Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I have been surprised by how much the info on kittens I am reading is like the childrearing literature I have read. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is so interesting. The answer to the question, "Where is it going to sleep?" for example, has all of the extreme views and fear-mongering found in the childrearing literature:

Your bedroom is not the proper place, although it will never refuse to sleep with you. Just remember that you will not be able to take away from your adult cat what you have allowed it to do when it was a kitten. …Its proper place is in its basket, in the room you have chosen. On the first night, above all do not give in to the temptation of going and fetching it, even if it is crying. Stay calm, this learning period generally lasts 3 or 4 days.

That is from a book about kittens given free from the pet food company. It is similar, I think, to the free babycare books given out at the hospital to new parents from baby food companies.

On discipline, it (predictably) recommends: "The kitten needs to understand as soon as possible the limits that it must not go beyond before its weapons (claws and teeth) are fully developed." (And did you know that stressed cats can bite their nails? "If your kitten is chewing the claws, it may be in a state of anxiety which could turn into depression." Biting nails must be very deeply ingrained in our animal minds.) There is little in it, however, about how to do this in a firm yet gentle and loving way (similar ommision in childrearing literature).

There is one big difference between the kitten- and childcare literature, however, and that is in acknowledging that each and every cat or kitten is different and has its own distinct personality. Somehow I missed that in the kid literature. Only a few cherished books had it. Certainly in cat books there is lots of info on the personalities of the different breeds (obvious reasons why this is not done for humans) but also the recognition that each cat’s own genetic makeup and life experiences will play out in different personalities and that differences can be as great within the breeds as between them. (Dog breeds in general being more diverse and distinct than cat breeds.) It is just accepted that some cats will be shy or reticent and some cats will be more outgoing or social, some quieter and some more vocal, etc. We don’t seem to have a similar acceptance or respect for differences with children.

I got this book called The Kitten Whisperer by Claire Bessant, the same woman who wrote What Cats Want. It's kind of a cats-eye view of the world, how they evolved in the wild and how they evolved to be pets. I never bought The Baby Whisperer and have only heard horror stories about it. But somehow the idea of getting advice from someone who has an expert knowledge seems okay with cats. I do want to know what cats want, them being a different species and all. (Somehow I can’t imagine a book called What Babies Want. That would be nice to see, though!) It seems good to understand their behavior from an evolutionary perspective and to see how and why these little carnivores have adapted as pets. (One of my favorite childrearing books, called Our Babies, Ourselves, was written from such an evolutionary perspective, but that is not the norm for childrearing literature.) I liked the section in The Kitten Whisperer about how cats train us. I thought it true also for childrearing, just that a childrearing book would never be so permissive of the child and acknowledge that an adult being manipulated is okay! We allow it and smile at it in other species, but not our own:

How Do Cats Train Us?
Your kitten is a very bright little character. It is on a steep learning curve and is making new discoveries every day. It learns by watching, by trial and error, and by the reactions you give it to things that it does. It learns which of its actions result in something it likes and which don't. In particular, it learns how to make you do what it wants (just like any child worth its salt!). It is up to you to decide when you are to be manipulated, when you want to be manipulated because it is actually what you want as well, and when you definitely do not want to give in!

The above paragraph, or something like it, with maybe a different spin on the manipulation part, could easily be found in a childrearing book, but the one below wouldn’t, I don’t think:

Cats are amazing teachers—most of us know we are the slaves of a cat rather than the owners.…Cats can do this because their affection rewards us—they do not have to offer food, just a meow or a purr of praise and we are putty in their hands. They seldom revert to aggression but rather give us a slow drip, drip, drip of reward for our attention—that's the way to do it!

It is nice to see the fun part, even if it is pure manipulation, acknowledged!

As far as differences go, Rex and Pearl certainly have distinct personalities. Pearl is perfect, or as I am tempted to say these days, purrfect. She is confident and calm and outgoing and playful. She rationally accepts new things and change and is not pushy or demanding. And then there is Rex. Rex is a little wackier. He is more energetic, more influenced by change and what is going on around him and he is a little needier and wants more attention. It’s funny because even though in my eyes Pearl is perfect, Rex is more endearing. Pearl being the more self contained one, I interact with her less. It is definitely good that they have each other. And I have to say that I feel ever so much more confident and competent raising them and setting limits now than I did (or do) with the children. It seems such a breeze in comparison and not only because they sleep 16 hours a day.

They actually seem to acknowledge and appreciate me, which rarely seems to be the case with the other dependants around here. (I’ll have to teach the kids about that drip, drip, drip of praise and affection!) I sat down yesterday to trim the kitten’s claws and they calmly let me do it and even purred. My kids have never let me trim their nails without a protest (or wash their face or hair—I wonder, did I raise feral children?). I have to give a lot of credit to the breeder who did an excellent, loving job of socializing them, but she told me no cat was going to love getting their nails trimmed, you just had to do it and let them know you were it charge. If that was something they disliked, I am amazed. Today I am going to try giving them a bath. Wondering how that will compare to bathing the kids. Oh yeah, and then there were the websites I just read about training your cat to use the toilet. I think I might try that next.

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