How many parents teach their children to respect the cat and educate them on the basics of excellent cat caretaking? It is unusual for this to happen. In fact, I believe there is a wider parental obligation. Parents should teach their children about animals generally. I suspect the majority of mums and dads don’t know enough about cats. There is a paucity of knowledge to pass on to their children.
I would expect a good parent to teach their child how to handle the family cat and to supervise them when they are together. This probably happens reasonably often because it serves to protect the child but a parent could do more.
A significant percentage of all people in the West care for a companion animal. They are a major part of family life. Often a cat is described as a “family member”. Describing a companion animal in those terms leads me to believe that parents have an obligation to educate their children in the basics of excellent cat caretaking.
These could be the topics:
- Prioritize safety above all else except for the simple first requirement: to love your cat. From that, excellent cat caretaking flows naturally when added to a bit of knowledge. The whole cat should be loved including the claws and teeth.
- Respect the cat
- Treat your cat in the knowledge that he/she is living in a human world – a land of giants – and has feelings, desires, likes, dislikes, feels pain, can feel content and safe, can feel anxious and afraid etc.. A sentient being with equal rights to ours.
- Excellent cat caretaking doesn’t just happen, it requires commitment, experience and learning. Children should be aware of this.
- How to feed a cat properly.
- How to check for basic health issues.
- Be observant and don’t neglect or ignore your cat. Regular grooming is a great connector between cat and person if done tenderly.
- Play is a substitute for hunting and an innate desire and is therefore important.
- Neuter and spay and avoid any informal breeding.
- Adopt a cat from the unwanted ranks
The reason I am concerned about parents educating children about the cat is because when the opposite happens cat abuse can be perpetuated. Cat abuse within families is handed down, generation to generation.
Kids abusing cats is not uncommon. There are a number of distressing stories on PoC about children and teenagers getting a kick out of being cruel to a cat – in the UK read about Chester. These children weren’t taught to respect cats by their parents. The opposite may have happened. Parents who dislike cats may pass it on to their children informally. Bad parenting just happens. It is an act of neglect and thoughtlessness. Good parenting requires thoughtful and committed actions.
Nearly all problems regarding the domestic cat have their origin in human behaviour. We know that. The greatest cat problem is the large number of unwanted cats. This is directly attributable to a careless approach to cat ownership.
In order to make progress in the long term and break the cycle of cat abuse or neglect, I’d like to see a greater emphasis on parental skills being extended to educating children to respect the cat, and to understand the cat. At present there is very little if anything about this on the parenting websites. It is time for change.
A last point made by Ruth (see comment), schools could also do more. This is a photo of Martha Kane in Malta talking to school children about animal welfare. This is taking place in Malta. Not Europe or America.