By Emily Erickson
I’ve always been a dog person. From my first wet-nosed nuzzle and sloppy, warm kiss, I knew a dog’s love was something special. Their easy affection and steadfast commitment to being good (even if it doesn’t always hit the mark) is as universally pure as a living thing can get.
My heart-of-gold, innocent troublemaker Bodi, is no exception. He is a perfectly imperfect mutt with an affinity for long naps on the couch and longer hikes in the mountains — and the lengths I’d go for him to be a fraction more comfortable are (nearly) laughable. So, when sweet Bodi showed signs of needing a more constant companion for his days spent at home, we didn’t hesitate in searching for another furry friend to add to our little pack.
Cue the 3-week-old, black fuzzball of a kitten named Tuna, mewing his way out of the neighbor’s frigid barn and into our lives. Midnight bottle feeds were followed by heated blanket cuddles and string-chasing tumbles and, suddenly, I became a dog and (Tuna the) cat person.
For the past three-quarters of a year, living with and loving a cat has slowly shifted the way I understand the kinds of lessons pets can teach us. These nuggets of wisdom extend beyond pet ownership and, often, into the fundamentals of navigating life. So far, being a (Tuna the) cat person has taught me:
Tides of change are often preceded by warning signs (if you’re diligent about looking for them).
Gleaned from many pet and purr sessions-turned-teeth-sinking, pedal-kicking displays of feline ferocity, I now understand that most radical changes are preceded by warning signs. Like the quick dilation of Tuna’s pupils and the all-too-stillness of his little body pre-strike, so many of the big things that happen in our lives come after a trail of little things we could have noticed if we were just paying closer attention. Because can’t we usually say, “Well, I probably should have seen that coming”?
Play and wonder can be found in most situations, even the seriously mundane.
There is no regular-life item too plain for a cat’s imagination to overcome. Paper bags and backpack straps are transformed into cramped, mysterious caves and long, menacing snakes. An empty corner table and the top shelf of a closet are a Tuna-sized obstacle course; an opportunity for him to display an amazing grasp on geometry, trajectory and balance. His dog brother’s wagging tail is a pendulum of fun, seemingly tailor-made for his personal pleasure. If that doesn’t shout, “Make due with what you have and create regular opportunities for joy,” I don’t know what does.
Love can be asked for from the people closest to you.
Sometimes, some situations require asking the people who love you to demonstrate that love a bit more than usual. For Tuna, these situations occur in the minutes after he comes inside after a snowy jaunt through the yard, or just before he settles into his favorite, cozy chair. Soft meows are paired with whole-body rubs against our legs, and are always followed by a big hoist onto our chests and into-our-neck purr-nuzzles. These obvious requests for extra affection are never paired with guilt or shame, and do not require an apology. He simply has a need, and asks for help from the people he loves (and there’s a lesson in there, I’m sure of it).
Space can be demanded from anyone you encounter.
Of all the things cats are good at, creating firm boundaries and demanding space when they want it has to be their greatest talent. Tuna doesn’t require words to communicate when he isn’t in the mood to entertain the people around him. Any breach of personal space or cause of discomfort is vehemently expressed and reprimanded, leaving little room to question from where the specific offense has come.Tuna allows himself to feel what he feels without explanation or justification, and creates physical and emotional distance until he is ready to receive and return the affection he loves.
When in doubt, start with a snack and a nap.
And, well, that’s just as solid a lesson as they come, isn’t it?
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