Life Lessons From Cats

Kathryn Dillon

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“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.” — Hippolyte Taine

I don’t have kids or cable, so I spend quite a bit of time interacting with and observing our cats.

Buster and Bella (age 12 ½, but still referred to as “the kittens”) are quietly settling into their senior years. Emily was the matriarch of the household until we had to say goodbye to her a year ago at age 18. The wisdom acquired by our family's feline philosophers is worth recounting, especially when it comes to success in relationships.

#1: Don’t be afraid to communicate

Emily’s motto was always “sing it loud, sing it proud”, especially if it was 3:00 in the morning and she was standing in the tiled bathroom just off the bedroom. She knew her dulcet tones echoed nicely in there and she wanted to be sure we didn’t miss a single note.

Emily was more than a little bit senile, in her later years, so we weren’t exactly sure what she was trying to tell us (and she probably wasn’t either), but mostly I think she just wanted to be acknowledged. I would call to her sleepily from the bed and she’d come trotting over to snuggle.

Bottom line: No one knows what we need unless we tell them.

#2: Chill out, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you

Bella’s easy-going to the max. We actually refer to her as “pliable”. Sometimes her brother takes advantage of this, chasing her around the house, encroaching on “her” blanket, or even sitting on her. She’ll put up with it for a while, but she isn’t afraid to give him a good smack upside the head.

It’s one thing to be a laid-back individual, but it doesn’t mean folks can do whatever they want to you.

Bottom line: Set your boundaries and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself!

#3: Life’s better with a positive mental attitude (PMA)

Our little Buster has been through a lot over the years, but he never lets it get him down.

After numerous urinary tract infections that sometimes resulted in blockages (potentially fatal for male cats), our veterinarian recommended a perineal urethrostomy a few years ago.

The poor little guy actually had his urethra widened to prevent future blockages, and he pees kinda funny now but I’ll be darned if he doesn’t strut around the house with his tail held high. We’ve never seen anyone, human or feline, with such zest for life in the face of hardships.

It’s just the way he rolls.

Bottom line: PMA might not make life perfect, but it sure does help.

#4: It’s ok to show your displeasure

You might not believe it without seeing it, but Bella actually pouts.

When we do something to upset her, like relocate her from “her” spot on the sofa so we can sit down (note that this normally involves placing her on a soft blanket between us), she actually turns her back on us and sulks, because moving wasn’t her idea.

Sometimes she’ll even go stare at the wall, her face inches from the plaster. No matter how much we beg and cajole, she won’t respond to her name or even deign to look at us, because she wants us to know that her royal highness is displeased.

Bottom line: Emotions are valid. Share them honestly.

#5: Few things are better than a good snuggle

Though their personalities have been very different, every cat we’ve had over the years has loved to snuggle.

Bella adores couch time and comes running from the far reaches of the house when she sees us walking toward the living room. Buster bestows a crescendo of purrs upon us when he knows he’s about to get a belly rub. Emily loved early-morning snuggles and showed her pleasure through the series of purr-chirps she had graced us with since she was a kitten.

Our Tommy-cat, brother to Emily, loved to be the little spoon, while Nikoli the Scientist (the one-time senior statesman of the “notorious five” kitty gang) happily piled onto the couch with my husband and me, and any other cats who were burrowing under the blankets with us.

Bella even GIVES belly rubs. She crawls right up and kneads our soft stomachs while gazing deeply into our eyes. It’s simultaneously adorable and disconcerting.

Bottom line: Physical affection is important (and there’s something to be said for a good belly rub).

#6: Feeling cranky? Don’t underestimate the power of alone time (and a nap)

Cats can sleep pretty much anytime, anywhere, but Buster, in particular, needs time away from the rest of the family. He has several hiding spots throughout our house, usually involving one of the guest rooms or the carpeted part of my husband’s third-floor studio.

I followed him up there the other day and he reminded me of a teenage boy as he flopped onto the floor and meowed at me. “Aw, Ma — you’re encroaching on a kitten’s swinging bachelor pad.”

For whatever reason, that cat needs his space. He’ll come back downstairs a couple of hours later, ready to chat and cuddle, but meanwhile, he just wants to be left alone. I think most of us can relate.

Bottom line: We all need “me” time, and it’s ok to take it.

#7: Find your happy place

When it comes to creating a space that makes us happy, we could all take a lesson from cats.

After all, they don’t need luxury. They can find comfort in an old takeout box, a sink, or the kitchen mat where I want to stand while doing dishes. They’re perfectly satisfied with the tattered old chair in the living room. They’ll flop down in the middle of the kitchen, too, when I’m trying to cook, because that space has everything they need — food, comfort, and people.

Bottom line: Our happy place doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, as long as we imbue it with what’s important to us.

We’ve covered communication, boundaries, attitude, emotions, physical affection, alone time, and environment.

While relationships are complex and have many other components, I’d wager we could all improve our connections with the people in our lives by following these simple tips, sent to you with love from the Dillon family cats.

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” — Ernest Hemingway

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I live and write in Northeast Ohio, about everything from food to mental health, pets to relationships, music, art, and sports. My articles usually have a personal slant because I believe we as a society and as individuals grow stronger through truth-telling and connection.

Cleveland Heights, OH
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