Making Peace With Your “Cats”

A couple of weeks ago, I detailed the trials of a friend who wanted a dog…but got a cat. If you missed it, catch up here.

This challenge happens in many of the relationships in our lives. At work, we hire someone to do A, B, and C, but after a short time we determine that our actual need is for someone with proficiency in C, D, and E. In our personal relationships, we often want someone with a very specific set of traits. And then after a short period of time, we might decide that the person doesn’t have those traits. Or more common is that the person does indeed have those traits, but those traits are not working for us. We want something different, or something more.

My friend with the cat was at her end. She was irritated with the cat’s behavior, and she started thinking that things must change. Mind you, this was an actual cat, not a metaphoric one. But the conversation could have been about an employee or a spouse.

What I shared is what I would tell anyone who wanted one thing but ended up with another.

First, I used some empathy. “Yes, it stinks,” I told her. “I’m sure it’s not pleasant for you or the cat.”

Second, the cold reality of accountability. “You chose to get a cat. No one made you do it. So it’s your responsibility to fix or deal with the situation.”

She understood that point completely.

Third, we reviewed options. She came up with two fairly typical solutions to resolve her problem.

“I can get rid of the cat. I think I have a friend who will take him,” she suggested.

“Yes, you can quit. Make someone else deal with it. What else can you do?” I asked her.

“Well, I guess I can just live with it, “she shrugged “Maybe he can become a basement dweller, and I’ll never have to see him.”

To me, this second idea is what most people do when they wanted a dog but got a cat. They concede. They reason that the situation can’t or won’t change, and so they make peace with it by acknowledging that life stinks while waiting for the cat to die.

“Yes, you can sign the title of your house over to the cat. What else?” I asked.

“That’s it. That’s all I can think of,” she said in resignation.

“Or how about…?” I suggested something “radical.” Her cat is a Persian. You know what a Persian cat looks like, right? It’s like a cat darted head-first into a brick wall, and the wall won. Another trait of Persian cats is their thick, monstrous coat of hair. Thinking about how hot the temperature has been all summer, I suggested that she shave her cat to see if that would help his behavior by making him less miserable.

I wasn’t pulling this idea out of thin hair…um, air. My own furry poof ball named Baby is part cat, part bear. I had seen her crabbiness growing as the summer continued to sizzle. Finally, I decided to shave her. Initially, she was…let’s just say she was less than receptive to the idea of clippers near her body. But as the big balls of hair started coming off, Baby started to relax. By the time I was done with the procedure, Baby purred on the floor.

I told my friend, “You can’t change the nature of the cat. But you can change the environment the cat lives in. See if that works.”

Dr. Morty Boo (yes, I’m not making this up. That’s the name of her cat), got shaved last week. And he is a different animal today.

“You were right,” my friend told me. “He lies down next to me and purrs. He hasn’t scratched me or the kids. He even sleeps with me at night, something he hasn’t done since he was a kitten.”

She could have dispatched the cat in many ways. She could have resigned to the fact that she was now the not-so proud owner of an evil cat. But what she chose to do was change a part of the cat’s environment.

And just this morning, she sent me an email update:

“Boo is so cute. He is stalking me. He gets right in my face and taps me on the nose softly with his paw.”

So you got a cat in your life. You can do more than quit or live in resignation. Don’t believe that you are powerless to change yourself or your circumstances. You might have to stop certain behaviors and start others. But you have more power to change “cats” than you know.

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