Cat, my cat,
You cry for constant affection.
I have affection plus compassion.
I tell you a supreme secret:
“I treasure your dependence.”
Excerpt from Animal Kingdom by Sri Chinmoy
For six months I have been a Mama to a Siamese cat that I adopted because he was living on the street, primarily in my backyard. Having lived alone for almost ten years and having never been a pet owner since moving out of my parent’s house over 30 years ago, the experience has been a crash course in caretaking for a four-legged furry little being.
Named Bowtie, he is extraordinarily affectionate and our days and nights are not complete unless he spends time sitting on my lap, laying on top of my legs, head-butting, kneading his paws against me and licking my face quite thoroughly. In return I try to talk to him, massage and pet him, cradle him in my lap and sleep with him draped over my arm or shoulder.
When I think of how my life is different as the mama of a cat, my notion of lessons learned includes:
Undivided Attention: Quality time with Bowtie involves giving him my full attention. I almost never watch television anymore and use a computer less than before adopting him. He seems attuned to it if I am trying to multitask and is far less satisfied with anything but at least some time each day in which we interact without any distractions.
The Power of Encouragement: Popular psychology about cats states that they do not understand the concept of scolding or the word “no”. If you are telling them no and in your mind’s eye are imagining what you want them not to do, they will just do it. Only the positive approach works. If he tries to get out the door when I have to leave the house, I have to see in my mind’s eye that he is under the dining room table a few feet away and then he reluctantly does what I am visualizing. How often does the positive approach also only prove effective with people as well? Pretty often in my experience.
Give Me Bread but Give Me Roses: Even if I provide for Bowtie with all the material comforts, toys, etc. to meet his needs, he wanders around with a sense of malaise unless he also has the opportunity to socially interact with others in a playful and loving manner.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: Before life with Bowtie, I used to cut corners in the cleanliness department – especially at floor level! Now that I know he sees the world mostly from that range and his dark fur shows every little speck of dirt or fluff, I vacuum about a million times more often than previously. Keeping the cat litter boxes clean (I have 3 all-together for him), the water fountains (2 all-together) and his food dishes clean keeps me busy too.
Regularity and Routine: While the fact that cats do not like change could be seen as a negative, the positive side to it is that keeping a regular routine in a consistent manner can be a real asset for discipline and achieving goals. Routine seems related to ritual as well and for spiritual practises can be a tool to assist in the gestalt of spiritual and religious intensity.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Now that I am handling medical emergencies with Bowtie and coping with various health and emotional issues that seem connected to his background as a stray, I seem infinitely more relaxed and mellow about the other stresses of life that inevitably arise. When you are invested in the well-being of another living creature, the joys and trials of that kind of “parenting” seem to diffuse the degree of importance or anxiety I used to place on the dramas of my life and relationships with others.
Be Proactive: God helps those who help themselves sometimes. I am still somewhat incredulous that Bowtie used to live 2 doors down on the street where my house is and that he ran away because he didn’t like his living situation in a multi-pet household with 2 dogs and another cat. Or at least that is what the teenage girl who lives there told me when she saw him in front of my house one day. Considering that he is declawed, he has a lot of chutzpa and bravado to choose to live on the street over a situation where he didn’t like his circumstances. Apparently it has been 2 years since he lived with them and I am either his 3rd or 4th owner. He still adores to go outside and several times I have witnessed him chasing away cats bigger than him in the neighborhood (and those cats have claws presumably). I feel I have much to learn from him in the bravery department. And when his softer side shows itself and I have my hands full with his emotional scars and separation anxiety, I find myself thinking that being brave often means doing something even if you still feel scared inside.
Last but not least, I am very grateful to Bowtie for the affection and companionship that we share. I try to model for him the spirit of unconditional love that I feel has been shown to me by God in the last 25 years of spiritual seeking. Since we adopted each other, I am a happier person than before even if it involves the likes of trying to get liquid antibiotics in a syringe into his mouth twice a day for 2 weeks or getting him to remain calmer and more secure that when I go on vacation or leave for the day that I do come back.
Sri Chinmoy’s quote at the top of this post about the essence of a cat having to do with affection rings 100 percent true with Bowtie and myself. And I do indeed love our mutual dependence.