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.