What Kittens Taught Me About Prejudice

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I’m a dog person. I’ve loved dogs since I was a child and am currently the proud owner of two beautiful and sweet yellow Labs.

I’ve also believed that there are “dog people” and “cat people” and never the twain shall meet. I was taught to be fearful of cats and their “sneaky” ways at an early age and never actually interacted with a cat until grad school. I was visiting a classmate’s house and he and his wife had a cat with a litter of kittens. I was in kitten heaven playing with them for hours until my face and neck broke out into hives, my eyes started itching and tearing, and my throat tightened. My love affair with felines ended as quickly as it began.

Over the next several decades I came into regular contact with the cats belonging to friends and family – and always left with itchiness and tearing. I was so allergic to cats that I once agreed to stop by a friend’s house while they were away to check on their cat’s food and water supply – and when the crazy cat escaped his designated room, I had to chase him around the house holding a towel so I could pick him up without skin-to-fur contact. I figured I’d never experience a long-term relationship with a cat. Not that it bothered me at all. I still harbored negative views on their disposition and core character.

But then a funny thing happened. At the ripe old age of 66, it appeared that my allergic reaction to cats disappeared alongside boundless energy, flexibility, and the ability to eat as much as I want whenever I want.

So, four days ago I became the proud owner of two kittens: Boris and Natashya. (Boris is featured in the accompanying video.) I was a bundle of nerves as we brought them home. I worried that my allergies would return. I wondered if they would turn out to be wickedly sneaky co-conspirators focused on my demise. And I was concerned that in my heart of hearts I was truly a dog-person who could never fully embrace a non-dog.

All those worries were for naught. This brother-sister duo captured my heart from the first moment I held them against my chest and heard them purr with contentment. They love exploring their new home, learning how to navigate stairs, and playing with boundless enthusiasm. They make me smile and laugh out loud.

I learned that the sneakiness I was taught to fear was nothing but an innocent curiosity about the world. Had my allergy persisted I would never have realized that fact. I would have kept cats and kittens at arm’s length. I would have continued to dis them as grossly inferior to dogs.

I like to think I’m not prejudiced. I espouse no bias based on race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, etc. But I have to wonder whether I have implicit biases – akin to the sneakiness of cats – that do serve to keep people who are different from me at arm’s length.

It’s not an easy question, but it’s one I will ponder – and I’d ask you to do the same.

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