I have a distant memory of an English teacher — maybe in high school, maybe in middle school — saying, while we were discussing a short story, that you could get a good sense of how a person treats other people from the way he treats animals. So, if a character hurt or neglected his dog, for example, chances were he wasn’t a very nice person.
I really hope this rule doesn’t apply to children.
I mean, I know that if a kid purposely, methodically hurts or tortures animals, it’s not a good sign. (Watchers of Dexter, for example, may recall that as a child, the charming serial killer liked to dabble in killing animals.)
But I’m hoping that the fact that Elsa can be a real jerk to our cat from time to time doesn’t indicate that she is a sociopath.
Our poor cat is on her last legs. She’s fourteen years old, and has gotten very skinny. She vomits a lot and sometimes pees places she shouldn’t. I don’t think she’s long for this world. But Elsa really, really wants to play with her and pick her up — as she has ever since she was a baby — and she has a hard time doing it gently, despite how many times we try to instruct her.
And sometimes she does things to the cat that make us really, really angry. This morning, for example, she pulled up her tail and twirled her on her front legs.
“Look! I’m dancing at a ball with the cat!” she laughed.
I was horrified, and lunged toward her and pulled her away from the poor cat, saying, “Elsa! No! You can’t do that! You can never pull a cat’s tail like that! It hurts her!” (The cat, to her credit, had actually been remarkably calm about the whole thing. Or maybe just resigned.)
Elsa, frightened, immediately broke down in tears, saying that I scared her, and it was by accident, etc. etc. I know she wasn’t trying to be cruel; she was just trying to play. But her total lack of empathy for the cat is disturbing at times, and hard not to feel genuinely angry about. Along similar lines, it was hard not to feel angry when she used to whack, poke or push Clio (or other kids) out of the blue, and laugh gleefully, thinking it was good fun.
We frequently call her “puppy” because in many ways she seems like one. She likes to play rough and tumble. She’s sometimes not really aware of her body, or her own strength. She gets wound up easily.
She’s in heaven, actually, when we’re down at Alastair’s parents’ house, and she can play with their two golden retrievers. She’ll frequently go in the back yard and just hang out with them, throw balls and sticks for them, etc. She loves to give them their food, and calls them her “buddies.” Although she doesn’t show what I’d call actual tenderness for them. Just a frat-boy-ish sort of companionship and playfulness.
And at least they’re big enough that she can’t hurt them. They’re also remarkably patient — not to mention playful and rough-and-tumble themselves. But she’s a lot bigger and stronger than our poor old kitty. And I wish she had the emotional maturity to be a little bit kinder.
You know, Alastair and I have been talking lately about the fact that if Elsa were a boy, some of her behaviors — her roughness, her physicality, her occasional hyperness — we wouldn’t even give a second thought to. I mean, we’d still try to manage the behaviors, and they’d still bother us. But maybe not quite as much.
I suspect that goes for her treatment of the cat, too. (Maybe?)
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