn’t adopted her, and I wouldn’t have gotten to spend 10 years with such an awesome cat.


Lost Cats Found

Even the most doting, attentive cat owner can lose a kitty. Just ask Jenne Mundy, the world's first "cat profiler," who now helps to reunite lost felines with their humans. The San Antonio, Texas-based Mundy got into this line of work after her own cat strayed. Since then, she has learned ways of preventing the worst from happening.

"The best place to start is to always make sure your kitty is wearing a collar and a license," Mundy says, "even if the cat never goes outside. But if your cat does escape from your home, you have to go out and search for it -- you can't wait for a kitty to return on its own."

Even without an expert at your side, it is quite possible to locate a lost cat. Here are tips from concerned pet owners with success stories to share:

When in doubt, lure a lost cat with food "Minnie, one of my two cats, once crawled out a window through a broken screen and, according to my neighbors, slid down the awning onto the ground below," says Jennifer Ediger, a marketing manager in Los Angeles. "She took off at that point, having never been outside before. By the time I got down the stairs, she was gone. I was absolutely panicked! At the time, I lived on an extremely busy street in Burbank, California, and was imagining all the worst possible scenarios. I searched for her for 10 hours straight, the whole time absolutely terrified. When it started to get dark, I called the local animal shelter to see if anyone had turned her in and was fortunate enough to speak with someone who had been through a similar situation. He told me to walk around the perimeter of my house shaking something that she would identify with -- in this case, a bag of favorite cat food -- and she would likely come out to be fed. I did this for an hour and gave up only because my neighbors were getting tired of hearing me calling her name and banging a bag of cat food. I went back into my apartment thinking she was gone when I heard her meowing. It worked! There she was on the doorstep, waiting to be fed. I was so happy to get her back! She was cuddled, only mildly scolded and tucked under the covers with me at the end of the night."

Exercise extreme caution if your cat goes outside "I got Charley, my female tortoise shell cat, from a private owner when she was about three years old," says Cincinnati real estate broker Tom Nurre, Jr. "The previous owner said she had never been outside so I was very hesitant to let her out. But I did and Charley got used to going outside, being especially fond of sunning herself. About two weeks after moving into a new place, Charley went out the front door and was gone for almost a week over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We searched for her, but since we live next to a couple of busy streets, I had just about given up hope of her returning. Then, after being gone for six days, Charley showed back up on the front walk noticeably skinnier than when she left and smelling like gas/oil. We've concluded that she went exploring in someone's garage and got locked inside while they left for the holiday weekend. She still likes to go outside, but since that time has never strayed from the front yard and will not stay out longer than about 30 minutes before yowling to come back inside. She seems to have certainly learned her lesson. Since she was still relatively inexperienced at being outside, I felt very guilty for letting her out and truly thought that I had killed my cat. It was with great relief that I saw her come up the front walk on the day she returned."

Rely on the fact that your cat knows your voice "I took Windrew, my neutered marmalade tom cat, with me to visit my mother," recalls Nan Andrews Amish, a San Francisco-based business strategist. "Somehow he snuck out with my mother's cat and her cat scared him off. He was missing for 10 days. We called everywhere. We ran ads in the newspaper.  Seems there were a lot of stray marmalade cats running around that week because we followed up about 14 calls. Finally, I got a call from someone less than a mile away. We drove up and she said Windrew had been in her garage but had snuck out after catching breakfast. We kept calling for him and he must have followed our voices because he was at my mother's house almost as soon as we arrived. Even if a cat is disoriented, he will try to get back to you, and your voice can lead the way. Just don't give up on calling him!"

Five Things to do to Find Your Cat
If your cat ever becomes lost, Mundy suggests taking the following actions:

  • Enlist help Tell your neighbors your cat is lost. Distribute flyers with clear, color photos of the kitty and include your phone number(s).
  • Ask permission to search If you think your cat hasn't strayed far, speak with your neighbors and get permission to search their property. It's possible your cat is injured and hiding, or is stuck in a place like a garage or shed.
  • Reach out Call the Animal Control or Sanitation Department regularly. They'll tell you if they've picked up your cat since they have records of any cats they have picked up or have been hit in the road.
  • Remain calm Lost cats are likely to be frightened and nervous so, when searching, call for your cat soothingly and without panic. If the cat does come out of hiding, it's likely it'll come out very slowly and carefully. Be sure to be careful and try not to alarm it. With a little patience, the kitty should come to you.
  • Lure it to you Place a bowl of your cat's favorite food outside. Sometimes this simple act does the trick.


Second-Hand Cat, First-Rate Pet

When Jack and Debi Roney of Vienna, Va., decided to get a kitten, they set their sights on a lively, energetic animal. But that was before they met Minnalouche, a calico that a local humane society fostered. "She seemed to need a lot of love and warmth," Debi recalls. "When I picked her up, she snuggled under my sweater. She seemed to really need me."

Feeling needed appealed to the Roneys then, just as it has in the 13 years since they adopted Minnalouche. Steve Aiken, an animal behaviorist from Wichita, Kan., understands why. Adopting from a shelter, humane society or rescue group "means helping a cat who's already there and needs the love of an owner," he says.

The Joy of Adopting
When you adopt a cat, there's the obvious benefit that you're providing a home for the animal. But there are more advantages, including:

  • Socialization Many shelter cats were previously owned and socialized, so they're more likely than strays to make a happy adjustment to your household.
  • Expert advice The staffs at animal shelters can help take the guesswork out of choosing the right pet. Since they interact daily with the kittens and cats, they have a feel for their moods.
  • Lower costs Adopting a cat is less expensive than buying one. You can save money in medical costs too. Many cats have already been spayed or neutered and if they haven't, shelters usually reimburse a portion of the cost when a spay or neuter is requested.

Despite the advantages, shelter animals can have higher stress levels. "Shelter cats have been in another home, snatched up and brought to a shelter with the strange sights and sounds of many other animals, and then snatched up again and brought to their new home," says Aiken.

But that's no reason to look down upon the animal. "The idea that a shelter cat has something wrong with it is outdated," says Nancy Peterson, Human-Animal Bond Specialist for The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. "It's more likely something was wrong with the previous owners -- maybe they weren't as committed to the animal as they should have been."

Making the Match
To make the adoption work, here's what experts suggest:

  • Do your research Find out as much information as possible about adoptions. Check out the Humane Society of the United States' Web site and local humane societies and animal shelters.
  • Ask questions Find out everything you can about the kitten or cat. Is it good around kids? Has it ever lived in a multi-cat or multi-pet household? How does it get along with the other animals at the shelter?
  • Take your time Peterson compares the adoption process to dating. "You just don't meet your soul mate the first time you go out with someone," she says. "You shouldn't have those expectations when picking a cat either. It's worth the wait to find exactly the right animal."
  • Be realistic Talk to cat owners and read books so you know what to expect. "If you've never had a cat before, some of their habits, such as shedding or scratching, may surprise you or may annoy you," Peterson says.
  • Seek help Both you and your pet need time to get to know each other. If you have problems adjusting, call the shelter for advice. "The nice thing about adoptions is that the staff is committed to a lifetime match," Peterson says.