“We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional[...]And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.” – Joaquin Phoenix
My mom hated cats when I was growing up. She would never harm one, but she claimed they were creepy and sneaky. And it totally grossed her out the way they would come slinking up around your legs, like a snake coiling around a tree branch, eyeing its prize. My mom was never raised around cats. Dogs, sure. But there was never a cat in her house when she was a child.
One day, when I was 15, my mom accompanied me to the stables where we boarded our horses so I could work on some horsemanship skills. She usually didn’t come with me, but today she did. Inside one of the empty stalls was one of the many barn cats. And in the corner of that stall, was a mewling mess of adorableness – she had given birth to her kittens! I showed mom, and she mumbled something about them being cute.
The next time she accompanied me to the stables, the kittens were about 6 weeks old and a patchwork quilt of tabby, calico and gray fun. I watched them and laughed as they scampered about the stall. My mom stopped to look, too, staying for a few minutes before moving on. I noticed that one of the kittens hung back under the feed bin, and every once in a while, one of the larger kittens would come and terrorize the little calico, who happened to be a runt. My protective nature took over. I rushed inside and seized the tiny little calico and brought her outside to spend time with me while the horses were in paddock. I showed her to my mom, and mentioned how the other cats were picking on her. My mom gave her a little rub on the head. The kitten sat down on the picnic table we were sitting at, and looked up. With those eyes. You know the look I’m talking about.
“But mom”, I wailed, “If we leave her here she could die!” The little kitten played along gamely, vogue her best pathetic “If You Leave Me Here I Could Die” look. My mother caved. I named her Belle, and she lived with me for the next 15 years of her life, until the day I had to let her go. She went with dignity, as she had gone through her life. My mom sobbed the day I had to had say goodbye to Belle. For something had happened. Belle had charmed her. About a week after I brought her home, Belle started winding herself around my mother’s legs in hope of some canned food, or at least a cuddle. And my mother would respond! My mom mentioned she never realized cats could be actual loving, sweet companions. Who could blame her? She’d never been around one.
I’m proud of my mother because she was able to open her mind that something could be more than what it was perceived to be. She entertained the notion that she may be wrong about a preconception she had, and more importantly, was willing to change. Since I moved out with Belle, she has had 7 cats, all of whom have lived to a ripe old age. Two are still with her.
So what am I doing writing about cats on a dog post? Animals are animals. All are able to feel pain, fear and abandonment. Those feelings were the reason my mother took Belle in to begin with: not because she liked Belle, or even liked cats. It was because my mother was capable of understanding an animal’s need for safety, and my mother was able to reach past her distaste to help an animal in need, even one she didn’t particularly care for. In the process, she found a new trove of love and companionship she didn’t realize existed before: cats.
This doesn’t happen to cats alone. In some societies where dogs are considered vermin, people are changing. My friend, Jocelyn, writes a blog a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love called Speaking of China. 洋媳妇谈中国. Obviously there are going to be some cultural differences in a marriage such as Jocelyn’s. Finding common ground and understanding can be difficult. But “if you open up your mind, maybe I can open up mine” is the only way to go about it. This includes the concept of what deserves compassion.
Jocelyn recently referenced a story a peer had written: The Day I Changed my Chinese Parents-in-law. Minds can be changed, even in a small village in China. A family who once looked at dogs as vermin can accept that maybe they were wrong. And look at the rewards they get: love, kisses and the companionship that only a dog can give you. A true, loyal friend.
Jocelyn herself even mentions a similar situation with her in-laws:
“They weren’t always kind to dogs either, but now that John and I helped raise their newest dog Snoopy (who we’ve socialized to be a very loving and affectionate dog), I think everyone in the house has fallen in love with Snoopy!”
I’m not asking you to change your mind about an entire species, as these people all did. This blog is (supposed) to be about dogs. If you’re here, you already love dogs. Spread the word about what humanity means. Be an example of education, the same way Belle educated my mom about what a cat can really mean to a human. Don’t assume that because you love animals and care about their welfare that everyone does. Some people have never been around a dog or a cat, and therefore have no commonality with them. Without shared experiences and memories to draw from, it’s hard to make a connection, and without a connection, there is no empathy. Help share that empathy. After all, that’s the greatest gift of all: finding love and companionship where you never realized it could exist before.