Animal Non-Grata
February 14, 2011 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How do you enjoy your pets? My interactions with my animals of late has been them asking for lots and me giving them lots but it doesn't seem like there's much in the other direction. How do you get past the gimme, gimme, gimme needs of your animals and just enjoy them?

We have two cats and one dog (and a baby). We got the cats first when they were kittens. Then came the dog from a rescue. Then came the baby (from the usual place). Not surprisingly, baby has taken top place in the hierarchy of needs but we have tried really hard to make sure the animals are also loved on, taken care of and don't feel neglected.

Recently, though, I just feel like all they want is to take (even the dog!) and I'm not feeling any of those benefits that animal owners are supposed to get. I'm the primary caregiver for the cats and the dog. I do most of the feeding and, at least for the dog, walking - on top of my other responsibilities for bebe, hubby, house, and job.

Am I focusing on the wrong stuff and not just relaxing enough to actually enjoy my pets or are they really furry little parasites that I must live with? Re-homing is not an option.
posted by Leezie to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well... what specifically are you expecting them to give you? What would it mean for them to give back?
posted by tel3path at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're in a similar situation. Our baby girl is 8 months old and naturally the role of our two cats has somewhat diminished. This is to be expected, because a baby takes up so much time and energy and such an important place in the hierarchy of the house that the animals will feel more like "gamma wolves" instead of the alpha or beta wolves they used to be. Do you feel like you enjoyed the pets and received love from them before your baby was born? Then I guess it's a matter of patience. Our cats can feel that I'm engaged in other activities and just take the attention they can get. One of our two cats even learned to enjoy the attention she gets from our baby! Good luck dividing your energy and love between different individuals!

posted by hz37 at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2011

Cats and dogs take different approaches to how they interact with people, for the most part (said the MONSTER trying to preclude a chorus of people pointing out their animals are not so), so you need to take different approaches to the way you deal with cats versus dogs.

Cats can provide companionship and a warm fluffy belly to rub your face in and go BLBLBLBLBLBLBLBLBBLBL and whatever other wonderful things a cat can provide, but they will only ever do it on their terms. Cats do not tolerate, if they can at all help it. There's a pretty good chance that your cats are not being affectionate because they have not really adjusted to the chaos of a house with a baby in it. Give it time.

So cats are companions, at best.

Dogs are pals.

Dogs fulfill the valuable role of reminding you that you should never take yourself too seriously, but if you don't seem all that excited about the world then maybe they'll be pretty chill too and won't take much initiative for fun times.

So a better question might be, what specifically are your expectations for your dog? That might help me answer better. Because if you've got a decent bond with the dog then you may find that all you need to do is posit to the dog that it is time to do a fun thing. Does the dog like chew toys? Wrestling? Fetching? Figure it out and do it.

I say this because my finding has been that if a dog is healthy and has no weird behavioral issues, and has a decent enough bond with its person, then its reaction to most things is going to be YAY (A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT IS HAPPENING OR JUST HAPPENED)!





So, you know. Figure out your expectations from the dog and go from there.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2011 [30 favorites]

I don't have kids but I hear this quite often from my friends who do. In their situation, the pets haven't changed, but new babies are just so demanding that it tips the scales and makes everything else seem like too much work too, even if you were fine with it previously. Maybe you can get a bit of help with the animals, whether it's your partner or a pet sitter who would walk them, feed them etc so you have a bit more time to enjoy the animals without viewing them as work. Judging by friends, if you leave it too long, they end up feeling like a burden. Not great for anyone.
posted by Jubey at 1:48 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Cats (and other animals, and, hell, some people, too) give love only by recieving it. If I scratch my cats behind their ears and they are happy for it, I get a vicarious happiness out of that. Or when I feed them and they're all, "Om, nom, nom, nom!" it also makes me happy. Or, for dog people, when they walk their dogs and dogs are super pumped to be going to the park, it makes them happy. And, for me, I enjoy it enough that I'm willing to clean litter boxes and furball/random vomit/knocked over stuff/etc.

That's why people have pets. Do you notice these things? Do you take pleasure in seeing them? If not, then they will probably forever be furry parasites. Still, be nice to them, because they can't help be themselves and you've taken responsibility for their well-being.
posted by Kurichina at 1:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, I'm confused, too... what is it, specifically, you had expected to receive from your animals that you're not getting? That will help people give you more practical answers, either in terms of your expectations (which may be unrealistic) or for practical pointers for ways to (re)engage with your animals now that you have a baby in the household.
posted by scody at 1:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since the baby's a recent addition, and babies are all take, take, take for a long time, could it be you're just overloaded with responsibility for a bunch of living things?

I know stress changes how I view my cat's affection. If he sits on my lap while I'm just hanging out, I'll think "Yay! The cat loves me!" If he sits on my lap when I'm trying to work, I'll think "why are you so needy, damn cat?"

Can you get someone to help out with the feeding and walking and cleaning of either baby or critters?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Good questions about what exactly I'm expecting to get from them.

