A would-be novelist once wrote Aldous Huxley, asking for pointers on what he should do to further his literary career. Huxley’s reply? “If you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is keep a pair of cats.”
The Brave New World author had an excellent point. But the truth is, cats are fascinating to watch in and of themselves. I’ve been a card-carrying ailurophile (cat lover) since I brought home my first barn kitten at age 7, and I’m still learning new things about their behavior all these years later.
Here are a few online courses that will help you expand your knowledge of cats.
“Cat Behavior and Retention”
The Humane Society of the United States runs this 10-week course. “The overwhelming majority of cat behavior problems can be fixed while the cat is still in the home, before she is either put outside or surrendered to a shelter,” the organization says.
Half of the course is about cat behavior and half is about keeping a cat in your home, explains Karen Waldron, who has worked with Maine’s Homeless Animals Rescue Team (HART) since 1999 and is taking the course. “The goal of the program is to get people trained to help keep cats in their home — and not to get cats relinquished to shelters,” she says.
Actually, Waldron has “pretty much been doing this” on her own all along. People come to her with “little questions like ‘New baby crying — what are the things we can do? We’d like to keep the cat.'”
She figures that the course will give her “more resources. There’s a lot about cat behavior I don’t know or understand, so it’s a learning curve.”
Cat behavior specialist Jackson Galaxy offers tips about understanding your cat’s core instincts:
There is a real need for cat behavior consultants, says Jane Ehrlich of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). At a professional conference in 2013, she found that cat behavior “was still low on the vet’s priority list. The ‘feline track’ was small compared to the one for dogs.”
One veterinarian responded to her questions with “Behavior? It’s either sex or stress. If it’s sex, castrate ’em. Stress? Drug ’em.”
But it’s so much more complicated than that, says Ehrlich, who does consultations worldwide from her Cattitude Feline Behavior in Arizona. And the fact remains that “most cats are dumped at shelters — and killed — or just plain dumped, because of behavior issues, not medical ones,” she say.
She adds that cats should “come with a warning. ‘This individual feels. Hurts. Respect that. Take care of that.’”
Here are 2 cat behavior certification programs:
- IAABC has a program in feline behavior (register here).
- So does the Cat Division of the Animal Behavior Institute (register here).
Both programs deal with common problems such as scratching, improper elimination, aggression, fears and phobias, and feline grieving.
The Brits aren’t far behind. The Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) offers the following courses:
- “Think Cat — Homing in on the Highly Specialised Yet Enigmatic Nature of the Pet Cat” (register here)
- “You and Your Cat” (register here)
- “You and Your Rescue Cat” (register here)
Cat behaviorists do the translating once the possibility of illness has been ruled out. Not all of us may feel the need to make this a career choice, but it might just make a difference for our cats and ourselves.
A Spiritual Approach
“I thought Reiki was just for people,” someone said to me last week. Well, it’s not.
Kathleen Prasad and Elizabeth Fulton are two of the leading animal Reiki practitioners in this country. Both have found cats extremely open to it as long as it’s on their terms.
“When he doesn’t feel pressured or coerced, you’ll usually find that your cat quickly learns to enjoy and seek out Reiki healing and to appreciate the treatments as a special time between the two of you,” say Prasad and Fulton in their book, Animal Reiki: Using Energy to Heal the Animals in Your Life.
Prasad offers workshops and online classes at Animal Reiki Source. But you can take Reiki workshops anywhere, really. The fundamental principles apply to both animals and humans.
As with behavior courses, this is something you can do professionally or simply for the benefit of your own cat. You will come to understand your pet on a deeper level. And, yes, it will definitely strengthen the bond between the two of you.