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A Cat’s Guide to Social Distancing

As the time under varying degrees of lockdown and self-isolation continues…

As the time under varying degrees of lockdown and self-isolation continues for many of us, we’re all looking to experts for advice on how to stay healthy, happy, and entertained – with varying degrees of success. Which is fair enough, as, for most of us, this is a massive shift, and not something we’ve ever had to endure before. Popping down the shop for some milk or choccie bikkies isn’t something we ever questioned being able to do, any more than whether we could go and sit in the park with a book on the weekend.

Things are not as we’re used to.

Some of us are lucky enough to live in areas where we can get outside without too much risk of breaching social distancing. Some of us have gardens, or balconies, or patios.

Plenty of us don’t.

And all of us are having to change how we live, whether in big or small ways. Frontline and key workers and their families are of course bearing the greatest weight, as is anyone with friends and family who’ve contracted the virus. But all of us are affected. Work has changed. Schooling has changed. Leisure has changed. Even just going to the shops has turned into a double lottery of will someone lean past us to grab some tomatoes (seriously, I’ll be moving in just one second, and we’ve queued for twenty minutes to get in, so wait), and will there actually be tomatoes to get? Going outside is a balance between our needs for mental and physical health and how many people we’re going to have to dodge. None of us are untouched.

And no one’s quite sure when things might start looking like what we used to call normal again.

Which means we need to do more than endure these restrictions. We need to figure out if there’s a way we can thrive within them.

So I have turned to that expert of in-the-moment living, that mistress of Zen, the Little Furry Muse. And she has offered her advice to both humans and all creatures dealing with humans in these strange days. Because she’s good at this stuff.

This is simple, humans. Listen up.

Maintain the structure of your days.

Humans seem to think that days have an external structure, dictated by the calendar. For many of them, things have fallen apart a little, and they’re not sure if they should be on weekend hours or weekday hours, or even if it matters. This is not the way to maintain order in your days. It’s important to wake as usual (I vote for 5 a.m. in order to feed the furry members of your household, but the SH (Significant Human) is lazy and generally refuses to move for another hour). Mealtimes must be adhered to strictly if one is to enjoy health and happiness.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

No, human. You must be up now.

Get enough sleep.

Just as getting up at the same time is important, so to is sleeping at the correct times. I’m of the opinion that sleep should be spread throughout the day in multiple four-hour blocks, but since you homo sapiens insist on only sleeping at night, do that instead. But ensure you remain well-rested. Otherwise it only leads to grumpiness, and someone’s going to get bitten.

It won’t be me.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

Not now. Now is for naps.

Keep your grooming standards high.

Just because you’re not leaving the house is no reason to let your fur get matted. At the very least, clean between your toes. No one ever feels really themselves when they’ve got gunky toes.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

Always keep your toes clean.

Take exercise.

Personally, I prefer to head outside (if it’s not raining) and inspect the patio after breakfast. After dinner, I sprint around the house and screech until the SH throws pompoms for me. It’s a good distraction for her to collect them after I lose them under the sofa. Stairs are excellent for both racing on while trying to trip the human, and also for hanging over the top and trying to snag their head. However you do it, outside or inside, make sure it’s fun and safe and something you look forward to. And if you trip a human, excellent work.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

This is unnecessary. Where is the piece of crumpled paper? The string from an old bag? You can do better.

Set time aside for fun things.

In addition to pompom chasing, there are also rugs to attack and birds to watch and tails to chase (then run from). Not to mention hair ties and scraps of paper. Honestly, we’re spoilt for things to do.

However, it’s important to remember that not all fun has to be active. Sitting on a windowsill in the sunlight is an opportunity to count dust motes and consider the curious nature of the human in domesticity, and finding a new hiding place you’ve never used before is a wonderful way to both energise the human (they wander around calling for you, which gets their daily step count up) and to discover new things to shed on.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

What? This is important self-care human. Fun AND grooming. Back off.

Change your perspective.

Don’t sit in one place all day. Move your naps from the upstairs window to the downstairs one. Lie in the middle of the floor. Sit on top of the bookcase. Spend some time under the sofa, or sitting among the shoes. These are all opportunities to examine the house and life from a different angle, and to consider what changes and what stays the same, and which of these – if any – matter.

Also, one sometimes finds biscuits the human dropped when filling the dispenser.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

Always try to see familiar things from a different perspective.

Spend time with your human.

Not having a cat’s natural inclination toward Zen, they get scratchy and unhappy, and want to be doing something. Sit on them. This both provides you with a heated seat and calms them, as it’s a well-known law of the universe that a sleeping cat cannot be moved. I’m not sure about other species. I do recommend that if you are bigger than the human in question then you should probably proceed with caution, and maybe check they can breathe.

If they talk to other humans on their phones or internet machines, make sure you head-butt the machine in question and make your presence known. It makes them laugh, which tends to result in ear scritches – another win-win.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

No, human. Stay.

Accept there will be more cuddles than usual, and that they will be both home more, and more inclined to pet you when you’re snoozing, or try to get you to chase a piece of string while doing scheduled grooming. Try not to bite them too much. They’re great lumpy fragile things, humans. We need to be gentle with them, as they’re not very good at being gentle with themselves.

However, if they start making little outfits to dress you up in, resume biting. Some things are just beyond the pale.

cat's guide to social distancing, self isolation, self-care, mental health, covid-19, coronavirus

Yes, I did write this while sitting on her windowsill.

I have to admit that I’ve started joining Layla in sitting on the windowsill in the sunshine. Not as easy to work, admittedly, but it’s very pleasant.

Even if she does take up a disproportionate amount of space for a very small cat…

How are you doing, lovely people? What advice would you (or your furry/feathery/scaly family) add? Let me know below!

cats, coronavirus, covid-19, life, little furry muse, mental health, self care, self isolation, social distancing

  1. Lynda Dietz says:

    As always, I think Layla’s advice is spot-on. Especially about gunky toes.

    A few years ago, I read a book called The Rest of God, which talked about the need for people to truly take a Sabbath day at some point during each week, whether it was Sunday or another day (for those of us who work on Sundays). The author talked about watching his cat as it moved from sunshine patch to sunshine patch, and he decided one day to lie down in the patch and nap with the cat. He said it was the best nap of his life, and really illustrated how he needed to just listen to what his body was telling him, and to slow down. It actually helped him to be more productive in the long run.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Layla has very clear views when it comes to gunky toes.

      And I love that story about following the cat’s example – it’s beautiful and simple. We’re all far too accustomed to DOING all the time rather than being, and it’s a wonderful reminder that unless we actually take the time to listen to ourselves, how will we ever know what we need? Cats really do have this whole life thing sorted.

      1. Lynda Dietz says:

        I know I’ve said this before, and I have no idea how we got there, but somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s a bad thing to be idle. As if resting or relaxing for pleasure is somehow the same as being slothful. Like when I commented once on social media about sleeping until noon because I guess I needed the sleep more than I realized I did, and at least a half dozen people got on to comment about how early they’d gotten up for the day. Weird flex, okay, but it wasn’t a competition.

        The more I watch my cats, the more I want to be like them.

        1. Kim Watt says:

          I would be very happy to take up life as a cat.

          And I completely agree – somehow we’ve all internalised this idea that our worth is tied up with our busyness – not even productivity, just being BUSY. And in the end it becomes UNproductive, because it’s not sustainable. Rest is so incredibly important, and not just falling into bed or onto the sofa, but actual mindful rest, where we take care of ourselves and consciously do what we need to do to recharge.

          Of course, I’m terrible at it, but I am learning…

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