It's certainly not dinner and wine, but more of the spontaneous coming up to me because they want to snuggle love. Our cats are like most cats meaning they are independent and have staff (us). But, maybe it's just my revisionist history recollection, they seemed to be more affectionate before the baby arrived. We're very fortunate that they tolerate the baby and have not started inapprorpriate behaviors as a way of expressing their vote against the new addition. But, I was kind of hoping that things would stay the same.
posted by Leezie at 1:55 PM on February 14, 2011

I can't comment on cats, but I'd say different dogs 'give back' in different ways. My childhood dog would always come find me and snuggle with me if I was crying, which was nice. My current dog could not give a fuck if I was curled in a ball sobbing on the ground. This annoyed me at first, as I recently went through a tough breakup with Current Dog as my main source of comfort. But what I realized about her is that she is more along the lines of what FAMOUS MONSTER said: she takes such an insane amount of joy in the little things in life that she puts a smile on my face, even if she is a little selfish. For instance, now that it's suddenly become warm in Chicago, she has a noticeable spring in her step when I walk her and her tail is wagging like it's about to fly off. It's excellent. My first dog was really never like that. It took me a few years to really, truly bond with my current dog- you didn't say how long you've had the pets specifically, but I think they will grow on you as their personalities become more familiar (and hilarious.)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 1:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Having transitioned from being a dog person for most of my life to being a cat person (although of course I still love dogs) in the past few years, I've learned to really appreciate the little moments of affection I actually do get from my cats. Most of my interaction with them is somewhere along the lines of, "Why won't you let me pet you? Come here, I just want to scritch you behind the ears! I love you so much BUT YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO BAD!"

So when they actually do curl up and go to sleep leaning up against my ankles of my own volition, it's like Christmas.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Of their own volition. Damn it.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2011

Well, you've got four creatures that would die if you didn't feed them. (Yes, I realize the cats and dogs could forage on their own in the wilderness, but they can't in your kitchen.) So you have the life and death of four beings dependent entirely on you. Who wouldn't be stressed by that?

It sounds like the big problem here is that your husband isn't doing his fair share. I think you need to sit down and talk about responsibilities and how to share them more equally. If you're breast feeding and he can't physically take on the baby feedings, then he needs to take responsibility for the pets for a certain number of months, until things have changed a little and then you can re-balance things.

I think this sentence:
I do most of the feeding and, at least for the dog, walking - on top of my other responsibilities for bebe, hubby, house, and job.
is what you really need to focus on here.
posted by MsMolly at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with MsMolly, and the fact that you say they've changed since the baby arrived... well... I wonder if it's you that's changed and they're responding with their version of sensitivity to your being overloaded?
posted by tel3path at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you let the cats sleep with you at night? This is one of the major things I get back from my cats. They are fantastic bed-warmers and comfort-providers.

Mine also tend to establish patterns. They have a way of letting me know they want to be petted/play/be fed, etc, often in a particular place. I can often get them to join me in an activity simply by going over to the designated Activity Spot and calling them. If you pay attention to their behavior, you might notice such patterns in your own cats' lives, and then they might become more fun. You could even try clicker training, which is sort of the same concept writ large.

I disagree with cats (and other animals, and, hell, some people, too) give love only by receiving it -- it is possible to develop extremely deep and loving bonds with cats, and many cats are more than happy to initiate affection. The head-bump, for example, is something I get from my cats even when they don't want anything in particular. But you do have to give a lot of love to get there; it's a give and take, and cats, not having read Dan Savage, are not particularly GGG.
posted by vorfeed at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, boyJamaro was born into a household of 3 elderly cats and 2 middle-aged dogs. The cats never cared much for the concept of NewBaby and would only approach me when I was alone. One formerly stand-offish dog turned herself into Nana overnight; the other dog (who was Child#1) became elusive and wary until boyJamaro started raining semi-soft foods down on his head from a highchair. After that, he switched his affections that little furry ingrate.

So, bringing a baby home can definitely impact pets' behavior but I suspect much of how you are feeling isn't really about your pets. It's about how you're feeling like you are carrying too big of a load. Talk with the SO about your feelings and see if there's a better way to handle a more equitable distribution of duties (for example, unless he's out at sea for months on end, I fail to see why he isn't walking the dog).
posted by jamaro at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

You know how when you're scratching behind a kitty's ear or neck and it leans in and rolls its head towards you so you can scratch it better? That is kitty's way of showing you how much it appreciates you. Kitty is saying:

"you want to scratch my neck and ears? ok. oooh, that's niiiice. here, let me kindly help you give me some better lovins. look how much i'm helping you massage me, I am such an awesome nice kitty."

It's not personal. That's just how cats roll. Their expression of love is letting you love them.
posted by raztaj at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am home sick today, and my dog has spent the entire day cuddled up with me. He went out once and then ran back in and dived under the covers.

What I love about my dog is that he gives his love so freely, never complains, and--perhaps best of all--doesn't need a babysitter if I leave him in the house alone for a few hours.

