Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Swipes, Scratches and Bites

I often wonder how other parents manage the baby/animal interface. A typical baby/cat encounter in our house goes roughly as follows. Cat finds a quiet place to lie down. Baby spots cat (cue pointing and cries of "Dada dada"). Baby crawls towards cat. Baby prods cat in face. Cat looks annoyed. Baby pokes face again then strokes hair. Cat looks more annoyed. Baby grabs handful of fur. Cat raises paw threateningly. Baby pulls fur. Cat places paws (claws out) on either side of baby's head and menacingly approaches baby's face with teeth bared, remembers that this scenario has previously concluded with the delivery of quite a hard kick from the mother of said baby, and runs away.

I do my best to prevent Cave Baby from tormenting our cat, but short of banning the cat from the house, there is not a whole lot I can do to keep them apart. Besides, the cat seems to actually gravitate towards the baby. It must be her sadist streak. Or, rather more sadly, it may be her attempt to get attention from the humans who have neglected her for the year in favour of their precious baby.

Well, actually, maybe I could try harder to keep them apart. But I am not an over-protective sort of person and I kind of think that learning to deal with our vicious cat won't do Cave Baby any harm. Granted, she has had quite a few scratches so far. But on the positive side, she is learning to respect animals and she's maybe learning a little lesson about the world not being completely fluffy and cute and nice.

So I probably could do a little bit more to keep them apart, but I'm trying to let them sort it out themselves and I'm hoping that eventually they will reach a state of mutual respect and understanding.

What I want to know is, do other people have this problem with their cats and dogs (or whatever other creatures you have running around your house)? How do you deal with it?


Mel said...

I'm a firm believer in teaching proper respect for animals...

I think you're doing the right thing in letting them sort it out between them...provided there's no risk of severe injury to either party.

I work part-time in a Cat Hospital and I can't tell you how many people suddenly want their 4 year old cat declawed 'because of the baby'. ARGH! How about showing the baby what's acceptable and what isn't...or letting baby find that out herself...

Our kids have grown up with cats and dogs and are very well-versed in what is appropriate and what isn't...affording their four-legged siblings the same dignity and respect that they enjoy.

Noble Savage said...

Same story here. I'm taking your approach and just letting them work it out between them with just a little interference from me when things get out of hand. Like the time TNC put our kitty in the washing machine (it didn't get shut or turned on, she just sat in there) or tried to put a dress on her. That's when I have to save the poor creature.

carol b said...

We just have chickens, which Scarlett has always fed with me, collected apples for, she knows the weeds go to them. All great for teaching her respect for animals.And she loves having them peck her toes!

I sometimes wish we had a dog because she is very fearful of them, especially stronger/bigger breeds. Having been butted twice by a staffy that was trying to assert its authority over her she is very wary.
I always acknowledge her fear, make sure she knows I'm taking it seriously, and reassure her.

If she'd had close contact with a dog from early on I'm sure she would not be afraid now.

I grew up with a cat from when I was born, tugged it fur, pulled its tail. He eventually learned to walk away, and I eventually learned how to be gentle with him.
I'm sure you are doing the right thing allowing them to learn together.

Lisa - edenwild said...

lol, your post made me laugh. Our cats have been neglected, too. The more social one lets our little one poke at him (the other cat just runs away if he bothers her). He gets annoyed, too. I always remind BOTH of them to be nice. If the cat swipes, he gets sent to his room (locked up in the laundry room). They are both learning. I should keep the cats' claws trimmed, but I am lazy and don't do it as often as I should. Of course, it is also important to model the appropriate behavior, so you need to be nice to the cat, too.

Earthenwitch said...

We have two cats, one who is bitey and swipey, and one who is very tolerant. The tiny daughter seems to have learned that one, Pye, is worth approaching, albeit cautiously, while the other, despite his ample furriness, is best approached only with a parent. We have tried not to be too overprotective about them, though, because we don't want to shut the cats out, and we do want her to learn about animals and so on. It's tricky, though, isn't it? I completely agree on the possible jealousy, as well - ours love to come and attempt to sit on both me and the daughter when I sit down to feed her if they're around...

