Writings From Elsewhere: How to Make Animals Adore You

The awesome Marianne of xoJane put out a call for women of color to write for their weekend edition, and I answered. One of Ingrid and Greta‘s three cats, Houdini, makes a special appearance.

I can personally attest to the success of respecting animals. Last spring, I stayed with some friends of mine. As soon as I entered their house, two of their three cats were all over me begging for playtime and attention, but I hardly caught even a glimpse of the third.

When she peeked in at us with curiosity, I resisted the temptation to chase or pester her by reminding myself that I was in her territory and probably smelled weird to her. The second evening I was there, I got out of the bathroom only to find her standing in front of me. I lowered myself to the ground, maintaining distance, and slowly stretched my hand out to her in greeting.

What happened with Houdini and me? You can check out more of my thoughts on animal consent to find out.

Writings From Elsewhere: How to Make Animals Adore You

8 thoughts on “Writings From Elsewhere: How to Make Animals Adore You

  1. 1

    Houdini just happened to be sitting on my lap while I was reading this, so I gave her a few skritches for you. This is a very thoughtful and touching article. I really appreciate the effort you made to reach out to our little escape artist. She obviously appreciated it too.

  2. 2

    With cats its best to remember their body language is effectively the reverse of ours, narrowing eyes is a sign of affection, blinking and turning away is a way of putting you at your ease while eye contact is a threat. There’s a cat that lives over the road from me that is terrified of nearly every human he sees, except me, he comes running as soon as I come past the house, and follows me home.

    Of course, its best to remember that this only applies to cats, out of force of habit I adopted the same posture with a three year old once, who immediately went running shouting ‘Mummy, mummy I don’t like that man!’

  3. 3

    My dog is a rescue who was abused in his past. Emotionally, he’s a mess with serious trust issues. The one thing that sets him off more than any other is hands coming towards his face. But we humans have come up with this weird habit of presenting our hands to dogs. I used to do it, too.

    But there’s really no reason for it. A dog’s nose is hyper-sensitive. He already smelled you when you were 5 feet away. Your hand offers no new information although some pups are willing to check for a treat. (Hope springs eternal in the doggie brain.) For dogs, sniffing face to face is a sign of trust. The teeth are in the face and the face is a bad place to be bitten. Which is why they usually sniff nose-to-tail with a strange dog. Less chance of misunderstanding. Hand to doggie face is a bit rude to the dog but they love us and will usually put up with it.

    Unless, like my poor boy, they have legitimate human trust issues. A hand in the face gets a snarl. When he wants attention, it’s so subtle that most people miss it. (It took me a month to recognize it even though I was paying full attention.) He will stand next to a person, facing away from them and staring off into the distance. If you pet his back at that point, he’ll respond by leaning on you. But there is no eye-contact, no sniffing, or any other recognition. He’s “safe” because he can move away if necessary. It also seems as if people confuse him and he’s more comfortable ignoring all the baby-talk and facial expressions.

    tl:dr Presenting your hand (sans treat) to a dog is considered a bit rude in dog language. A dog’s face is very sensitive. Most dogs enjoy human company enough to overlook this faux pas. Still, you’re better off waiting for a strange dog to present its back and sides to be petted.

  4. 5

    I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation among my friends for being the “pet whisperer”; if I go to someone’s house and they have a pet that they warn me doesn’t like strangers, invariably within minutes I am petting said animal. My secret? Basically everything you outlined! Adopt non-threatening postures, let the animal come to you, etc. With cats, I also find it helpful to telegraph a big exaggerated blink of the eyes.

    When strangers come over, I let them know that my cat is basically self-petting: hold your hand out, and he’ll do all the work. I have to say it’s hilarious when my cat just, like, jams his face against my hand repeatedly. Really, Dalton? That’s what you enjoy? Ok then!

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