Cats and Consent

Cats or dogs? I love all animals and pets alike, and will never hesitate to say hi to a friend’s furry companion, but personally I’ve always been more of a cat person (though I might be biased, since I have a cat of my own). This doesn’t mean I dislike dogs, however: dogs are so wonderfully energetic, loyal, openly loving, and outgoing. In contrast, my cat blatantly ignores my affection — I can’t imagine her ever being willing to accompany me on hiking trips and adventures. However, our relationships with cats ultimately teaches us something that I feel makes their companionship so much more rewarding — the importance of consent.

When I first got my cat she was just a little kitten. Back then, I was excited by the prospect of having a little pet to follow around and pet, and thus spent a lot of time chasing her around to play. She tolerated that sometimes as she was small and energetic herself, but over time she stopped bouncing off the walls and would prefer to lay around by herself more. She would sometimes even bite me and run away when I pet her for too long. At first this was frustrating, and I felt like I had somehow failed as a pet owner. Eventually, however, I decided to do a bit more research into cat behavior to see why this was happening. I learned that pet-induced biting is a relatively common behavior in cats, caused by the fact that they can get overstimulated and irritated from too much petting — quickly swatting at you then running away. So, instead of getting upset at my cat for something she couldn’t control and reprimanding her like you would a human child, I instead needed to understand her ways of communicating — looking out for body language (flattened ears, a whipping tail, twitching skin) and realizing when to stop and respect her boundaries.

This idea also extends to a lot of other cat behaviors: they have a lot more subtle ways of showing affection and as a result, can come across as uncaring and aloof. While some cats are really affectionate and cuddly, others might just enjoy sitting next to you, or in the same room, or even on top of all of your things. Sometimes these durations can vary too — it's unfair to expect your pets to show affection in a way that is more comfortable for you.

The same can be said about relationships with people as well. We often talk about communication and attentiveness when it comes to relationships of all sorts, but a clear understanding of boundaries and respect is equally as important. Different types of people emote, relax, re-energize, or like to socialize in different ways. Sometimes knowing when to back off and remain respectful of other people’s emotional needs, even if they might be different from yours, is the best way to cultivate a healthy relationship (with both furry companions and not).

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