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Lessons from a Cat

On our walk this morning, my dogs and I encountered an orange tabby cat seated casually on the sidewalk along our usual early morning route. She sat at attention but calm, holding eye contact as intently as her position. As we approached, the fervor of the two puppies increased and I held them back as I verbally encouraged her to move.

We paused some twenty feet back and I fully expected her to run off. She did not. We took a few steps forward, the dogs lunging on their leases, tails wagging and excitement growing. The cat raised up, arching her back, but took no steps away from her preselected spot. I paused, imploring her once again to move aside – she held cat pose, embodying it and her space perfectly.

Recognizing the possibility of walking past without an altercation among the furry trio was minimal, given the immature manners of two five-month old puppies, I decided to turn around and take a different side street. As I did, I muttered to myself, “crazy cat,” and almost as automatically asked myself why what the cat did was in any way crazy.

Why should she yield from her spot? A public sidewalk is just that – publicly available to all, and this may very well be the sidewalk directly associated with her home.

Why should the unpredictability of my dogs require that the cat make accommodation? The cat herself was immaculately composed and was in no way threatening us, though she made it clear she was not fearful of our presence and remained entirely uninterested in the antics being displayed.

Most powerful was her eye contact and elegant posture – she never looked away. She unapologetically held her own space and, in so doing, invited the three of us to pause and reflect.

My muttering shifted from admonishment to admiration as I saw in this encounter as a demonstration of engaging from a place of realized worthiness. Of the power in holding position. Of the capacity to be steady and sure in the face of chaos. Of placing responsibility for better behavior on the one out of control. Of not expecting others to give way or excuse said behavior and living that by example.

I know there is much work to be done in training our dogs and we are working on it, but in the process, the onus is on them, and on me as their teacher, to ensure that we do not infringe on the safety and comfort of others. That any wide berths needed are to be taken by us, not expected of others. That we acknowledge the gap in our skillset and, while working to fill it, there is not exploitation or expectation of others to make easier our course. That there is no problem with learning and the process of maturation can be embraced but should be done so in a thoughtful way with heightened awareness of the impact on our surroundings.

As for the cat, I will carry with me the image of her steady gaze, her surety in staying, her neutral engagement and hold gratitude for the demonstration of worthiness from the face of a feline.

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