Thursday, July 31, 2008

Remediating Cat-astrophe

The comment on the last post brings up a good topic to reflect back on: Gong Zhu and cats, pets and other animals. Ms. Bratt mentioned that (in her experience) most children from China don't like cats. Gong Zhu likes cats now, but that wasn't always the case. She kind of had to adapt: we have three cats.

After we were united with Gong Zhu in Guangzhou and we would walk around the neighborhood of the hotel to go eat, etc., occasionally we would see someone out with a dog. She would point excitedly and say 狗 狗 "gáu gáu" [doggy]. There was also a statue of a person walking a dog that we saw almost every day; she was very interested in that dog, too. We were encouraged: perhaps she liked furry critters and would enjoy our cats. Not so much. When we got home pretty much terrified of our cats.

So how was it that, a month later, one of our biggest concerns was how to deal with Gong Zhu going to a family Christmas celebration at which a "dog cousin" would be present? She had made clear in a number of ways that she did not want to be in the house with this dog, including simply saying, "中意 狗;中意 !" "Ngóh `mh jung yi gáu; ngóh jung yi maau!" [I don't like dogs; I like cats!"] And she said it with an expression that seemed to imply that it was the most ridiculous thing in the world for me to not understand that she liked cats and that therefore it was absurd that she would even think about liking dogs.

The first sign that her affinity for animals was different that ours was during our travel group's trip to the Guangzhou Zoo. She was not at all afraid of the animals in the regular habitats and enclosures. We came upon a small, but still fenced area, where several ostensibly tame animals were (sadly) tethered with short chains. There were goats, monkeys, even domestic dogs. We stopped to look. One of the small monkeys climbed off of a pedestal on which it was sitting and started to approach us. Even though it was several feet from the fence and quite obviously chained, Gong Zhu cried out and clung to Mama like ... well, like a cat you're about to drop in a bath. Although I reassured her (in my poor, simple [but previously effective] Cantonese) that the monkey couldn't come out, she wanted to get far away from there, fast!

Fast forward to the day, here at home, when she first met one of our cats: the very same reaction. OK, we have a little bit of work to do.

And we did. Whenever the cats came near she wanted to be picked up and/or held. We did that, but also comforted her repeatedly saying the the cats were nice, wouldn't hurt her, etc. Gradually, she would allow the cats to walk by on the other side of the room with out needing to be airlifted out; then halfway across the room, and so on. It was gradual and yet fairly quick progress.

But as to actually liking the cats? The interest in befriending them came with surprising suddenness after just a few weeks. One day she saw the cat nearby and wanted me to pick her (Gong Zhu) up. She looked at the cat then told me she wanted to touch him. I was shocked, but calmly let her try. She did and didn't freak out. But after a few seconds that cat turned his head toward her hand and she yanked it back. Over the next three days, she did the same thing a few more times. After that, she seemed genuinely fond of the cats, though she retained a wariness that also wore away gradually.

As the previous post illustrated, she is quite comfortable with the cats now, and once in a while she will "manhandle" them in a way that I am reluctant to do.

Ironically, one of the holdout pet fears is that of the only animals in which she seemed interested when we first met her: dogs. A friend of ours who is originally from China told us many children in China are taught to stay away from dogs for safety. Makes sense. I don't know if this was the case with Gong Zhu. Certainly, dogs are much more active and "in-your-face" than other animals she has met. Her apprehension of dogs is not as intense as her first fears. Not surprisingly, it depends on the situation and mainly only occurs with larger dogs.

Nevertheless, Gong Zhu has come a long way with animals in just a short time. In the last couple of months she has gotten close to horses, pet rabbits, touched chicks, played with a small (chewing) puppy, gone into a petting zoo (no fence) with over a dozen goats and pet a number of them, and rode (with Mama & the Bünj') on a camel at the zoo.

Without enumerating the plethora of immense changes she has undergone in the last eight months, this is just one way Gong Zhu has amazed us.

1 comment:

John said...

We have been fortunate to have various animals in the past, but my youngest hardly knows what it's like, as we can't have pets here, and we moved in here when she was about 8 months old.

I think having pets (of any kind) enriches a child immensely.