Cats, Kittens and Kids – Ground Rules



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4 Ground Rules for Kids and Pets


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We have a new kitten. Did I mention that? Well, we do, a little four month old bundle of grey and white and softness that I ended up with shortly after coming home with Apollo’s ashes and realizing I was just not happy in my home without the little patter of padded feet.

I chose Penelope because when I walked up and down the rows of cats at the Escondido Humane Society, she was one of the friendliest cats in the room. She came right up to the front of her cage, pressing her side into the wires so her fur puffed out like a waffle, and just asked to be petted. She is well socialized, and amazingly enough, it took her less that one day to get over being in the same home as a massive, hairy, heavy-breathing Golden Retriever. She’s a good cat.

My kids are, fortunately for me, are good with her as well. They learned to be gentle when Apollo was older and creaky, and were always respectful of his interest, or lack thereof, in interaction. Apollo tolerated the interest of the neighborhood children with good grace, allowing himself to be carried around the house like a ragdoll by excited kids who didn’t have the benefit of their own cat at home.
Setting the Ground Rules

Penelope, however, is a bit more concerned about these strange humans. She’s taking it day by day, and as such often spends her time hanging out under the dining room table when other kids are over, evaluating the situation. Once or twice I’ve seen our six year old neighbor toting her around, and after discussing proper ways to hold a cat I thought we were doing well.

A few days ago, I heard a “YEOOOWWW” followed by my daughter saying, “Stop it!” I ran around the corner to see the neighbor hunched under the table, attempting to drag Penelope out by her arm. I get that she’s only six, and as a kid who doesn’t have cats at home she honestly didn’t know that was not OK to do to cats. It was a good opportunity to talk about how to handle cats, so that if she comes across a cat who is not made of the same tolerant stuff as Penelope she is allowed to retain her fingers.

I thought of this exchange this morning, when I read a story online about a senior Labrador who suffered a spinal injury after their son’s 9 year old friend tried to ride the dog around like a horse. I have a child that age, and to be honest it never would have occurred to me that a kid that old would even think that was an OK thing to do. It puts all pet owners and parents in a difficult situation when you are trying to let them have a social life while also recognizing that the rest of the world may not have been trained in appropriate pet interactions.

Based on this and the fact that I really don’t have my eyes glued on my nine and seven year olds every second of the day, I decided that in addition to trying to teach our houseguests about general pet etiquette, I also needed some very concrete ground rules about interacting with the cat.
A V Household Code of Conduct for Pets, if you will:

  1. No picking up the cat. She is still getting used to us, you see. Maybe when she (you) gets older, we will let you hold her.
  2. You may pet the cat when she comes and asks for attention, but if she’s hiding or resting, let her get her beauty sleep. She needs to grow big and strong. You may pet her on her sides, but no grabbing legs or tail under any circumstances.
  3. If she is not interested in interacting and chooses to run away or hide, no holding her in place or chasing her. We let HER choose when she wants attention.
  4. You absolutely may play with her and her feather toy! If she’s in the mood to play, we appreciate you contributing to her exercise.

I could tell our neighbor was a little apprehensive about this set of rules, but once she was given very clear boundaries about the specific interactions she was allowed to have, Penelope actually comes out to visit more. She’s happy, Penelope is happy, and I’m relieved.

Now I just need to do the same for the dog. We’ve never had a problem with the way the neighbors interact with Brody, but after that sad horse-riding story, better safe than sorry.

Blog By Dr V.

Image: Okeanas/via Shutterstock

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