I’ve been adopted by a 13 year old Tabby with no tail. She paws at the door every morning at 6:30 am, relentlessly scratching, until I bring her some nibbles that she only finds palatable, if softened with a bit of yogurt.
Lest you think she has been abandoned, or ill cared for, her rightful owner, Miss E tells me she has had all her shots, is offered food daily and “we even have a little cat house on the porch, which she used to sleep in.” I nod and smile, as perplexed as she is by her cat’s refusal to come home any longer. I’m learning about this quirky, elderly kitty a little at a time. For example, last week when I happened to see Miss E I asked about her tail like stump. Apparently, she got into a brawl some years back and had to have it amputated. This girl’s got grit, I tell you. So, it may come as no surprise that she has spent the last several months training me to be her new friend, and in the process she reminded me of several key relationship building skills worth repeating:
- Be Patient: Relatuonships take time. I was not equipped or ready for the day to day needs of this kitty when she first started sleeping on my porch. But she was patient with me. She showed me what she needed over time. She politely declined food that was not to her liking, and was only interested In contact early in the morning or after six pm. She continued kept her routine simple and cheered me on with her adorable smile. She knew I’d get the gist, eventually. People need time too. Things will grow and evolve at their own pace. You can’t rush the process of getting to know someone.
- Be Predictable: People and pets need some level of dependability on one another in order to build trust. This little kitty started to count on me to wake up in the morning and attend to her each day. She rewarded my efforts with a sweet gentle purring every time I opened the door, threading herself between my feet as I walked out to get the mail. Being reliable and predictable are the foundational pillars of building trust in any relationship.
- Pay Attention: Multitasking is hard on relationships. One of the best ways to show care is to give people (and our furry friends) our full attention. One day I decided to just sit down and read the mail outside near her. This cat decided this was exactly the move for which she had been waiting. She gingerly climbed right up on my lap (and on top of the letter I was reading) and curled up for a snuggle. She made it clear that e mail could wait. Such a good reminder that we all need attention and sometimes this comes in the form of snuggles, hugs, kisses and even eye contact. This attention makes the other feel like they matter to us.
- Give it Space: It’s ok to be closeby, but not interacting all the time. Once I ran outside because I heard a blood curdling cat screech. When I opened the door I saw another cat dart away. The Tabby came running over to the edge of the porch, panting. She paced around for a few minutes before settling down just beyond my reach. I knelt down. I just sat still as her breath settled, not wanting to cause further upset. She seemed to take comfort in knowing I was there, but didn’t need anything more from me. That’s how people are sometimes too. It may take awhile before they are ready to talk about what happened, especially if it was upsetting.
- Nurture an Open Heart: Look for the best motive behind your loved one’s behavior. This kitty was not leaving her home because her family mistreated her. As it turns out. Miss E later told me she had been travelling a lot. My guess is thisTabby was needing some extra attention. This happens with people we love too. Work demands, household projects, chores, can consume all of our energy, time and heartspace. Lasting relationships require some open hearted time and attention in order to thrive. Have you asked the other person: “how are you?” “what’s going on with you?”
- It’s OK to have Boundaries: Clear limits delivered consistently are key. Cute as this cat is, I can’t bring her inside. Long story from her owner, but she has already tried that. I let her know my message, often repeatedly, because this cat is stubborn, and we stay on good terms. No resentments. No guilt. We enjoy our friendship, and it’s limitations. Maybe one day I’ll get my own pet. For now, I’m enjoying this friendship exactly as it is.
Stefanie C. Barthmare M.Ed., LPC