Can cats really be helped in an unfriendly Internet? Always smile from the wrists down.

Kitten in Cage
Photo credit: Flickr User Ole Martin Bjørnli Günther
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

When frustrated cat owners want to know how to deal with their cat’s “bad behavior”, or try to learn more about their kitty’s health; to get their questions answered many people frequently turn to the Internet to take advantage of the information available on the superabundance of websites, blogs and interactive message boards created for this purpose.

The Internet is also a great place for people to visit to find and join specialized support groups which have been created for folks whose cats have specific medical conditions. It’s in these groups where they are able to share the latest information and ideas. In fact, I have recently joined several of these groups since our two senior cats are now dealing with some serious medical issues.

Most folks I have encountered during my journeys through cyber-space have been extremely caring and supportive. This said, there have been times when I have visited certain message boards, which caused me to be simply appalled with some of the insensitive responses that some people must have felt obligated to share. When the Internet becomes unfriendly and judgmental, the necessary compassionate help goes to Hell in a Hand basket instead.

Now I want to be perfectly clear that I am by no means an angel. There are times when I am reading comments where I can actually feel my blood boiling and I start fantasizing about taking a virtual two-by-four and slamming the commenter upside the head. But over the years with great difficulty, I have learned that I need to find a way to extricate myself from such strong negative emotional reactions. If I truly want to be of assistance; the expression, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is right on the money.

What is it that makes us often quickly react in anger when we run across questions asked by people who are truly ignorant about, as an example, feline nutrition or behavior? I had a hissy fit while reading a post – almost like a reflex – from someone who was punishing her kitten by locking him in his cage whenever his behavior was “unacceptable” to her. She assumed he understood that he was being chastised because he looked so sad and sorrowful while sitting forlornly in his cage. She would open the door once she felt sufficiently sorry for him.

What really got me going was her technique for dealing with his “bad” behavior, and the manner in which she seemed to crow about it. Yes, it was time for me to “smile from the wrists down” and rather than clobber her over the head, try to educate her kindly about how poorly cats react to punishment. Due to her ignorance, she obviously thought she was doing the right thing.

After I centered myself, I responded to her in part by saying,

“In the many years I have lived with kitties, I have learned that cats don’t respond at all well to “punishment”- and I actually think that “punishment” doesn’t serve well for any animal. Instead, cats do respond beautifully to positive reinforcement. Cats are very smart and can learn things quite easily if taught with understanding, patience and compassion….Your kitten has no idea that he is being ‘bad’. He is just doing young cat/kitten things and having a blast. So if you put him in a cage and make him sit in it – he doesn’t understand what is going on. Of course, he feels sad and is very, very confused by his “imprisonment.”

So when we run across these questions and comments, do we agitate or try to educate? We who are knowledgeable about felines have so much to offer folks who are new to cats, or who have been brought up with kitties in less than favorable feline situations. We can make a huge difference in helping cats if we can learn to step back from what is often a normal reaction when we feel that a kitty is not getting the best of care – especially from those folks who we feel really don’t know better. We must be that “friendly and inviting Internet connection”.

What is generally your first reaction when you run across an ignorant cat owner’s questions or comments? What has worked for you that makes an outcome that’s positive? Please share your experiences in a comment.

21 thoughts on “Can cats really be helped in an unfriendly Internet? Always smile from the wrists down.”

  1. For once jmuhj and I agree 100%. But I would do it to ANY person so eat up with “STUPID”. I have to admit that when I hear stories of people who punish, (which IMO is slang for abuse)any animal, I immediately want to do the same thing to them that they did to the animal who is the victim. I better quit before I get kicked off this site.

  2. It’s not just trolls who post nasty comments.

    Myself and my cats have been called “vermin” by some Americans, because I as a Brit allow my cats to go outside if they want to.

    • Yes we’re seen as evil incarnate for allowing our cats to live natural lives and enjoy their freedom by the very people who take everything from cats yet still think they are in a position to criticise us, not content with taking their freedom they also take their claws and try to make them into little animate furry ornaments that have to live by the rules or get dumped. Sorry but if I come across ignorance and cruelty on the Net where cats are concerned I tell it like it is from the wrists down, and not very often with a smile.

      • Babz what you say is very true. They don’t understand the irony of “protecting” their cats from outdoor risks, whilst paying someone to butcher their feet!

        At least any misfortune which may befall a cat outside is usually accidental and not the deliberate act of animal cruelty that declawing is.

        • While I agree 100% with you both on the subject of onychectomy (sp.?) or declawing, for the samre reasons, I will just gently point out that sociopathy and cruelty ARE on the rise not only in the usa but also in UK. There is, for instance, a rash of disappearances of cats in and around Ipswich which is very suspicious. And, a dear friend and fellow cat (and other animal species) lover has had two beloved cats disappear from outside her home; this happened years ago and I’m sure we’ll never know what happened, but again, as with human kids, when I am responsible for the wellbeing of cats in my care, whom I love dearly, I WILL do everything possible to keep them safe, and that means keeping them inside, away from sociopaths, vicious dogs, motor vehicles, parasites, harmful plants and substances, etc. They have lots of enrichment, lots of windows to look out, and lots of love. I do not feel guilty in the slightest; rather, the opposite.

          • Jmuhj: If your local environment makes it unsafe for a cat to go outside then it’s wise to keep them indoors. I’ve done so myself when I had concerns about local traffic whilst living in Cyprus.

            However in the UK, I’ve always been fortunate to live on fairly quiet streets where neighbours are cat-friendly. My last four cats all died of cancer or kidney disease, which coincidentally happen to be the two most common causes of death in cats over 5 years in the UK. (According to the RSPCA’s latest figures.)

