What Kittens Taught Me About Prejudice

IMG_6810.MOV

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.

Wag More, Bark Less

M&RI recently saw a bumper sticker encouraging me to “Wag More, Bark Less.” As the proud owner of two sweet-tempered yellow Labs named Riley and Maisy, I couldn’t help but smile. More importantly, however, it reminded me of how much we humans can learn about life from our canine friends.

Riley and Maisy love everything. Every morsel of food is miraculous; every scent is addictive; every walk in the park is a tropical vacation; every sound is a revelation; every pat on the head or scratch on the butt is orgasmic. And no matter what delightful activity they’re engaged in, they’re always ready to try something else because they know it will be even more fun.

Does that sound like you? I know it doesn’t sound like me. There’s a certain sameness in our lives that deflates our sense of wonder and excitement. Riley and Maisy have eaten the exact same meal every day of their lives. Nonetheless, they never tire of it and salivate like a couple of garden hoses when I scoop kibble into their bowls. They’ve never pushed the bowl away or complained about the service.

Riley and Maisy love everything and are loved by everyone. I think it’s cause-and-effect, and it can work for us non-canines as well. Be enthusiastic about your work, and your colleagues, managers, and subordinates will feel your enthusiasm and emulate it. Express your appreciation to clients and they’ll come back for more. Let your loved ones know how important they are by greeting them at the door when they return home and thanking them for the little things they do that make your life easier. Smile at the barista, supermarket cashier, or random stranger on the street and odds are they’ll smile back.

Maisy and Riley manifest their love in dozens of ways every single day – locking eyes with me, wagging their tails, and resting a paw on my feet or a chin on my knee. It never gets tiresome for them or me. It deepens our connection. Yet think about how simple those acts are. And think about how many opportunities we have every single day to deepen our own connections with the people and communities around us. Opportunities we too often ignore because we’re busy, distracted, or simply not interested.

Dogs possess the wonderful ability to never be too busy to experience something new. They can be simultaneously deeply mindful and easily distracted. They are interested in everything. They live solely “in the moment.” The past and the future have no meaning to them. They devote their entire being to whatever is right in front of them. If something else comes along – a “distraction” (though the word sounds far too pejorative in this sense) – they similarly commit the whole of their being to that new activity, scent, person, or thing. Humans bemoan distractions because they ruin our plans and slow us down. Dogs recognize distractions for what they really are – serendipitous encounters that bring us face-to-face with all the world has to offer. It’s often the unplanned moments that bring us the most joy. They deliver new insights, different perspectives, and more reasons to wag rather than bark.

So I promise to wag more, and I invite you to join me.