Do we Choose Pets? or do They Choose Us?
Someone recently asked me how to pick out a cat. I immediately thought of all of the cats that we had chosen who didn’t like us/me. AND, the cats who chose me whom I loved and who loved me back. And that is the key. When you are looking at kittens or cats, look for one who wants you.
There many varieties of cats and dogs. I don’t know if any one breed is better than another. The breed is not so important as the individual animal and their personality. I suppose some breeds are more prone to specific traits than others, certainly if physical characteristics can be bred, then emotional ones can also be passed on to offspring.
I haven’t had experience with many varieties. I grew up with labs, Pekingese, German Shepherd dogs and Siamese and domestic shorthair cats.
In 1966, the Domestic Shorthair became the American Shorthair to distinguish the common, non-pedigreed cat from their lofty, fancy cat selves. Domestic short hair cats are what the word ‘mutt’ is to dogs in America but it sounds more sophisticated.
There are 80 plus different color combinations/patterns of the pedigree American short hair. They encompass basically color or pattern except what can be attributed to crossbreeding with a specific breed that results in pattern or color such as a Siamese color/marking pattern or sable color.
The common breed, ‘mutt’ cat (And the far superior American Shorthair) are said to have come to America from England on the Mayflower. As some of my ancestors arrived by the same boat, I am quite happy to enjoy their company and daydream about the craziness that must have been the lives of those people and cats on the boat and in their new home.
In reality, it wasn’t just the Mayflower but all ships that landed on American shores that had cats. They had cats aboard (and some that escaped to dry land) for the same reason that I love ours: they provide companionship without neediness and they kill pests. They kill bugs, spiders, mice and birds, thus protecting belongings, goods and supplies aboard ships. Our Himalayan kills snakes as well, for which, no matter his faults, he is rewarded with a loving, safe home.
He is a cat who did not choose us. My daughter and her friend felt sorry for me because I was facing an empty nest so they spent their hard earned money on a Himalayan. He was an adorable kitten. However, they didn’t realize that he had preferences before he arrived.
They said, “Here he is! We know that you will be happy with him. He loves to be petted. He was sitting on a man’s lap when we went to see him.”
Do you see the flaw in their good intentions? He was sitting happily on a MAN’s lap. I am a female and animals know the difference.
When we first married, I told my husband that I wanted a cat. I had one before we began dating but my roommate scolded until I gave Camelia to my mother. Now that I had my ‘forever’ roommate, I wanted to go back to my status quo, which was a home with a cat.
Unfortunately, the lease said “No pets.” No matter how I pleaded, he would not budge. He didn’t realize that I had broken the rules of every lease that I had before him with a pet cat. I had hidden cats and litter boxes from more landlords than I dared tell him. He thought that he had married an sweet (!) and law abiding wife.
We compromised and bought a hand raised cockatiel. Somehow, to his mind, a cockatiel was not breaking the lease. Now, I think that he really preferred birds to cats back then.
Her name was Newton. Not only did we get her sex wrong, she also got the wrong sex in us, because she didn’t like the person who wanted her; me. She LOVED my husband and bit me.
She had been handraised by a man and no matter what we did, including only me feeding her and petting her, she clearly favored my husband and wanted nothing to do with me.
She never warmed up to me and when she became of age, she was broody and poopy. She made far worse messes than any cat would have unless it was very ill.
My husband eventually put her in her travel carrier and took her to an amenable pet store who was very happy to have a breeding bird.
When asked about her friendliness, he said that he mumbled something and quickly left. He wasn’t comfortable lying and figured that they were breeders so would be happy with the egg part of her in spite of her cranky unfriendliness. Thus we promoted the unfriendliness problem of pets. However, we did know that she was a good egg layer and she liked men, so she wasn’t without some merits.
Just as humans have preferences, so do animals, not just persnickety cats and birds, but also dogs.
Our Tucker was purchased sight unseen (I had seen photos of his parents) from a registered breeder. Unfortunately, the registration that I had believed to be discerning was not. Tucker was, in spite of his papers, a Puppy Mill pup.
He is a delightful dog. Actually. He isn’t, but he is well loved and certainly adored. He has more quirks than an average Newfie and they are known to be sulky and have easily hurt feelings as well as being stalwart and brave rescue dogs.
He is afraid of blonde women, he is terrified of small children and he slept with his head on his water dish that he held between his paws for months when we first got him. He also has a very odd crooked tail.
When we took him to a knowledgeable vet, she broke the news to us that we had purchased him from an unscrupulous breeder. After putting his behavior together with the bits that the breeder gave to us when giving us the sales pitch, we can surmise he was kept outside in an unheated shed, had been hurt by a mother and her child (that would create the fear and also explain his broken tail) and sadly, was denied his water when he was thirsty.
The shed must also have had rabbits because he refuses to leave the rabbit cage when my daughter bunny sits. He is ridiculously stouthearted in his affection towards rabbits. He also loves carrots more than any other treat but I don’t really think that is because of his affinity towards rabbits.
Our black lab was pathetic when it came to blonde women but in the opposite direction. I met his breeder. She was pregnant and nearing her ninth month with her first child. She and her husband desperately wanted to sell the pups before they became people parents.
We went to her home and looked at him and his brothers (his sisters had found homes already). I knelt down and looked them in the eyes as they cautiously hid but with friendly curiosity under their garage steps. A couple puppies ignored me, but he and another brother were interested in us.
I spent a bit of time coaxing and playing with them, letting them go away and then making a noise or movement to attract attention. The dog that we finally picked was the one that was most attentive to me when I tried to attract his attention.
