According to the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals. It can be with a cat as a pet or a bird outside your window.
Pet ownership is at an all time high. There are currently 82 million cats and 72 million dogs owned by households in the United States in 2007 according to American Veterinary Medical Association. Nearly 50 percent of pet owners consider their companion animals to be a part of the family. Many people report that their pets sleep with them. The human-animal bond field has gained momentum in recent years. In fact the University of Denver announced in January of 2008 the establishment of an endowed university chair dedicated to studying the bond between humans and animals. It has not always been this way. Historically, animals served primarily a utilitarian purpose in people’s lives. Mules pulled plows, and dogs protected the farm. Cats lived in the barn, ate rodents, and drank milk. However, over the past century, in the United States, animals have entered our everyday life.
How does the bond with a cat actually form? The bond can be formed in weeks, months, or years. It evolves and changes over time. Sometimes a connection is made in just days. Have you ever agreed to take care of a stray cat for a couple of days until the owner is identified? Or have you ever fed a stray cat in your backyard thinking the cat will probably disappear in a day or two? Or have you ever rescued a kitten off the streets with the intentions of taking it to a shelter the next day?
What often happens (fortunately for the cat and for you!) is you become connected in a short time. You and other family members become emotionally involved. Maybe you spend time and energy picking out food, toys, and litter. You do everything to make the cat comfortable in your home or yard, especially if the cat has been traumatized. You look forward to coming home to see the cat. You have cat names going through your mind. Maybe you even let the cat sleep in your room or in your bed.
With the first mention of taking the cat to a shelter, the family disagrees. Perhaps the conversation never even reaches that point, because everyone forgets about giving up the cat. That is because the cat has touched you on some level and is becoming part of you. It will be impossible for you to give up a cat that is becoming family.
Here are five specific ways the human-animal bond can evolve with your cat through your time commitment:
1. Fun Loving Time—Playing with the cat, paying attention to her, and playing her games help establish a connection between the two of you. My cat, Lexie Lee, has many toys for playtime, but her favorite one has three brightly colored feathers suspended on a string from the end of a flexible pole. Lexie Lee is a natural for this game. My role is easy. All I have to do is hold the pole and swing it around at varying speeds and heights while she feverishly tries to catch the feathers—which she does quite often. Sometimes, she grabs the feathers in her mouth and pulls them to the floor. Other times, she uses her paw to capture them. She leaps high in the air, spins around 360 degrees, and turns summersaults! I store the toy in the pantry and whenever I open the door, she suddenly appears and is ready for playtime.
2. Quiet Time—To contrast from the fun and games, you can build quiet time into your relationship with your cat. You can curl up in your favorite spot, and it probably won’t be long until your furry friend joins you. You can snuggle together, talk softly, and caress the cat. Maybe you will take a catnap together! For example, one of my beloved cats, Tatianna, loved to crawl in my lap the minute I sat down in the living room rocker to enjoy morning tea. She would stay there for as long as I remained in the chair. That moment is how we started and shared the early morning together for sixteen years.
3. Affectionate Time—A pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, or a jubilant welcome home are appreciated gestures to show your cat affection. I play this wacky game with Lexie Lee each time I come home. It goes like this. We greet each other at the door where I drop my bags. I rub her on the head. Then we proceed up the stairs. She zooms past me, passing quickly through the kitchen on the way to the living room. She pauses for a moment for me to catch up; then we race simultaneously to the couch. I flop down on the couch at the same time that Lexie Lee flies onto the coffee table, rearranging the tablecloth. I pat my chest and she jumps onto my chest, stretches out flat, and gazes into my eyes. We look forward to this affectionate moment every day.
4. Consistent Time—An established routine can foster the feline-human bond. Being fed at a certain time, getting up at the same time every morning, or being groomed every evening provides consistency and stability for your animal. The cat quickly catches on to what is supposed to happen when these times of the day roll around. Another one of my beloved cats, Katarina, always waited patiently until I got out of bed. But the moment my feet hit the floor, she started wildly meowing and knew exactly what to expect. Morning after morning for almost seventeen years, we headed to the kitchen for her breakfast. She could always count on it!
5. Concern or Crisis Time—When your cat is hurt or sick or dealing with a terminal illness, you can grow closer. You can often tell by the way the cat looks at you that she senses you are trying to help. Being the caregiver of six cats in my life has given me numerous opportunities in times of trouble to develop the bond more deeply. I remember a stray cat appearing on my property and slowly working its way into my heart over several months. But one afternoon when I came home from work, the black cat met me at the front door limping. Upon closer examination, I discovered she had been in a fight. Well, that was just the beginning of the story! She was taken to the veterinarian, and I medicated the sores until she was healed. This moment of concern accelerated the intensity of our bond. Shortly thereafter, the black stray moved inside and was named Marnie!
Each cat passes your way leaving a series of unique influences and impressions. By regularly committing time to engage in fun loving games, quiet moments, affectionate gestures, consistent routines, and critical care, you will build a deep and meaningful relationship with your cat.
Copyright © 2008 Linda A. Mohr
Linda A. Mohr is the award-winning author of Tatianna—Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend and Catnip Connection blog for Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a professor at Northwood University, and the co-founder of Pet Apothecary. She is a member of Cat Writers’ Association with human-animal bond expertise. Visit http://www.lindamohr.net or http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/catnipconnection