Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

The Wisdom of Cats

on December 6, 2020

It will come as no surprise to anyone at all that I love cats. Especially mine. I have a big middle-aged black cat called Oreo, who is a bit of a lumbering dufus whose greatest love in life is food, and a cheeky 7-month-old munchkin called Puffin, who arrived in the Tanner household during lockdown and within a few days had established herself as Queen of the household, thank you very much.

I have found it absolutely fascinating to watch their relationship evolve. You would have thought that the teeny tiny kitten would have been afraid of the massive adult male cat, but no. She emerged from her basket the first day in her new home, puffed up her little tail at the sight of him, and hissed and spat and reduced him to a quivering wreck.

Once they had both established that the other was actually pretty harmless, the dynamic changed. Puffin craved Oreo’s attention more than anything in the world. She followed him constantly, getting as close as possible before being batted out of the way or him taking evasive action and running off. She jumped on him. She chased him. She watched him. She didn’t seem to understand why this creature was the only thing on the planet who didn’t seem to find her irresistible. The humans and their friends and family who visited played with her, stroked her, gave her velvet cushions to sit on, fed her, and generally adored her. By and large, Oreo ignored her.

But slowly and surely, she wore him down.

He stopped running away when she came into the room. He greeted her when he saw her. They sat closer and closer together. And he watched her.

Oreo had a bit of a tricky start to life. He shared a house with lots of other animals and humans, and spent most of the first few weeks of life hiding in a cupboard. When he came to us he was very sweet, but scared of his own shadow. This wasn’t helped by the way he was treated by our other cat at the time, my beloved old boy Woody, who we lost last year. Woody was definitely an alpha male and had no patience for a weedy, cowering kitten- mostly he ignored him, but he also had a tendancy to sit in a doorway and give Oreo a whack as he passed by- claws in, not to hurt him, but just to remind him who was boss. When Oreo was a kitten he mostly hid away somewhere safe- a far cry from precocious Puffin who treats the whole world as a playground. We bought Oreo plenty of toys when he was a kitten, but 7 years later they remained unplayed with. No matter how much we tried, he just wouldn’t engage. He didn’t know how.

But something has been happening over the last few weeks. Oreo has started to play. Cautiously at first, but now with growing confidence, he has started batting Puffin’s toys around the floor, and copying what she is doing. I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw my beautiful, clumsy, ungainly boy skidding across the floor and doing a little pounce on a toy mouse I may have shed a little tear (“You know this post is going to make you look even more like a mad cat lady, right?” Yes, Sophie, I do. But I’m OK with that). It’s like she has taught him how to be a cat. He is spending more time with the family, purring more, less obsessed with food- he seems happier (if we’re going to anthropomorphise).

I was reflecting on this and thinking that there were a few things we could all learn from this tale of two cats.

First of all, the power of modelling. Our actions are important. We can speak, lecture, cajole, and nag until we’re blue in the face, but how we behave often has a much bigger impact. In the same way Oreo was watching Puffin, people are watching us. This is especially relevant for those of us in leadership roles, and particularly for those of us who are parents. If our kids see us being kind, or generous, or modelling good self-care, they learn from that. (They are also excellent at noticing when our words and actions don’t match up, but that’s a whole different blog post.)

Secondly, the importance of perseverance. Keep going, keep trying. Puffin was determined to win Oreo around- and her persistence paid off. Don’t give up on seemingly lost causes; God loves them, and they hold a special place in his heart. Our God is the one who leaves 99 sheep to go and look for the one who was lost. He never gives up on anyone, and neither should we. He also exhorts us to persevere in prayer. This is something to hold onto this year, of all years. Keep praying, keep the faith, keep hoping.

Finally, you’re never too young to make a difference, and you’re never too old to learn, change, and grow. So many of us disqualify ourselves from all God has for us on the basis of our age, but all we need is an open mind and an obedient heart. Age is not important.

I want to leave you with this little video clip I managed to capture of Oreo properly playing for the first time, at the age of 7- positively middle-aged for a cat! I hope it makes you smile (and if it doesn’t WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!) I love how God can teach us through the most mundane, everyday situations we find ourselves in- yes, even through our cats. Thank you, Lord, for that…. and for cats!


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