Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “cats”

Question #13: Children = Cats (better than Children = Dogs)?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 13: Would it solve anything to treat our children less like dogs and more like cats as a positive step toward treating them as humans?”

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I felt obliged to read up on dog training in order to write this with confidence. (I had a step-dog in high school but have not truly owned one in terms of being part of training, daily routine, etc.) Dogs need training, and by all accounts do poorly without at least a few of the basics. Verbal and edible rewards are a cornerstone, and affection is best delivered in moderation to preserve a sense of pack order with the dog at the bottom of the totem pole.

By contrast, because our culture so ceaselessly tells us not to bother training our “aloof” cats, anything they do learn is a pleasant surprise. We work around their quirks and if any pack order is to be found, the cat is typically curled up on top of it, rendering it impossible to read.

Let us lay out a few scenarios to see how dog vs. cat owners might respond, and which response, in turn, would be a good fit for a human child.

(1) The creature has done something amazingly cute and wonderful.
Dog owner: (loudly) “Good job!” Pat pat pat. “Do it again for a biscuit!”
Cat owner: (surprised) “Whoa. Hey, honey, come see what the cat did! You funny cat, can you do it again? No, you’d rather take a bath? Ok.” Returns to regularly scheduled program.

(2) The creature has done something bad. Something very disgustingly messy and bad.
Dog owner: (loudly) “No! bad dog! Stop that!” Dog looks ashamed. “Go to your crate.”
Cat owner: (surprised) “Hey, what’re you doing? Ugh, stop!” Picks up cat, cleans up mess, returns to regularly scheduled program.

(3) The creature is blissfully entertaining itself in the backyard. The owner tries to get its attention and fails.
Dog owner: (loudly) “Sparkie! Sparky! Come here, boy! Sparky, come! That’s a good boy! Good boy!” Pat pat pat.
Cat owner: (off-handedly, without any expectation of success) “Hey, Sparkie, psst, hey, Sparkie, want to come over? No? You want to keep rolling in the garden? Ok, have fun!” Returns to regularly scheduled program.

(4) The creature jumps up onto the owner’s book-occupied lap lovingly.
Dog owner: (loudly) “No, down, boy! No jumping on couches.” Removes dog.
Cat owner: (surprised) “Hey, how’s it going?” Snuggles for awhile, returns to book once cat curls up or hops down.

The dog owner’s responses are good for a dog. They lend the rigid structure a dog craves and ensure a happy dog-loving household.

Not so good for a child, however.

Saying “Good job!” without any specific action-directed praise is known to be a bad parenting move, as is any form of extrinsic reward system. (Read more on that here.) Time-outs as traditionally done (child separated from parent against their wishes and prevented from returning for a set period of time) are likewise not good. (Read more on that here.) A self-entertained child is not to be interrupted if at all possible. (Read more on that here.) And obviously kids need your affection and unconditional love when they ask for it. (Read more on that here.)

What I like best about the cat owner’s response is the sense of granted independence and lack of expectation. The cat will act as it will, and the owner does not seek to change the cat directly; if change is required, the owner changes the environment instead.

This could work. What do you think? Cat people, dog people, am I missing something?

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Question #9: Hobby AND Work?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 9: Can work be a hobby, or a hobby work, or are they two distinctly separate things?”

I have always loved animals, especially cats. As a child I love, love love, love love love loved cats so much that I would cat-whisper them while supposedly visiting their people. A standoffish cat was a good challenge, nothing more or less.

I spent several years volunteering at a cozy one-room cat shelter in Boston. I had a weekly shift cleaning cages and giving the cats attention and was one of the people handling adoptions, also on a weekly basis. We often brought cats or kittens home to foster.

During that same time period, I tamed a feral (not just shy, really truly ear-tipped feral) cat out of our backyard and into our laps. It took a few months to get her comfortable enough to come inside and a few years before she would snuggle up and snooze on a lap for any duration.

At some point, I picked up a few cat-sitting jobs. Same as volunteering, no?

No. As soon as you are being paid, a little accountant comes and sits on your shoulder and asks quietly but persistently whether this is a worthy use of your time and extensive musical training. One of the jobs was for people with a spectacular collection of books, so the answer was yes, I don’t mind a little litter box cleaning in order to cuddle with your sweet cat and read voraciously. Otherwise, you know what, no, suddenly no amount felt like enough.

Recently I looked after some friends’ cats just as a favor. Confirmed — no pipsqueak accountant, right back to the happy-doing-good vibe I had working at the shelter.

Weird, huh?

I have heard crafty type people who have tried producing enough of their craft to sell say they just don’t like it, that whatever made it a hobby instead of work gets lost in the pursuit of income.

My dearest hobby is playing music. My work is primarily teaching music.

One and the same?

