For many years we’ve been collecting and sharing stories about the spiritual and amazingly uplifting experiences and relationships people have with animals. It is always delightful to talk with people who get it about animals and specifically about beloved pets.
Trust is built between animals and people who live together in the same household. They each know what to expect from the other as far as daily routines go. Given that element of trust in human-animal relationships, we have been thinking lately about inconsistency. When A doesn't lead to B, it's disconcerting. If a person who always does things a certain way changes patterns, it catches our attention.
Inconsistencies can be entertaining; they are the stuff of good comedy that makes us laugh with the pleasure of surprise. But they can also upset and frighten. The startle response might be hilarious or maddening and every emotion in-between.
One week, Linda was inconsistent with our eighteen-year-old cat Speedy. He's a big guy with a long body and a temperamental attitude. Unlike his lithe and nimble, younger, black-and-white sister Cuddles, Speedy's gait is slow. Once he settles in on a place to lounge, he's a lump of coal, loathes to move or be moved.
When Linda eats lunch in the living room, sitting on the couch, with her plate on the coffee table, Cuddles likes to jump up next to her and try to paw at her food. Linda has taken to keeping a small spray bottle of distilled water by her side. If she even points it at Cuddles, who hates water, the cat scurries away.
Sometimes, though, the smell of food she especially likes makes her more persistent. That's when Linda actually squirts her with a just a little water to get her to leave the food and her alone.
One afternoon, it wasn't Cuddles who had her eyes on Linda’s lunch. Speedy decided that he wanted to perch next to her on the couch in hopes that tasty morsels would fall his way. Out of habit, Linda reached for the trusty squirt bottle and aimed it at Speedy. When Speedy "doggedly" kept moving forward with the intent of springing onto the couch, she sprayed a tiny stream of water at him. It was more of a mist than a spray.
What happened next filled Linda with remorse. Speedy backed off. His eyes clouded over. A pained and shocked expression spread across his face. Linda immediately regretted her hasty action. "I'm not Cuddles!" he seemed to say. "I'm me. And we have always treated each other with respect. Now I'm questioning if you deserve my trust." Speedy shook his head from side to side as if to say, "You have disappointed me," and lumbered out of the room.
Inconsistency. Instead of honoring the relationship Linda had with Speedy all these many years, she had acted out of character and treated him with a tactic that doesn't phase Cuddles in the least.
After lunch Linda found Speedy on the stairs leading to her second-floor office. He had gone there to hide, to brood over how inconsistent humans are, even his favorite human. He could have gone anywhere but obviously wanted Linda to see him. He succeeded in making her feel even guiltier.
Linda sat on the step below him and apologized. She asked him to forgive her for getting him mixed up with someone else who was only half his size. He again looked at her with sadness in his eyes and an expression that said, "You have betrayed me. I must consider this."
Off he retreated to another part of the house where he keeps his man cave. Linda didn't see him for the rest of the afternoon. She went back to work, feeling even worse about having treated her old friend badly.
After the day's work, Linda came downstairs to watch the evening news. Speedy walked along the back of the couch where she sat. Tentatively he tiptoed over to have his head and cheeks rubbed and his body stroked ever so gently. "So you have decided to forgive me?" Linda asked.
Speedy stuck his head under Linda’s hand to remind her not to stop petting him. "Don't ever let it happen again," he answered.