He was a wonderful pup. Well, he was a bit aggressive and hard headed and as the children were small, I had to hire a dog walker to help keep him calm enough to be around small children. I hired the teenage neighbor who was also on the track team. He was very happy to make money while training for track meets. I never quite forgave him for bending over with obnoxious laughter when I was pulled face first and body flat into the muddy lawn by an overly exuberant almost grown ninety pound black lab. Dog walkers aren’t perfect either, but they should turn around if they cannot contain their unbridled laughter.
Dogs seem to be very sensitive to hair color. Because, just as Tucker is afraid of blonde women, our lab was captivated by them. It turns out that the reason that he was so attentive when I was testing him in his original home was because he was the breeder’s favorite. And she was a blonde.
When we called them to give them an update as they requested we do, her husband told me, “Oh, we loved him, he was our favorite. My wife would hold him and rock him and sing lullabies to him. She was sad that you chose him.”
That explained some of his strange behavior when I sang songs to my own children at bedtime.
But it also had another consequence that I wasn’t thrilled with either; we lived in an area that was predominately of Holland descent; mostly blondes (I am brunette). Our lab had absolutely no concept of loyalty. Whenever he met a blonde woman, he would immediately decide that she was his best friend and I was chopped liver. He flattered many women in his time with us and then he broke my heart and I may have broken his.
He was getting older and we moved to a larger property. His legs weren’t holding up and we had just gotten energetic Poppy who wanted to play with him all the time. My sister in law (blonde btw) had dog-sat him many times and dearly wanted him to come live with her. We finally gave him to her because we thought that it would be a better life for him, he was nearly twelve and we wanted only the best for him.
She assured us that he was very happy and as we know her to be kind and loving, we never doubted her. However, one day, we were reminiscing about him and she told me that whenever he had seen a girl running with a long pony tail, he would want to follow her. Our daughter. Our daughter had replaced the rude dog walker and our beloved dog never forgot his girl, our girl with the long ponytail. I have tears in my eyes even now, years later, as I write this. I would not have allowed him to go if I had known that he would always look for his girl who used to put dog biscuits in her pockets and hide from him when her brother was in school and she wanted to play hide and seek.
Animals choose to love us, learn to fear us and they associate the way we look with previous experiences. They are just as discerning, if not more, than we are because they are, for the most part at our mercy.
I don’t really think that there is any way to pick the ‘right’ animal because they aren’t like shoes, there is no perfect fit. It is a bit of serendipity and accommodation on both the part of human and animal.
Our Mac cat, the beloved ginger and cream that we have now, reached out and grabbed my sleeve in the pet store when we went to look for him from an ad on FB.
My cats that were my pets as a child were the ones who found me when I was in the barn doing chores or playing about in the hayloft. My cats as a young adult woman were ones that found my apartment and me.
I had two cats that hated me. One was a rescued kitten that was found on a Los Angeles sidewalk. A woman at work brought it to work in a box. Of course I fell in love with it. But it never warmed up to me. I eventually gave it to someone whom it did like.
The other was a gray, long hair that my friend who works at a shelter wanted me to take. His name was Smokey. He was as elusive as smoke and he hated children. We had children who wanted to play with him. We gave him to my mom who had a kind heart and loved us and him. He continued to hate us. When we went to visit her, he would hide from us. I think that he feared that we would scoop him up and take him back home. I once forgot something and turned around and went back to her house just in time to see him coming out from under her porch. He took one look at me and went right back under it!
I am not sure what the thesis sentence of this blog is today. I can’t decide if it is ‘How to choose a cat’ or ‘Animals choose us.’
I do know that we don’t really own a pet any more than we own a person. They may live with us, but they exercise their free will as much as we do. Their personalities are as varied as ours, they have more or less tolerance for our foibles and personalities as we do for theirs.
There two things that about which I am certain:
One: that animals have very long memories about things/people/events that they liked or were painful, even as young animals. It protects them.
Two: they decide whom they prefer and with whom they prefer to live.
When my mother passed away, one of the feral cats that she had rescued from my brother’s farm was taken back to his farm. The next morning, he could not find the cat. We found him. He was sitting on my mother’s porch waiting to be let in. He had walked seven miles back home to my mom’s house. The only time that he had been on the road was when he was just weaned and was brought to her as a tiny, sick kitten. I still grow misty thinking about him. Looking for Mom, not knowing she was gone forever.
Smokey was happy to live with my brother because his children were older.
I don’t know if there is an animal/person pairing that is perfect. I think that ‘owning’ a pet is much like being married; you love each other and you compromise by ignoring the other’s faults. It is chemistry, a lot of patience and hopefully, mostly love and fun.
Think carefully when you decide to own a pet; have your own set of requirements for a pet set in your mind before you head out to wherever you choose to find your pet and if you are lucky, one may choose you.
Decide if you want to walk your animal every day, a few times a day or change the litter box every day. All animals poop.
Think about how much attention you want to give and want to receive.
Do you want a companion to take for long walks? A friendly movie watching companion? How strong are you? Our Tucker sent me to the emergency room because he jumped up and I didn’t see him in time to dodge. He nearly broke my jaw. A friend tripped over a small dog and fell. Pets can be dangerous even asleep!
I prefer cats because I think of them as teenagers; they want attention but only when they want it. Dogs are more like toddlers: they need to be watched and need more companionship. That said, I quite often have to look for Tucker or Poppy and look up and see Mac the cat, who chose me, because he shadows me most of the day and night.
Dogs usually bark and protect. Cats may or may not protect you. I have had cats that were noteworthy guard cats and I have had dogs that would hide from most visitors. There is no perfect pet or answer to your quest because nobody, not even you, is perfect.
Make your list, investigate and then leave room for serendipity.