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Catty Comments

First there was Midnight. Then came Spook-a-Boo, Frosty and Frisky. Then there was Woody and Bernie (short for Woodward and Bernstein – I was in journalism school at the time). Then Figaro. Now it’s Sugar and Merlin.  These are the cats that have been my confidantes, my calm in the storm, my companions and my comforts.

lessons about interpersonal relationships from kitty catsFor all but six years of my life, I’ve shared my home with a cat or two. I’ve doted on my kitties and, in turn, they’ve been loyal and loving presences in my life.

As you know, this blog usually focuses on interpersonal relationships between co-workers and other humans. It’s about making and strengthening relationships. Sometimes, that requires introspective looks at ourselves, which is where the cats come in. For me, each of my kitty connections has enhanced my awareness of being connected.

Thanks to my pets, I’ve discovered parts of myself that I might not otherwise know. It’s not unlike the self-discovery opportunities that come with being a parent – seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes, understanding that someone else is utterly dependent on you, striving to be the best and most you can be because you love them so deeply – well, pets bring forth this kind of awareness and protective response, too.

Merlin, our newest feline friend, is what inspired this insight. He’s all kitten, wide-eyed and playful, but he’s also very observant and eager to please. He caught my attention at the animal shelter because he was so quick to engage with us.  Merlin is a good listener, too. He devotes his full attention to whomever is talking to him, and he tilts his head to the side quizzically when the tone of voice changes. He purrs and mews to carry on his part of the conversation.

He belongs to my adult daughter who currently lives at home with us. Watching her take pride in and responsibility for her “baby” touches me in unexpected ways. I see her emulating behaviors I myself have used in parenting and in being a cat keeper all these years. I see how Merlin thrives and delights in those behaviors she’s emulating.

It’s a validation of what I’ve done well. It’s also a way to see the improvements that could be made. Simultaneously, I have my own interactions with the kitten. Because he’s still testing out what influence he can have on others, he mostly responds rather than leads. In doing so, he often reflects my own moods back to me. Because of him, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting more on my own actions and impact on others.

Sugar is our other cat. He’s lived with us for almost two years now and communicates with nuzzles and grunts and head butts. He’s more aloof, but he makes eye contact and steadily holds it. He greets me happily each time I come home. He also comes running when I sing “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies.

Sugar is just the opposite of Merlin. Sugar is fiercely independent and sets the tone for our interactions. He will let us come along for the ride when he wants to play. He welcomes anyone who wants to share a nap at the time he’s selected. And he knows how to ask for what he wants when its time for petting, feeding, grooming or walking in his kitty stroller. Being attuned to Sugar’s rhythms enables me to come alongside what Sugar has decided to do.

And then there was Figaro, the cat who was right by my side every moment I was home for over 20 years.  His constant presence made working out of my home office less lonely. He knew my moods, matched my routines and wanted nothing in life but my affection.

Figaro found the happy medium between independent and interactive. He was always in the same room with us. If we were in different rooms, he paced the distance between the two rooms and parked himself at the halfway point. He didn’t play on command or sit on our laps at all times. But he did want to be with us. The last five years of his life, I worked from a home office. That gave him (and me) a 24/7 companion. Figaro slept on my lap when I worked and at my feet when I slept. When the lap naps were disrupted by too much up and down activity, he soaked up the sunshine streaming in from his perch on the windowsill, right where he could see me as I worked at my desk.

Being Figaro’s companion in his twilight years taught me about cherishing inconsequential moments. With Merlin and Sugar, I know now how to stop and enjoy the little moments. Just like with my human children, I know that every interaction is has significance. I don’t take these moments for granted.

My cats have all loved me unconditionally, right from the start. I did not have to earn their love. But I also knew that their love and devotion would be lost if I were to mistreat them. Pet relationships are simple. Pets demand little of us and freely give themselves to us. If we could give ourselves as openly, trust at the onset of interpersonal relationships and put ourselves out there the way our pets do, maybe our human relationships would not be as difficult to form and maintain.

Not everybody enjoys having pets. But, for me, having pets is a complement to having human relationships. It’s also a place to learn about myself and about relationships in general.

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