How old is your baby? I suspect this will get better as your baby gets older.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a dog and a cat, and before I had a child I enjoyed them immensely. Since becoming a parent (and going on two years of nursing now), I'm frequently too "touched-out" to want to snuggle any more licky little beasts.

You're right- all they want to do *is* take. But when you don't have children, there is a lot of joy to be had in the constant giving. So, that's what you get out of your pets. The joy of giving love, affection and care. When you're maxed out on the giving and the care and the life-sustaining though, like when kids enter the picture, relationships with animals can be a lot less rewarding. Which is okay, you know, because they're family, and children aren't small forever.

At least, this is how it is for me. I'm constantly like "please EVERYONE get off my lap whaaa-whaaa bodily autonomy!"
posted by pajamazon at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

You said you want you cats to show affection by coming up to you. However, you have changed. Chances are your hands are often carrying a baby, or otherwise preoccupied with the baby. The baby is a different person, smells different, acts different, and does not have the capability yet to serve them. :) The baby is another person the cats have not yet adapted to, something they don't yet trust, and IMHO, they are acting accordingly. I don't have kids, but I do have cats, and 2 of my 3 don't trust most people in general, and I can't imagine them liking in the least having another new little person around that, to them, serves no purpose whatsoever.
posted by cgg at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bet your pets are just as tired and stressed out as you are... If your baby wakes you up crying, your pets also wake up. If you're running around during the day doing stuff your pets are "working" keeping track of where you are. Especially if you were out of the house or quiet before, that's a huge new "job" for them. Doesn't really help you get more affection from them, but maybe it'll make you feel better if you think about it that way.
posted by anaelith at 2:36 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like part of the problem is that you're the primary caregiver for the animals (and baby?), and might be needing some help in that department. If someone else were to feed/walk/whatever them a couple days a week it would give you some time to just appreciate them. Ask around your neighborhood for a kid who would be willing to walk the dog for a couple bucks a few times a week.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Leezie, I felt exactly the same way when my daughter was born. A lot of things that used to be fun just became chores, even things like visiting friends or going to a movie or sex. And cleaning the cat box and feeding the cat and going out to buy cat food? Damn straight it was all a huge pain in the ass, and for what? A cat that wouldn't even give me the time of day? Humph!

But, it got better. One of the things you have to look forward to, in addition to your baby's first words and first steps, is the first time baby interacts in a meaningful way with your pets. The cats or the dog will do something goofy, and baby will laugh, and you will again see your pets as creatures that bring joy.

Hang in there! In the meantime, enjoy this video. [Warning - loud baby laughing!]
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:12 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I, too, vote for the fact that you have a tiny human dictator to care for right now and you're probably pretty fed up with all the MEMEMEMEMEME coming from the creatures under your care. Also, it takes cats a bit to adjust to new situations. When we brought our son home, our two cats Were Not Pleased. It took them quite a while to forgive us our transgression but eventually they did revert back to their usual lap-loving selves.
posted by cooker girl at 3:16 PM on February 14, 2011

I think a lot of good points have been brought up, but I'm going to address your very initial question: how do you enjoy your pets?

For me, one way that I enjoy animals beyond actually expecting to *get* something from them, is to appreciate the pathways of communication that develop over time. I mean, there's a certain virtue to being cute and fluffy, which is how I've maintained a fondness to all the rodents that have passed through our lives. But the real magical thing for me--the thing that sets them above furry parasites--is communication. I really enjoy those moments when I feel "simpatico" with my animals--when I ask for something and they do it, when they ask for something and I understand what they want.
posted by drlith at 5:01 PM on February 14, 2011

It's a complex game. We enslave them to amuse us. But if they're going to amuse us, we have to amuse them.
posted by ovvl at 5:26 PM on February 14, 2011

The cats probably DID give you more love before the baby; mine were pretty sensitive to the change in the household that made them lower men on the totem pole and were a bit more standoffish, especially with me. They gave more attention to my husband, who was spending less time with a baby attached to his body, but they backed off somewhat from both of us. It was extra-noticeable because when I was pregnant, the cats SUPERLOVED me, I guess because I smelled like tasty, tasty hormones. I could hardly get 20 seconds of NOT-cat when I was pregnant. Then the baby came, and they were like, "Oh, hells no, lady!" I'd say it took a year or so for us to come to a new equilibrium where they were back to the pre-baby snuggle levels (and then of course I got pregnant again).

My toddler is 20 months old now and the cats are good with him and he is learning to be good with the cats, that you can point at their eyes but not POKE their eyes, that you have to be gentle to pet them, that when they want to go away they will just go away, etc. His first "chore" is we're trying to teach him to dump the cat food in the bowls when he goes to get HIS breakfast and dinner, which he LOVES to do though he is absolutely awful at it, so hopefully he'll learn what it's like to help take care of someone else, and the cats will learn he is a Food Bringer and therefore worthy of snuggles. So helping facilitate that new relationship, and seeing HOW MUCH my toddler gets from the cats, is really neat. (In fact, one of his first words was the name of one of the cats, and before he could talk if we SAID cat he'd point frantically at the nearest one. They're educational!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:50 PM on February 14, 2011

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