Liz said...

I was always more protective of the cats than the baby as it seemed to me that cats were in more danger! From when our kids were tiny we taught them 'stroke, don't poke' and showed them how to stroke the cats nicely. Our cats (one died when DD was small) were always very tolerant and the only cat we have now always comes and climbs on our kids' laps. Neither of our cats ever scratched or bit despite some provocation at times, but I was always firm about teaching respect for animals, and how to treat them properly.

docwitch said...

We had two cats when our girl came alone, (one has recently died of old age), and one of them was extremely disgruntled about the whole baby thing, and would take to his heels at the sight of her. Poor old guy nearly left home.

The other is tolerant to the point of stupidity, and she was around my girl from day one, just hanging out with us, (she just adores that cat and they are now great friends and sleep together nearly every night). But having such a gentle, rag-dollish cat was meant I was able to teach my girl to be gentle with animals, and she understood the concept of "soft" pretty early thanks in part to having cats around. In fact, it meant that my concern was always more for the cats than the baby.

It can depend on the personalities of all involved too don't you think? I had one as a small child that gave as good as he got. It sounds as though your cat delivers firm warnings without getting too serious about it.

It's interesting being around children who haven't had animals in their homes. They can often be fearful of them, or um, overly enthusiastic towards them.

Cave said...

Mel - I agree that declawing cats is just wrong, wrong, wrong. With all the cats that live near us, sending ours out without claws would be like sending a soldier out into a warzone without any weapons.

I'm glad I didn't get any comments that said how irresponsible I was letting the baby anywhere near the cat! Our cat is what we call "feisty" but she's never done any serious harm...(touch wood). Glad everyone's in agreement with the "let them sort it out" approach - if you've been there, done it, and it worked, that's good enough for me.

Jessica said...

We have two cats. One is amazing with my son, the other hates him. We're trying to get rid of one, can you guess which?

And it's not just because she hates my toddler, it's because she's NASTY about it. Growling, threatening, etc. No playful, aunt-like reactions to a sweet, clueless baby "cat." She's all menace right away.

And I think she's pretty miserable. After TWO YEARS together she still hisses and runs away from him. She needs a home with no kids, period. If she were cooler, like my other cat who does knock my son around on occasion, but justly so, I'd be happy to keep her.

Know anyone who would want her?? haha

I also had a dog who knew just what to do with an overzealous baby, too. In that case, I think it's great to let them work it out on their own.

{Funny how several commenters are in my boat with one good/one bad cat.}

Hobo Mama said...

Ah, the baby and the cat. Our cat is so social that she just won't stay away from us, and since Mikko is always present, she therefore is always around him. There was much tension in the early mobile days when he first got his hands on her, but I'm also of the opinion that they need to work it out, within reason, between themselves. Cat needs to learn that baby's here to stay, and baby needs to learn that cat won't stay put if fur is grabbed or eyes are poked (a favorite). I've just used every encounter as an opportunity to demonstrate how to properly treat a cat: "soft, soft, flat hand," I say, showing how to stroke her back.

The other day, Mikko and the cat were both on my lap, and Mrs. Pim was facing away from us while I was petting her. Mikko reached out and did his own gentle stroke and then froze, waiting for the usual reaction of startled yelp, a fake and/or real swipe, and running away, and...nothing happened. He looked at me with a big, surprised grin on his face. So I figure — there's hope. Barring unmanageable aggression on either end (not the case with our cat or boy), they'll learn how to be around each other eventually.

I was talking about the first cat I remember from childhood with my parents and how I loved it, and my mom looked at me funny and said, "You hated that cat. She was always scratching you." So, there you go — maybe kids don't have that long of a grudge memory against pets. :)

P.S. We always tell people Mikko's scratches are his dueling scars. Makes him seem more intriguing.

Cave Mother said...

Hobomama - my parents tell me how I used to get scratched by our cat when I was a baby, and ho I tried to retaliate by dropping a tin of sweetcorn on its head... but I loved it so much later on. So I'm hoping, like you, that the same thing happens for Cave Baby and our moggy.