I love my cat. But like every relationship in life, it’s complicated. And some days, I could almost swear I want to break it off.
When I first picked her up from her cage at the adoption fair, she was a little bundle of black fur with bright eyes. She was a tiny little thing, not nearly grown. She couldn’t even meow yet. She rolled up into a little ball in my arms, and she was perfect. I just knew we’d be best friends, forever and ever and ever!
I brought her home, and at first, everything she did was a wonder. She would look up at me, her face riddled with grumpitude, and she’d open her little mouth to complain—and nothing would come out. How cute! She’d stare out the patio doors and sometimes try to follow me out. Aww! Somebody wants to come outside into the big, scary world. She’d roll around in the litterbox. Silly cat! But seriously, that’s a little gross... She’d claw my face while I tried to clean her fur. Haha–oh, you. Ouch.
Then, for reasons I’m still unsure of, she decided that the litterbox was strictly for playing and the bath tub was for... well, what the litter box is supposed to be for. Then, she learned to meow. And never stopped demonstrating her new skill. Then, she gnawed apart the spray bottle I was using to train her not to run out the patio door to certain doom.
What do you do when the mushy feelings have worn away and all you’re left with is a tub full of mess and a cat determined to run out into the street?
Though Saturn and I have worked through some of her issues, we still have days where I feel like I’m at my wit’s end with her. When that happens, I apply the same problem-solving techniques I use in other relationship quandaries.
Step one is easy: Take a big, deep breath. This is the most important step, by far.
Step Two: Let go of your ridiculous expectations. You’re dealing with an animal. Of course there are going to be communication problems. Of course your pet is going to occasionally break the laws of reason and decency. Most of your stress in this situation is probably stemming from the fact that you expect your pet to behave like a person. And your pet ain’t a person, no matter how cute she may look in her little autumn jacket.
Step Three: Deal with the issue at hand without bringing up old feelings. Say your precious pooch tracked a bunch of mud inside. If your mind immediately flashes to the time he dug up your roses, the way he’s always barking at the mail carrier and how his toys are always in your way, you’re bringing unrelated and unnecessary tension to the situation. Unless it’s a pattern of bad behavior, you have to put his other offenses out of mind and deal with what’s at hand. Clear your head, use your firm voice to tell Fido “NO”, clean his paws and then get to mopping.
Step Four: Have a heart-to-heart. Talking to your pet can help alleviate your stress and may help you come to a resolution. Even if your pet can’t understand your words, they will sense your tone. Don’t get angry; keep the conversation constructive for your own peace of mind. End the discussion with snuggles. Because seriously, you know you can’t stay mad with your pet around. Hug it out.
Step Five: Involve a third party, if necessary. If your pet is locked into a pattern of bad behavior, formal training may help. Consult with a pet behavior expert to find a solution that works for both of you. Remember that correcting your pet’s behavior will involve some behavior changes in you, too.
Your relationship with your pet is complicated. Even if you and your pet are best friends, there will inevitably be days that the two of you butt heads. Your friendship with your pet is an important one in your life, and it’s worth a little work to ensure it keeps going smoothly.