Lessons from Little Animals

Lynne Murray says:

This past week I had a sudden surprise visitation from three feral kittens whom a friend scooped up in his backyard and brought to me to tame (he then trapped the feral mom, got her spayed and will be releasing her tomorrow). I’ve never made a serious effort to tame wild kittens before, although I have a dog kennel/cage and some excellent mentors at the Yahoo feral cat group.

I learned this week that winning these kittens’ trust means observing them closely and seeing what motivates them (primarily beef and chicken baby food so far). My tame cats have bonded with me and they will come over and demand to be petted. These little guys spent the first 24 hours in a silent, scared pile of fluff in one corner of the carrier, only coming out late at night to eat. Most of my cat skills don’t work with them because their first instinct is to hide from me as a predator. They’re young enough to be flexible but they sure don’t purr when I touch them. After nearly a week of working with them, they tolerate being touched just to get the baby food and they come up to the front of the cage to play with a cat toy. I have to watch carefully to see when they’ve had enough socializing and let them back off to absorb it.

For some reason this struck a chord with a story I read about from a woman on one of my size acceptance email groups who had to basically demand a CT-Scan for what her doctors dismissed as irritable bowel, a gastrointestinal condition. From the way her body felt, she was certain something was drastically wrong. The scan showed fluid in her abdomen, and testing the fluid revealed ovarian cancer.

What particularly struck me was how she had confidence in her own perceptions of her body, no matter what authority figures told her. Her gut (almost literally) told her something was wrong and she fought to get the care she needed. When medical authority figures look at us and try to persuade us that what we know about ourselves it not true, it takes great courage to persevere.

As Dianne Sylvan says in The Body Sacred:

“…your body is holy. Your life is holy. You are worth kingdoms. There is meaning and purpose to your life, and in order to fulfill that purpose, you have to accept and love what you have been given to work with, the little animal your soul inhabits for this walk around the earth.” (p. 30)

Body awareness for me is very similar to observing animals–well, it is observing animals; our bodies are our animal selves. It communicates in many ways, none of them verbal. This past week I have learned over and over to be quiet and learn from the kittens what their comfort level is. Kittens love playing and we can play a game where they can be teased a little closer into accepting me. Pushing them too far will only set us back.

Walt Whitman said it in Leaves of Grass.

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.

So I am teaching the kittens (with the help of a little baby food) that humans are mostly harmless. And the kittens are reaching me with their message about how to observe without words.