The author Robert Benchley once said, “Every boy should have two things: a dog and a mother who lets him have one.”
With apologies to the late Mr. Benchley, I respectfully disagree. In my opinion every child should have a cat (and responsible parents who will show them the right way to care for one). Why? Because cats are the world’s greatest teachers. Here are just a few of the lessons they have to offer:
I have a theory. I think one of the reasons people love dogs so much is because they constantly validate you. They tell you through every wag of the tail and every lick of the face that you are the Most Awesome Human in All the World. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As someone with two dogs, I totally get it. It’s a terrific feeling knowing that there’s someone out there who thinks you’re perfect no matter what.
But let’s face it. That’s not the way the world works. No matter how fabulous we are, the sun does not revolve around us. So it’s important to learn that from an early age or we’re in for a rude awakening when we get older. A feline companion perfectly, gently teaches us that. Sure, they love you. Sure, they’re affectionate. Sure, they might even greet you at the door when you come home. But you are not the end all and be all of their world. My cats, as loving as they are, will suddenly, in the middle of a being petted, stand up and walk out of the room with a swish of the tail. “Don’t take it personally,” they seem to say. “You’re swell but love time’s over. I’ve got cat things to do.” Lesson learned.
Dogs tolerate a lot from us, especially kids. That’s not to say that they should have to put up with all we subject them to — and yes, there are dogs who lash out. But for the most part and to their great credit, they just deal with whatever we choose to dish out.
Cats are a different matter. They are only too eager to teach us about personal space and respecting boundaries, both important life lessons. Of course, there’s always the exception: the cat who doesn’t mind being lugged around by a toddler or dressed up for tea. But I’d guess that with the majority of cats, it doesn’t take much for most children (and some adults) to cross that personal boundary line. “Sorry, kid. Your tea party sucks, this hat is stupid and I’ve got better things to do. I’m outta here!” Yep, you want to teach a kid about boundaries, make sure they’re friends with a cat.
There have been about 87 million studies about how well humans and dogs communicate with each other. One study, for instance, revealed that dogs, like humans, look at the left side of the face first. No other animals do that. Therefore, dogs are better able to read our signals and emotions than any other animal.
Cool, right? Definitely. But again, it goes back to that idea that the world revolves around us. Dogs adapted themselves to accommodate us, connect with us and serve us. Cats didn’t. “But wait,” you might be saying. “What about a cat’s meow? I’ve heard that cats only meow to communicate with us. They don’t do that with other cats.” To which I’d say you’re right. But it’s not to accommodate us. It’s to train us to do what they want, and it’s up to us to figure out what that is. Meow. You want to be petted. Meerrow. You want me to get up. MROWR! Okay, okay, you want to be fed.
With a cat by her side, a child quickly learns the fine art of communicating, even if the language is totally different.
We humans tend to enjoy congregating with those who are like us, who have our same interests, beliefs and values. It’s only natural. But the fact is, throughout our lives we meet and do business with a wide spectrum of people. So it’s imperative that we learn from an early age how to accept and celebrate others’ differences. Cats are the perfect teachers for this.
I recently read that even though cats are the country’s most popular pet, they don’t receive the same level of veterinary care that dogs do. And if they go missing, their guardians don’t expend a lot of time and effort looking for them. In a weird way, they seem to be viewed as more disposable than dogs. I think this is because there’s a distinct “otherness” to cats. They move through the world in an entirely different way than we do. They can seem independent and aloof. What we think is important is not necessarily what they think is important.
If for no other reason, this is why a child should have a cat companion. Learning to look through feline eyes opens up an entirely new perspective. It teaches compassion and empathy for those who are unlike ourselves. It shows children that even though someone is different, that doesn’t mean they are less valuable.
Teaching little ones to love, respect, care for, and appreciate cats not only benefits the child, it also benefits cats in the long run. As these children grow into feline-loving adults, cats may finally shed their status as the second-class citizens of the pet world. And I’d say that’s a win-win for all of us.
Your turn: Did you have cats when you were a kid? What did you learn from them? Tell us in the comments!
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About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She is a freelance copywriter and blogger for hire and also acts as the typist and interpreter for her dog’s musings at Mayzie’s Dog Blog. Amber encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.