            I am not in any way trivialising the potential dangers you list for cats, but you do realise that they (and many more) can equally apply to children? No-one would suggest keeping children under lock and key 24/7, despite the ever increasing number of them who go missing or are abducted each year. I love my cats and the decision to let them outside unsupervised is one which is very carefully considered beforehand. Like children, I want them to enjoy their lives to the full within relative safety.

            • Understand, and in no way was I directing comment directly AT you, Michael 😉 But yes, I do realize that, and that’s why, over here, people are hypervigilant over their kids. Being my responsibility as well as my beloved family, I would rather be safe than sorry — and I can’t imagine anyone losing a cat and ever being able to go on without regretting. I have lost cats outdoors either when I didn’t know better, or more recently, when we moved and thought this little guy was safe in our cat-fenced compound, but he somehow escaped. We put up signs, I put an ad in the paper, etc. He never did get back to us, and I will be haunted by this always. I like to think he was snagged by someone who is loving him now. I will always choose to believe that.

              • Yes terrible things happen to cats, dogs and kids outdoors and it is a constant anxiety when either of our two go out until they’re safely back, the best time of day is when it’s almost time for bed and they’re home, fed and the curtains drawn. But having said all that our cats enjoy their freedom, we have a big garden with a little tunnel in the fence for them to go out onto the path and waste ground beyond, and at the front although there is traffic being in a cul de sac the traffic has to slow down or run into a house! And the boys are clever, if they’re out that way and hear an engine they quickly come into the garden, plus we stand out there, in the middle of the road if necessary to make sure they’re safe. We researched this place well before we moved here and were as sure as we could be that it is cat friendly, you have to decide for yourself if it’s safe to let them out or not. Over the last 41 years we have had 9 cats, here and at our former home and we have been blessed never to lose one outdoors in all that time. I feel so strongly that cats should have as much freedom as we give ourselves, after all we enjoy sunshine and green grass don’t we, well so do they, that if I didn’t live somewhere where I could let my cats out I wouldn’t have cats.

          • I have changed my views on inside cats somewhat I have to admit. I have decided that in my case a major barrier to free-roaming is my emotional state. I couldn’t bear to lose my cat or allow him to be injured outside. I have lost one cat already on the road at a previous home. The lasting emotion which that experience created prevents me taking even small risks on my cat’s behalf.

            • My heartfelt condolences for your loss, Michael and family. I have lost two beloved cats to murderous dogs and this has definitely shaped my conviction that cats in my care will not go outside unless it is in a completely safe cat-fenced environment. When we lived in the desert, we built a large catio off our living room which was accessible via catdoor, and we had a 4-stall barn which we built out, with a cat-fenced compound, boatdeck carpeting, and climate control. It was a work in progress when my ex decided to divorce me. Here in the city, I would have to pull a permit to have a catio built, and cannot afford it. Lots of windows, perches, and tall cat furniture take the sting of being indoors away; and I know my loved ones are safe. It’s a compromise, but a good one, I think.

    • Michele, your comment made me remember what Ken Flick, Helmi Flick’s husband was like towards me when I wrote a short article many years ago about outside cats. He went into a tirade against me believing I was completely bonkers to allow it when I was simply arguing the case to let a cat go outside. I won’t go on because I might put myself into deep water but I fully understand where you are coming from in your comment.

    • Yes been there and done that and even had a death threat from an American who believed it was his right to mutilate his cat by the amputation of her toe ends if he wanted to.
      I can be nice, but if nice doesn’t work I have every right to be nasty because there’s nothing to lose then and everything to gain.
      ‘Smiling from the wrists down’ has let declawing go on for around 60 years so far, in all honesty I could punch the living daylights out of the people who even when they know the truth that it’s not ‘just’ the claws removed, think it’s still acceptable.

  3. I had never heard of the phrase “smile from the wrists down”. I find it a bit hard to understand. It must mean to smile with the hands so I guess it means using the hands in a nice way rather than using them to hit someone 😉 . I hope that is a correct interpretation.

    I thoroughly agree with the content of the article. We are, however, human beings and it can hard sometimes.

    Trolls should always be kicked! Or better still totally ignored.

    • AGREE 100%, Michael! Since we are dealing with innocent, blameless, and vulnerable living beings here, who are in the care — or the thrall — of far larger and stronger, and, one would hope, caring and intelligent beings, it is absolutely our duty to speak up for the cats. If it were children being threatened, the society is hypervigilant about abuse issues, real or imagined. Why should we be less responsible in speaking up and out for those who are even more vulnerable, innocent, and blameless? Sorry, Jo, but I must disagree with you here; in principle, what you say has merit, but in this extremely disturbed and violent society, we must protect those who need protection.

      • It might interest you to know that the older I have become the more I want to be violent or at least very tough against the mean and nasty people who hurt animals. I have less tolerance. And people who abuse me have to watch out because they’ll regret it.

        And I don’t care what others think. It is sad to say but sometimes violence is the best way because humans are not that well developed yet.

        • “VIOLENCE” per se is not something I like or want to see, but JUSTICE, that hackneyed, tired old term, IS DEFINITELY what I like and want to see. We are talking about someone innocent, vulnerable, blameless, and voiceless, giving unconditional loyalty and love and depending on humans for care, being betrayed by those humans. Again, if it were a human child, this society gets rabid about any real (or imagined, in many cases, IMHO) mistreatment to them by guardians or others; I say members of other species are far more vulnerable and far more in need of protection that human kids. They deserve it more, too, again IMHO. I have no apology for my feelings, as I believe they are the feelings any decent, kind, compassionate person would have.

          • If I did commit commit violence is would meet the highest ethical and moral standards 😉 .

            Seriously though, I totally agree with you. It is the vulnerability of animals living in what is often (but not always) a pretty harsh world for them and often made worse by humans, which gets me emotionally.


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo