I’m pretty sure I can communicate with animals and one night while visiting my parents, I came across two cats in a kitchen stand-off. The air felt like a gas stove had been left on; anything could have ignited it. As a result, movements were slow and movements were calculated.
The two cats were seated stiffly on the counter with tails clearly fluffier than normal, signifying the presence of an imminent threat. Low growls rolled like thunderstorms between them, as if each cat was saying “Make the first move, you pussy.” I quickly calculated that it was up to me, and me alone, to mediate this cold war. I knew because of my animal communication skills that I could fix this; it was my duty. I was like the United Nations called to action. Suit me up. Sergeant. These cats were on the brink of very serious escalation and I couldn’t let them spiral to the nuclear option. Not on my watch.
Let me describe the warring parties:
Sally, aka “Ding Dong”:
Defending her home territory and weighing in at ten incredibly flabby lbs. is Sally. She is a black calico and the runt of her litter, but now she’s nine years old and completely in love with my dad. Her nickname is Ding Dong because sometimes you wonder if anyone’s home at all. Here are photos that capture Sally:
The photo on the left is typical sweet, petite Sally while the photo in the center shows Sally’s preferred sleeping position. The photo on the right with Luigi (our more regal cat) shows Sally in the background gazing with embarrassing devotion at my dad. Here is a close-up of that shot because it’s just so ridiculous:Oh Sally Ding Dong….
Sally enjoys meowing at the attic for hours until my parents take down the ladder for her to climb up. She also enjoys sitting by the faucet for hours waiting for fresh spring water to appear. Sally has never gone past the mailbox, often miscalculates jump distances, and has a muscle tone I describe as “sea cucumber-like”. Regardless of this, she is ruthless. Sally is a serial killer and leaves regurgitated evidence of her massacres as a reminder to all: this is Sally’s house.
Tibet, aka “Miss Buffet”:
The visiting invader from the Bay Area, the “de-clawed? no problem!” Tibet. She is my brother/sister-in-law’s cat and her nickname is Miss Buffet since her trips to my parents’ house inevitably involve vomit due to her inability to control her eating in the “All You Can Eat (Cat Food) Buffet”. Tibet is incapable of understanding consequences. It makes no sense how bold she is — she doesn’t have claws, yet she is utterly fearless. As a visitor, she is the territorial intruder, but she struts past Ivan, our 100-lb. German Shepherd (R.I.P. Big Boy) and Luigi, our 17-lb. cat who can only be compared to a majestic jaguar (shown irritated in the photo with Sally above). Here are photos that capture Tibet’s “whatevs” attitude:
Look how chillaxed she is. Mowin’ on a catnip “pick-me-up,” rockin’ the Santa look, and yawnin’ like you’re boring her. She embodies the self-confidence we all strive for, but it comes with a lack of social awareness where she doesn’t see she’s in danger or being rude by not following the pecking order (inadvertent shout out to The Pecking Orders!).
Back to the cold war. It was clear that both kitties were just looking to feel accepted, respected, and seen by the other… the cause of most wars, right? Sally wanted Tibet to respect her home and her status as head wife. Tibet wanted Sally to welcome her as a family member. I decided it was my job to show them this since I am way wiser. First I had to establish rapport…
Starting with Sally, I pet her small head and said nice things like she has a really great rainbow of colors and I like when she timidly touches people with her paws. To Tibet I said I admire her courage and although her meows sometimes last too long, I like that she expresses herself. Both cats relaxed, gave me their trust, and a temporary ceasefire was reached.
Now that we had a suspension of aggression, I moved the negotiations forward. I went back and forth between them, now gently telling each cat what they could do to help diffuse the situation.
“Sally, you could be a little more welcoming to Tibet. She’s our guest and yes, sometimes a little intrusive and noisy, but she’s family.”
“Tibetsy, Sally feels you don’t respect her and her home. Have a little more consideration and be more courteous to your hosts.”
The cats listened. They protested at first with sullen meows to defend their actions, but I pushed on. Soon enough, I saw Tibet steal a glance at Sally and I knew we were ready to proceed to the next phase.
I took a deep breath, sent calm waves through the kitchen, and pulled out the big guns: I pet both cats at the same time. They immediately froze as if they could feel each other through my hands. They were rigid and Siberian. I continued talking, now addressing both Sally and Tibet as if we were all in a conversation. I soothed and they slowly relaxed. The meows started again but now they were playful. The cats defrosted, their tails unfluffed, and they even made eye contact.
The final phase was risky, but I knew it would work. I poured two bowls of crunchies and set them side-by-side. Tibet and Sally didn’t even hesitate and happily ate within swatting distance of the other. The war was over! I was proud of myself, and of Sally and Tibet. I knew I had the way to find peace and was proud of my mediation. I left them so I could do research on how to join the United Nations. The world needed my skills.
An hour later, I went to the kitchen and my heart sank. There was Sally and Tibet seated in the same spots as before. Low growls, tails fluffy, back on “imminent threat” alert status. I had accomplished nothing. We did not have peace. They were still on the brink of a terrible war and there was nothing I could do.
I saw in that instant that I did them a disservice by trying to fight their war for them. I saw that this wasn’t a war at all. This was just Tibet finding her place and I couldn’t force her into a place, she had to find one on her own. She had to find it with Sally. I could tell them over and over again what they should do, but nothing would resolve this struggle until they both stood up for themselves, until they decided where they fit. Real growth happens when you fight your own battles.
The next morning I woke to find Tibet engaged in another stand-off, this time with Luigi, the black panther of all panthers. Oh Tibet, you naive daredevil you, will you ever learn? I knew that as long as I tried to save her, the answer was no. This was her conflict, not mine. Luigi was going to crush her, but that was OK. That’s what cat fights are for. I didn’t intervene this time, I left them to figure it out for themselves.
Things They Forgot to Mention:
Sometimes being saved doesn’t mean you were saved at all. Being left to fight your own battles is when you learn to save yourself. That’s when who you are really shows up.
Also, cats are the rulers of the internet. All hail to your rulers.