10 Life Lessons My Rescue Cats Taught Me During COVID 

10 Life Lessons My Rescue Cats Taught Me During COVID 

Will life post-COVID ever go back to normal? I kind of hope not. Of course, just like everyone, I want all of us to be protected from the virus. And it would be nice to take an in-person yoga class again, or go sit in a coffee shop. Or travel. But I’ve learned so much holed up with our two rescue cats that everything has changed about how I see the world now. When was the last time you took a cue from a furry friend? Animals have so much to teach us.

1. Naps matter.

It’s not like I was unaware that cats nap. It’s kind of their calling card. But while in this new lockdown reality, I found myself noticing it more. There they were, all curled up and cute, falling asleep on the edges of chairs, atop the cable box, in any and every empty box, and, more frequently, in my lap. Even these fierce killers value rest. And while I have been far less active during the past year than ever before in my life, I also felt more tired. Stress can apparently do that. (So can re-learning second grade math in your 40s.) Unfortunately, not every day lends itself to midday naps. But just the thought of taking that time, finding some space to recalibrate, is the ultimate reminder that it matters. It helped me improve my bedtime routine—namely starting it earlier so I get more rest (not that that's everything).

2. Give everyone a chance.

We rescued our cats three years ago. They were just about seven weeks old at the time. My daughter had just turned four. Their tails had been cut off for some (awful) reason. (Since they’re identical, it’s how we tell them apart now. One has a longer tail stub than the other.) My daughter had wanted a certain type of cat, but I explained we were rescuing them, so we would have to find cats who needed us, no matter what they looked like. She fell in love the second she saw them, even though they weren’t the color she thought she wanted. Over the last year I’ve often wondered what lockdown would have been like without them. It’s so hard to even think about that. Would their tails have made it harder for them to find a home? Where would they be? How lucky we all are that we found each other.

3. People are complicated. Love them anyway.

Our twin cats look identical, but they sure don’t act the same. They both have quirks. One is fast and seems to be going all the time, especially at 4am. The other cat is a slow-moving brooder, giving you side-eye and even a little warning scratch if you get too close. And despite their differences, and even those less desirable traits, they’re another good reminder of just how weird life is, no matter what species you find yourself in. We’re all complicated. Ain’t that beautiful?

4. Food is for sharing.

Our cats are healthy and we don’t overfeed them. They do however get a couple treats, typically daily. The treats make them happy, of course, but the act of giving them seems to make my daughter even happier. And while we’ve turned to Postmates a lot this year to break up the monotony of cooking, there’s something to be said for making food for others. Even more than that, sharing it with people you love matters. I started making crepes for my daughter early on in lockdown. It motivated her to get ready for remote learning. She’s now back on campus, but we’re still making them every morning. They feel special, celebratory to make. And watching her eyes light up every morning is reason enough to keep doing it.

5. Find time to wonder.

Just last night I caught one of the cats staring at her reflection in the window. A light went on and the reflection disappeared, but she had been completely fixated for at least 15 minutes prior to that. Cute, right? When was the last time you sat in wonder? Granted, our reflections are perhaps not as curiosity-inducing as the cat seeing hers (although this maskne is giving me longer pauses in the mirror). But there’s plenty to find wonder in even if we can’t go farther than our own backyards. Maybe that’s the full moon, making kombucha, reading a book under a tree. There’s so much to experience in this life. Don’t take it for granted. Lose yourself in more moments.

6. Cuddling is essential.

There’s a whole science around the endorphins released through physical contact. And while snuggling with a partner is a lot different than snuggling up to your cat, there are more similarities than you may think. Love is love, after all. And animals need it, too. Even our grumpy cat comes lapside for her snuggles several times a day. And when we couldn’t see anyone outside of our four walls, the snuggling became more important than ever. It always will be.

7. Forgive more.

When our cats were young, they were like a two-headed monster, never too far away from one another. They’ve grown more independent as they’ve gotten older, even to the point of fighting when the fast one bolts through the house waking the other. It always sounds bad: hissing and yowling for a few long minutes. But then, no sooner than their next nap are they curled up together in a sea of grey fluff, often grooming each other before they drift off. Why is it so much harder for people to do that? To just shake it off and then curl up together? I’ve made an effort this last year to let go of the small stuff. And the more I keep doing it, the easier it seems to be getting.

8. Silliness is serious stuff.

Cats are so serious, right? Stealth hunters, climbers, and knockers-over of things. But they’re also silly, uninhibited goofballs not above going berserk over a string toy or a ball of the ol’ catnip. With the world on lockdown and the pressures and fears that’s brought, silliness hasn’t been top of mind. But it should be. Granted, with a seven-year-old human in the house ,it’s often a pre-set to the day. Still, I’ve made more of an effort to chase the string or loll around with some catnip and embrace the silly, uninhibited side of things. That doesn’t negate the seriousness of the last year and all the tragedy it’s brought. But it does often make processing all of that a whole lot easier.

9. Change all the time.

A couple months ago, my daughter was quite upset that the cats were sleeping on my bed and not hers. Not only had they been doing that for a few weeks, but they were laying in precisely the same spot every day. It seemed like they would stay there forever. But I told her to just wait and see. And after a few days, they migrated to another spot in the house. And then another, including paying more visits to her bed. I’m not saying you should sleep on dining room chairs anytime soon. But changing things up, especially when that feels next to impossible is good for the brain (some science says it’s even capable of decreasing the risk of certain degenerative brain disorders). Maybe that’s using a different burner on your stove or working in another room in the house. Or hiking in a new direction. How can this improve your day-to-day?

10. Remember the self-care.

I haven’t skipped a bath or shower since lockdown. But I’ve certainly thought about it. After all, there have been days I’ve barely moved, let alone worked up a sweat. However, I can’t say I would have been as consistent if it hadn’t been for watching the cats clean and groom themselves and each other. Cleaning is a daily ritual for them. I know it’s a bit anthropomorphic, but they seem to take pride in it. As if a whisker out of place will ruin an entire day of sleeping. I don’t spend hours (or, ahem, even minutes) getting ready for my myriad Zoom calls. But being fresh and clean has never felt more important. We’ve indulged in more bath time, here. Fizzy bombs and candles have helped impart some quiet time away from the news and social media. Some nights it’s just a quick shower and shampoo. But I swear those few moments of grooming have never felt more soothing or beneficial. 

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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.