There are wonderful, blindingly beautiful moments while teaching where the wall between hobby and work melts. (I usually get at least one per lesson, and it is not unheard of to shift over for a whole lesson.) But I think there is simply a different mindset to doing what you love for the heck of it whenever you want to and doing something (even something you love) at a set time for profit.

I will end with the response of one wise commenter:

“Yes, especially when the degree of independence in doing the work is high and the need to maximize income from the work is relatively low, meaning that one can do it at one’s own pace and in interesting ways rather than having efficiency and/or pleasing superiors/customers as paramount concerns.”

At one’s own pace. That is the crux of the matter for me.

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Our “Amimals”

With perfect disregard for her vet’s vacation schedule, my rabbit, Autumn, became inexplicably lethargic on New Years Eve. Since she retained some mobility and accepted food and water, we watched her overnight, bringing her to the emergency vet the following morning when she did not appear to be improving.

The rabbit specialists were all off for the holidays, of course, but the vet we saw was very thorough as well as upfront about her lack of rabbit experience. A few hours and a good portion of my weekly income later — and having successfully written my first “13” in the year section of the date — I drove a terrified critter home with three medications which the vet hoped would cover all likely suspects (protozoal infection, URI, and injury/inflammation) for her apparent difficulty moving her hindquarters.

I am an animal lover. My husband imposed a three-cat limit on our house in self-defense. The cats are our shared pets, and we both look after them, although poor Thor got stuck with the sh***y end of the stick when we started having babies. Any extra pets are the sole responsibility of whomever adopts them. Since abandoning dorm life at the age of 20, I’ve kept a succession of hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs (“brothers” who surprisingly multiplied), and now a rabbit.

Thor has fish.

Autumn is my first rabbit, and I adopted her less than a week before learning I was pregnant with Owlet. We had just decided to start trying for a baby (yes, we are those mythical people who had only one “two week wait,” I know, I know, and I’m sorry) and I’d done my research — rabbits were the only pet for whom a pregnant woman could perform all aspects of care.

Her position on the family totem pole has obviously moved around these past few years, what with babies stealing the spotlight, and once we got our act together after moving into our new house we made her an outdoor playpen, followed more recently by a sturdy outdoor hutch within a corral to grant her an all-access pass to Hoppington. We lined the hutch with hay for warmth from our frigid Californian nights (quit laughing, my snow-encrusted contingent — we totally have frost and icy windshields some mornings — twice this winter I’ve even worn gloves for goodness’ sake) and she seemed happy with the move. So she wouldn’t be lonely, I began scanning shelter listings for a suitable neutered male companion rabbit.

During what appears (fingers crossed) to be a recovery period, I’ve evolved in my relationship to our “amimals,” as Owlet calls them. Medication twice daily and close assessment of food and drink intake have resulted in a lot of attention for our little rabbit. Her semi-immobility also means Owlet can stroke her for minutes at a time, when she once struggled to deliver a momentary pat. They both seem pleased with the new arrangement, Autumn’s hopefully temporary infirmity notwithstanding, and I have been given the opportunity to relearn a good lesson: doing a job well is always a better use of energy than stressing out about not doing it properly. After an initial upwelling of guilt while waiting to see the vet, the dissipation of that feeling followed by a deeper connection to my gentle pet has been delightful.

So I was sitting on the couch a few days ago, contemplating the above while trying to avoid petting the cat writhing pathetically in my lap. I am allergic to cats, dust, hay, and some tree pollen, and three of the above are seldom lacking in our household. I have been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for nearly three and a half years, and for the duration have managed to avoid taking any unnecessary medication. Frequent hand washing goes a long way most of the time, but unfortunately, my allergies have not responded kindly to a rapid increase in hay handling, and that means no cat petting if I can help it to avoid triggering an explosion of sneezes.

Suddenly it no longer felt right to withhold affection from my beloved felines. Platypup is beginning the slow but inevitable transition from milk to solids, and my body is similarly on a glacial path back to being just mine again one day. Several over-the-counter allergy remedies are approved for use during lactation, and it feels like the right time to try one.

I’m not big on resolutions this time of year; I prefer to allow change to follow as a natural consequence of my own observations and assessments and have found, personally, that such organic growth is like making lasting nutritional refinements gradually over time, whereas resolutions are often akin to crash diets. Even sculptors get to chip off chunks occasionally, however, and this feels like one of those moments. I am done turning inward, hoarding all of my resources for myself and my babies. It is time to open outward again, channel energy back into other arenas of life and nourish the connections therein.

Autumn is up on her feet a bit more each day, bolstered by a feast of carrots and hay. I can breathe through my nose. My cats have clamored into my lap with glee.

Peace on earth seems as unobtainable as ever, but there is, at least, peace in my little menagerie.

Happy New Year to you and your amimals!

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