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Walking with cats

Translation in Slovak by Barbora Lebedova:


A cat taught me how to walk with cats, which introduces the huge difference with walking a dog.

To be psychologically healthy, a dog needs to consider his master as the alpha dog; the head of the pack. Otherwise, if the dog believes that he is in charge and needs to make decisions to protect his human companion, he will get psychotic, because he does not understand the human world. A dog with a disturbing behavior, sometimes to the point that you consider to have him put down, may just need to learn to love to trust and obey a human. A happy dog, enjoys to live under the protection of his master, seeks to fulfill his commands and goes wherever he is instructed to go.

Yet the highest rank that you can achieve in the mind of a cat is that of cat, or companion cat. Walking with a cat is like playing a cooperative video game with a friend, where you explore, hide, duck and cross obstacles together.

The cat knows that you are a cat with special gifts and he values this. But the main reason why he will go out walking with you is because he enjoys your company. This introduces one training exercise that you can do, by learning to cope with cats that you encounter in the streets. Some cats will come to you, say if you sit on a bank. Other cats need you to kneel and make a polite "meow?" Yet other cats will decide not to take the risk to approach a stranger. You must accept this and not try to insist or, far worse, pursuit the cat. But what you can do is to sit down and start meditating, or just enjoy the landscape. With your attitude, show to the cat that you do this because of his presence. If the cat lays down too, then you have a bond with him, even if he stays at a distance. The shared meditation will be confirmed if he calmly squints at you. You may never get an opportunity to caress him. But he likes you.

Cats talk. They do not build sentences like humans but the modulation of their meows tells everything. A joyful cat that tiptoes along you may utter a happy "merawraw!" A sad cat can make a sorry and descending "maaaw..." A friend was most surprised to hear me have a conversation with her cat  "Maw!" (hello, I'm here!), "meraw?" (how are you?) "merawraw!" (I'm fine!) "mew?!" (and you?) "mrrrraw!" (I'm fine too and I love you!). The cat was quite happy to meet a human that can talk. You do not need to be fluent in cat talk to go out walking with cats. But at least you need to be aware that they have feelings and concerns, just like humans.

Cats can learn do's and don'ts. One feral cat was quite violent and often clawed at people who tried to be kind with him. One day he clawed me badly in the hand. I shouted in pain and immediately blew towards him, which is a signal that cats best understand. The next day when I met him in the street, his head was a little down and he made a low and lengthy meow to express that he was sorry. He never clawed at me again and learned to avoid doing that with other humans. I made lengthy walks with him and a few years later he got adopted.

Cats are territorial. This leads to something with feral cats, that can feel very strange. You can build a relationship with a cat, with trust and cuddles, then suddenly be considered as a stranger. The problem being that you encounter the cat in another place. He learned to recognize you and love you in a given place. In another place, you're like a different entity. This may make sense because amongst cats, meeting a given cat on neutral grounds can be OK while meeting the same cat on his territory can lead to retaliation. I had to learn to a few feral cats that I am the same loving person wherever we meet.

Don't overstress your affective duties towards cats. To most cats, especially feral ones, humans are quite swappable. They do make the difference between kind humans, dangerous humans and cat humans. But any loving human will do. A friend who looks after feral or abandoned cats, told me that she did sometimes build a relationship with a cat to the point that the cat wanted her and nobody else. Even if the cat had been well cared about by other people for months, he will run towards her when she comes to visit and beg to go back home with her. But for most cats, any kind human will do. Or several ones.

Many feral cats are not adoptable. Closing them up in a house or a big cage is torture. The imposed close presence of other cats or humans, is torture. Reciprocally, a cat that was abandoned may be in deep need of a home. You may consider helping him to get adopted, instead of using him as a funny furry thing that needs the food that you provide.

A cat that bites when you caress him may be a dominant cat that considers that he is in charge of providing the cuddles, not you. Then just do that: await the cuddles, for example by just extending your hand for the cat to come and rub. It can also be that you over-caress the cat, driving him mad. Some cats enjoy prolonged caresses only on some parts of their bodies, for example the head or the chin. Learn to observe the cat to get hints. Your presence has to be an everlasting pleasure for the cat, not a recurring bother.

Never ever attempt to touch the belly of a cat, unless you already have a long and deeply trusted relationship with him. If a cat seems to show an intense desire that you touch his belly, this means that you are allowed to stroke his head. Or his back. Actually, some cats dislike to be stroked on the head and others only accept to be stroked on the head.

A cat is not a baby, a teddy bear or a sack of potatoes. Look at how people behave in the street. Women enjoy to clump together. Lovers press intensely against each other. But you won't see one person loading another one on a shoulder like a big lump of meat. If that would ever happen, the victim would complain. Should the offender persist, he could get a court order to seek help from a psychologist, to get to understand that you don't show your affection to people by handling them like a baby, a teddy bear or a sack of potatoes, especially if the people do explicitly complain and even if they don't shout out in pain. A typical house cat craves for the security and warmth of his owner's lap or belly. You don't have to force him on your body. And lots of cat owners will always wait a ten more minutes to get up, till the cat ends his nap. The cat needs you to feel good too and there will be no doubt about this. There are circumstances were a little potatoing may be good. Some cats don't dislike that. One of the cats of a friend tends to depress and won't come spontaneously on me. But she does accept that I potato her for a few seconds, always holding her in a respectful position, to install her on my belly. I will then be able to make her feel wonderful for a few tens of minutes. One key condition for this is that I will never try to hold her back if she does not want to install on my belly. When I visit, my friend considers it as a feast for his cats. The cat of another friend will scream, jump and claw the door, it that closed door stands between him and me. I don't need to restrain cats to get about as much cat affection as I need. I wouldn't get any cat affection if I tried to restrain them. Some cat owners confuse cat affection with tired out submission to unpainful handling.

Never hurt a cat on purpose. Never inflict him pain to show your disapproval. He only needs a clear signal to understand that something annoys you. For example if he tends to try to sharpen his claws on your trousers, just put your hands on his paws and say "no!" You may have to tell him again once or twice but he will learn. And learn that you are a cat that he can deal with.

House cats won't respect a person just because that person feeds them. Even feral cats, often pay no attention to food. In order to be considered as a friend by a house cat, a far better approach, besides joint meditation, is to play with him. Use a laser pointer, or a little piece of cloth latched at the end of a thin wooden rod. The laser dot or the piece of cloth must become a little mouse that walks along and suddenly gets very frightened by the cat and flees away. A cat always knows who is playing with him; who is puppeteering the mouse. I you manage to drive the cat crazy and panting chasing the mouse, he will be your friend forever.

Once a cat trusts you, you can try to walk with him. The first trials will probably not go further than a few meters. Just go on trying, one trying a day.

There are rules:
People get amazed when they see somebody walking with a cat. Explain to them that you are "walking with the cat" and not "walking the cat" like you would walk a dog.

A cat and I once had to endure the hate of people atop a building, throwing trash towards the cat. We just retreated, the cat trying to run from bush to bush for protection while following me. The next day he came again to my door and made a little meow to ask to go out walking.

The biggest pack of cats I walked with is three. But I only made lengthy walks with one of the three. The second one never went more than a few streets far with me. The third one only followed the pack because he was madly in love with the second one.

Eric Brasseur  -  October 19 2014  till  July 5 2015