What questions do you ask your pets?
This is the one I asked Delilah today… “is emotion a weakness?” She blinked lovingly and did not reply. I only asked because I’m reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I keep feeling confused by his talk of highly emotional intelligent people doing better than their opposites, regardless of IQ. When I thought about it, I identified a deeply rooted part of me objecting, “if they’re emotional, they’re not going to do too well, are they? How can they be doing well?”
I have to bat it away with, “he’s not saying that they have tantrums all over the place; he’s saying that they don’t, even when they want to.”
Perhaps it’s the word ’emotional’ I’m having trouble with, rather than the concept.
To link back to where I started…
Delilah is the more warm-natured of my two cats. If you remember, I chose Samson first, an older playmate of hers at their old house. Delilah came a few days later in an effort to coax him out from behind the desk… it worked very well.
It took Samson a long time to get used to us even then. He would come up for some attention, (purr purr), and loved being petted, but when you reached out your hand to him, his eyes widened in horror and he ducked back. It was as though he was fluctuating between two views of his situation: he liked comfort and attention, but on the other hand, just look at who was giving it… these huge bipedal monsters who could rend him limb from limb!
He is very affectionate and loving, and comes more and more often for attention, and flinches less and less… but I said to Mum how even his tail feels like a coiled spring. Delilah sags softly in your arms, and Samson is all muscle, tension and barely damped-down suspicion. We stepped in through the front door after I said that, and Delilah was just inside, draped lazily in a cat hammock. I said to Delilah “hello Squidgy.” Samson came galloping up, his tail vibrating vertically, and Mum said “Squishy and Springy.”
The cats have got a handle on me and how I might react to any given situation. When they are happily torturing flies, for instance, I will allow those poor bewildered insects to escape out the window. They can guess how I might react when they come in with a flapping bird.
That is what Samson did yesterday… he scooped up one of those overly-trusting baby blackbirds and brought it in to show Delilah. The cats saw me looking, and realized their fun was about to end. Samson darted away, growling, but I cornered him and got my hands round his jaws, which were clamped like a steel trap on the bird.
I’m aware that emotion, pain etc would cause the most loving pet to turn on you, and Samson is the more highly strung of the two cats. There’s a greater chance he would get angry or scared and go a little out of his mind with it. I usually get a bird away by manipulating the cat’s jaw and he’ll drop it, but Samson held on grimly. So I put my hand in his mouth.
I never put my fingers in a cat’s mouth, no matter how much I love or trust that cat. But there was a part of me that said I would be a coward if I left the bird to be crushed. What’s a hand compared to a whole body? I knew I would probably get bitten but decided I would just have to accept it.
I could feel his teeth pressing hard on my fingers, and he was angry, lashing his tail… then he let go and fell away, leaving me with the bird.
It died – though not right away. It looked up at me with slowly dulling eyes, and chirped more and more weakly. There was blood on my fingers and I thought I would find cuts… there was a small nick on my ring finger, but apart from that I was unscathed.
I’m still surprised at myself – I generally have a healthy respect for the weaponry of even the kindest of cats.
The next time Samson approached me, glancing sideways at my face with caution and slight resentment, I felt a wash of love for him. I was impressed that he didn’t bite me when he could have and was angry enough to. It seems to have bonded us a bit more, and today he came and slept on my lap, which has not been a habit of his. Maybe he has more emotional intelligence than I credited him with, though I’m not too sure about mine…