Sometimes all you need is to give them the gift of understanding.
By Stef dela Cruz, MD
I have a confession to make: I have friends who don’t like cats. It’s no big deal. At least,
I try not to make it one.
These friends of mine happen to love dogs—they’re self-professed dog people—and they also openly admit to not fancying cats at all. They think of cats as unpredictable, antisocial,
disloyal scratch machines.
I try not to take their jokes too seriously—“The way you have your cat’s fur all over your
sweater, you’d think fur must be in again this season!”—as long as they are not veiled
messages of hate. It’s not a sin if they don’t like cats, the same way it’s not a sin if I hate
However, is my tolerance of people’s varied personal preferences worth emulating? Or is it too apologist, justifying what should be seen as an ignorant and unwarranted lack of compassion for animals?
Preference vs. Ignorance
I am now the human slave of a beautiful black cat named Merlin but it hasn’t always been that way. Throughout my childhood, I cared for different animals – doves, turtles, snakes, dogs, and even abandoned baby house sparrows. Oddly enough, I never had the privilege of befriending a cat before I met Merlin, the inspiration behind this column.
I didn’t hate cats – no, that wasn’t it at all. I just didn’t have enough experience then
to form an opinion about them. I have always been a dog person, even when I was a kid. I lived a sheltered life, prohibited from playing with neighbors. I was desperate for friendship and, thankfuly, our dogs were more than happy to offer it.
In fact, they gave me unconditional love. They looked at me with adoring eyes, forgiving me instantly whenever my awkward, immature feet accidentally stepped on their tails.
They gave me more than I have ever asked.
I was blissfully unaware that there were other kids like me who enjoyed the company of a very different species, one that fascinated not just our recent society, but civilizations from long ago that have since disappeared.
I refer, of course, to the domestic cat.
I was ignorant about felines until six years ago, when I met Merlin. He was such a playful kitten. I would stay up at night, watching him as he played with a crumpled piece of paper like it was the best toy in the world. I would wake up to his rat toys by my side, which he had offered silently while I was asleep.
Loving Merlin was like falling down a hole. It caught me by surprise and there was no stopping it.
I knew I would love him, but I didn’t know I would love him as if he were my own child, my own flesh and blood. There I was, slowly and surely turning into a cat person without my knowing it.
I realized then that I didn’t simply prefer dogs; I just wasn’t aware that I could love cats, too!
Dislike vs. Hatred
Yes, there are people who prefer dogs. But they’re not necessarily the same people who actually hate cats.
Is it fair to hate those who hate cats? I have heard one too many stories about people who think cats are just unfeeling pests.
Sometimes, the hatred becomes spiteful. Colleagues laugh at you if you help stray cats find shelter during typhoons. Neighbors scatter rat poison around their fences to kill the poor cats passing by.
There will always be someone who thinks that caring about the welfare of cats is mind-boggling nonsense. There will be loved ones who wil put your cats in a bag and throw them in the river.
I realized that innocent dislike could turn quickly into harmful hatred, which was why
I knew I had to be smart about how I dealt with people who didn’t like cats. It was time to get strategic.
Arguing vs. Convincing
There are three kinds of people: those who agree with you, those who don’t, and those who haven’t quite decided yet. Trying to convince those who don’t agree with you can be pointless. The more you challenge a person’s beliefs, the more he or she stands by them. That’s why in
arguments, nobody really wins.
Whenever I argued with people who hated cats, it angered them even more. Worse, it alienated those who had not made up their minds.
It dawned on me that the one thing an argument accomplished was emotional catharsis – in other words, if I argued to win, I argued primarily for a selfish reason: to express my own frustration.
Dear cat person, if you ever have to pick a fight for the sake of your cats, do it for the people who have not quite made up their minds. When proving your case, it’s them you have to keep in mind, not the people you are debating with.
Argue to convince the unconvinced, not to emerge the victor. They are listening to the dialogue. They are figuring out which discussion points hold more merit.
In fact, if you know a heated discussion will go nowhere, try to avoid it altogether. I
offer an alternative: Follow the example our feline friends have set for us.
Dogs vs. Cats
The dogs who have conquered my heart in the past have always been quite transparent about their devotion. They pawed at my leg, urging me to pay more attention to them. They whined and barked lovingly as if wanting me to prove once more that I truly loved them.
My cat, on the other hand, did nothing of the sort.
Although he was an affectionate kitten when I first adopted him, he never made a fuss. Whether or not I chose to love him, it seemed he had no plans of trying to argue his way into my life.
He simply remained his adorable kitty self, telling me without words that if I didn’t take
to him, it was my loss.
The Art of Purr-suasion
Nowadays, I always try to charm my way into the hearts of my friends who dislike cats, the same way Merlin charmed his way into mine.
Merlin has changed how I looked at cats without ever having to “argue” with me. No argument was afoot, yet he successfuly won me over.
If it worked on me, it just might work on others, too! So, whenever my friends point out how Merlin seems unpredictable, I smile and say, “Maybe it’s because the humans around him look unreliable. Relax and show him he can trust you!”
Whenever my friends tell me Merlin looks rather antisocial, I laugh and answer back, “They’re like royalty—they have to look proud and regal. Don’t we all acts like kings and queens at one point?”
Whenever my friends ask me if Merlin is disloyal, I shake my head gently and say, “He’s like a child who hates it when his parents hover. Just because he enjoys his independence doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.”
And when my friends thumb their noses at my scratched, hole-filled linens, I shrug and say, “Moms deal with their kids’ barf. I deal with my fur-kid’s scratches. No biggie.”
If there’s anything I’ve learned from Merlin and the many cats I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, it is this: Winning an argument is great, but winning your adversaries over is a whole lot better.
About the cat slave: Stef dela Cruz, M.D. is a blogger/columnist. She was conferred the
2013 Health Media Recognition by the Department of Health. She is the proud human of a cat and a dog, both of whom she treats not as pets, but as family. Connect with her on www.stefdelacruz.com or via Twitter and Instagram (@StefdelaCruzMD).
This appeared as “Art The of Purr-Suasion” in Animal Scene’s December 2015 issue.