Lately we are seeing quite a lot on the internet about the “cat whisperer”. We are also seeing explanations on what it means. I can understand why. The term must have come from the book “The Horse Whisperer” by Nicholas Evans that was turned into a film, directed by and starring Robert Redford. I have seen the film but not read the book.
Starting, then, with the horse, in a literal sense the term must have originated in the fact that the horse whisperer speaks gently to the horse while being physically close to the horse – whispering to the horse if you like. The training style is gentle, the opposite to the old style concept of “breaking” a horse that we are used to seeing in Hollywood westerns. A classic film in which this occurs is “The Big Country”, a 1958 American Western film directed by William Wyler and starring, amongst others, Gregory Peck.
The term “horse whisperer’ was around before the book but the book and the film made it mainstream. The horse whisperer has the ability to understand the horse, get into the mind of the horse, generate a high level of mutual trust between horse and human and thereby get the horse to do things that suit the person – i.e. train the horse while at the same time developing the horse’s confidence and potential.
The thread that runs through this is a mutual respect and understanding combined with a deep empathy between animal and person. The same applies to the cat whisperer.
The above photo is by Giane Portal; Flickr name is fofurasfelinas. The cat is Sakura. It is published under a creative commons license.
I am sure that many of the regular visitors to PoC could be called cat whisperers. They almost certainly don’t think about it. In truth the term can be a slightly over hyped. It is modern marketable concept. Some cat behaviorists call themselves a cat whisperer. What they are advertising is their skill in being able to understand the cat and communicate with it to rectify perceived behavioral problems.
What, then, is a cat whisperer? I have not seen a definition and there is none. It is a highly flexible term. My answer would be that a cat whisperer is a person who can improve a cat’s relationship with its human caretaker through understanding the cat, building the cat’s confidence, then training suitable responses from the cat that are in harmony with the day to day activities in a human being’s home. They will also take care of the human side of the relationship. In fact this is the more important side as the cat is instinctively reactive to the environment that the human cat caretaker creates.
Their work does not usually or will hardly ever involve actually whispering to a cat. Although speaking softly is de rigeur. This is not rocket science and neither is the art/science of cat whispering. The concept on gentleness towards the cat is a sign of respect for the cat.
Who can be a cat whisperer? Anyone who has the sensitivity and intelligence to respect the cat and as a result to understand the cat. Such a person will, in fact, have a sensitivity towards all animals. A cat whisperer could also be a horse whisperer and vice versa.
I suspect and expect that professional cat whisperers are also trained animal behaviorists. The latter is superimposed on the former. This makes for a very professional person who is well placed to sort out perceived cat behavior problems.
At this juncture I would like to add that in my view a lot of perceived cat behavior problems are in fact human behavior problems coupled with misplaced expectations. I would expect that a good cat whisperer would be able to dissect out the human problem from the cat problem and tackle the human issues first. I am sure that this happens often (since writing this paragraph, Gloria has provided answers to my questions – see below).
One last point. Where there is mutual understanding between cat and person there takes place a sort of mutual training too. Cats do train people at the same time a person trains a cat. For example, let’s say you want to get your cat to jump on to the bed to be combed. You might have learned that holding a comb up and calling your cat’s name does the trick. Your cat has trained you to do that.
This is a very short and to the point interview with Gloria Jean. I am very grateful to Gloria for agreeing to provide answers to four questions that I put to her. Her website is Gloria Jean – Cat Whisperer. I would recommend that you visit it.
1. What personal qualities does a person need to be a cat whisperer?
A cat whisperer realizes that they do not own a cat. Their relationship with cats is based on understanding and soft control rather than hard control. Soft control comes through love, compassion, understanding and empathy. You must respect the cat, but you must also demand respect from the cat.
2. Using a typical example, what does a cat whisperer do?
A cat who comes to me asking for a home, is either adopted or I find a home for them. I don’t accept cats or kittens from people trying to get rid of them. I do not run a cat shelter. The cats come to me on their own. I don’t seek out cats as a pets. If they are looking for a home, I invite them to live with me or I find a proper home for them. If they stay, I provide food, shots and medical care for them, including spay and neutering. If I find a home for them I have the person sign a contract that they will care for and feed the cat and promise never to have them declawed which would rob them of their ability to defend themselves. I have worked with “problem kittens” who are playing too rough and are about to be declawed for their acts, and I can solve the problem over night, or in a week at the most, but often, when they return to their home, they resume their bad habits because of wrong handling and human’s wrong habits and attitudes towards cats. Most people don’t usually take my advice seriously. In the past, I have worked as a private investigator for missing cats and I also advise people who have lost their cat how to look for them.
3. What is the success rate of a cat whisperer?
When working as a pet investigator, my success rate for finding lost cats was 100% but I only had a total of 12 cases. My success rate for problem kittens if I keep/adopt the kitten, is 98% . It is 40% if they go back to the previous people they were with.
4. How often is “the problem” that you are called upon to solve, a human problem; meaning wrong expectations and treatment of the cat?
Almost all the time but there are exceptions…