Morning Ritual. Exploring the human-animal bond



When my children were young, we played that game during thunderstorms. You know, the one where you see a bolt of lightning and start counting until you hear thunder. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. It made them feel safer to know that the storm was moving away.

Now that I have two high schoolers, I have created a variation of this game. On my days off from the veterinary hospital, I usually get the kids off to school, then I sit at the kitchen table to savor a hot cup of coffee. I lay down the magazine that I will be enjoying this morning, and I open it to the first page.

One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three---


I didn't know he was near! I didn't even know he was on this floor of the house! His name is Midnight, my youngest cat. A fabulous three year old black panther miniature, if a 16 pound house cat can be termed "miniature." He is king of the house, boss of my two older females. He won't tolerate being brushed, or having his nails trimmed, yet he is a momma's boy. He craves my attention like none of my other cats. No, he DEMANDS it.

I give up on reading the magazine and concentrate on petting Midnight and not getting cat hair in my coffee. Futile. After a few moments of petting he turns on my hand to let me knows he has had enough. I talk to him, have a one-sided conversation. He meets my gaze with half-closed green eyes. Yet still he lays there. On my magazine. Why do cats do this? Am I wasting my morning off? 

I have read that our relationships with our pets are valuable, and can even be beneficial to our physical and mental health. Dr James Griffin, a scientist at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is an expert in child development and behavior. He states, "When children are asked who they talk to when they get upset, a lot of times their first answer is their pet."  I talk to my pets constantly. And I'm sure I started young, but I will never outgrow it. 

Maybe there's some physical reason for why Midnight flattens himself on every magazine. But I'd like to suspect it's more than that. I think my cat is fascinating. I could watch him all day. I love staring at him, the way I used to stare at my children when they were young. Now they tell me it's creepy. But Midnight never says a word. He lets me watch and admire. He listens when I speak, his wise green eyes alluding to answers I already know. And when my attention strays to a silly human distraction like a magazine, he has his way of demanding it back. It's like stopping to smell the roses. I stroke his soft fur, confirm the rumble of his purr, and drink my coffee. The magazine can wait. 

   1.    National Institutes of Health. "Can Pets Keep you Healthy? Exploring the human- animal bond. 2/2009. Http://. Newsinhealth. Nih/2009/February/Feature1.htm