by Trisha Broach DVM
I have a cat named Toby. Most of the staff at the clinic would say he is an ill-tempered hellion. However, at home, I know him on a different level. Toby likes being by himself most of the day, but there are two times when he actively seeks me out. First thing in the morning as I sit down at the kitchen table with my freshly brewed cup of coffee and my morning devotionals before me, I feel a paw pat – either on my back or my lap. It’s Toby asking for permission to sit in my lap, and he hops up or waits for me to pick him up for a quick good morning rub down. He will stay there as long as the jealousy meter of my dog, Neo, doesn’t rise too high. If it does, the chase is on. Another time Toby needs attention is just before bedtime when I’m reading a book. So he’s the studious type, right? No, I don’t think anyone would put him in that category. He’s from the streets and seems to be in survival mode most of the time. But, I think he understands that in those two times of the day, I tend to become settled and quiet enough to really pay attention to him. Cats need a least one hour of attention per day for a bond to become really tight between them and their owner. I didn’t always know this, and when you think about it, that’s quite a bit of time, especially if you have more than one cat! There is one very interesting thing about Toby that he tends to do at night time. When he snuggles down to sleep, he always wants to lay his paw or head on my hand – intentionally. I think he sees my hand as a symbol of love and comfort because of how I pet him, scratch his ears or just stroke his fur, and he wants to be near that.
It reminds me that even in my job as a veterinarian, animals are watching my hands all the time to see what I will do with them. Do I use them in love and tenderness or will I use them in a frightening way. At our clinic, we see many pets that have anxiety just because they left their home. We understand that our behavior, including gestures when talking, has an effect on all animals that we come in contact with. We acknowledge the signs and talk quieter and move slower during the exam to help them relax. We also have pheromone diffusers in the clinic to help set pets at ease while they are here. It is a wise thing for everyone to observe and learn how we interact with our pets to make sure we are behaving in a loving and caring way. At home, never raise your hand in anger or in a threatening manner. The relationship with your pet will suffer.