Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Quick Aside About Animals

After the big news of this week, I want to remember a small observation.

There is so much writing about abused kids and how they sometimes torture animals as an expression of their rage and frustration - google "abused kids and animals" and you'll begin to see what I mean.

Unfortunately, there seems to be far less written about the opposite phenomenon: kids who have an intense love of animals that goes beyond the ordinary. We've now volunteered at a dog wash with T. and let him spend hours at our house with our cat and his connection to animals is astonishing to watch. His tenderness toward them is one of the first things that drew my attention to him. It's intense. He's a big gangly teenage boy, more than six feet tall. And he is so, so gentle with dogs and cats, like he's handling an infant of his own.

I told him yesterday about how mother cats lick their baby cats, especially on their heads and faces, and showed him our cat's favorite brush and how it mimics the way kittens are groomed. And not two minutes later, I came back in the room and he very gently brushing her all around the face. I asked him if he could hear her purring and he said no, and I pointed it out to him and he looked amazed. We let the cat on the table while we're eating, which I'm quite sure has not been the case in any of the foster homes he's been in. And he loves it - she lies in front of him and he puts his face down to hers and they watch each other.

I had a friend with a similarly intense instinct to care for animals, and she had also been mistreated as a kid - her mom tried to drown her in a toilet when she was 3. She was very tough, but utterly devoted to dogs and cats and eventually made a career of it at the SPCA.

Whatever the connection is, it seems deeply instinctive and healing. There is definitely a nonverbal and pre-linguistic aspect of it. Watching T. it is as if he is giving the care that he probably did not receive in his first years. That sounds simplistic and I'm not an expert, but it looks exactly like a new parent with a small infant. It seems like he's intensely aware of how small and defenseless the cat is, and that makes him very very solemn and careful. I also imagine that for foster kids, having a pet is part of the fantasy of adoption - when you get moved around all the time, without any warning, you can't have a dog or a cat. That privilege belongs to kids with homes.

In any event, T.'s interaction with animals is beautiful to watch.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Your post made me cry. I've made the same observations about close family members who have been abused but never made the same connections you did. A friend told me that while people have hurt him intentionally, animals have not (occasional cat scratch aside). And that animals are often defenseless and yet are abused at times by humans. He said he usually likes animals more than people because they are clear about how they feel. And since I have a cute, sleepy cat on my lap, I get that.

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