Cats Teach Us Unconditional Love

Mango | by Isabel Wang @ Upandbetter.com
Another blessed year went by for Mango and her brothers. No matter what happens in life, they don’t get disappointed at each other. In their world, love is simple, and unconditional.  

When RK was younger, one day he told us his teacher asked who had sisters,  “I raised my hand.” Of course. We have three little ones; RK is the big brother, AK is the baby brother, and they have a middle sister (by human age) who would never grow up and go to college, Mango the orange tabby cat.

Mango loves her brothers unconditionally. Everyday when the boys come home, even before I hear anything, I see her standing up from wherever she sleeps, eyes wide open and ears up. She jumps off the cat tree, runs to the door, greets her brothers and comes inside with them.

Does she do this for food? Probably. Her brothers are in charge of her feeding, which is breakfast, dinner and treats in between. However, no matter whether she gets food or not, whether the brothers give her attention or they are occupied with other tasks, she shows 100% enthusiasm and pure excitement every single time she sees them. She talks to them and follows them around.

When the Cat Daddy needs attention from Mango, he would do some cat talk, whistle a little, or make some “cute” gestures, wishing to convince Mango into jumping into his lap. That might get him attention from Mango one out of 20 times. However, if one of her brothers quietly flicks a finger from the other end of the room, Mango would get up and walk straight to them, bypassing the needy Dad, and give her brothers generous headbutting or cuddling.

When we cuddle with her or brush her, Mango enjoys it for at most 30 seconds, before she stretches her neck and meows something like “Now, that is enough!”, and jumps away. The brothers are not necessarily gentler when they brush her. But Mango would patiently stay, with this smitten look with eyes half closed. Once in a while, she turns her head around and has some eye contact and nonverbal communication with her brothers.

I have heard from several friends that their dogs and cats treat human children differently from adults. Does Mango consider her brothers more similar to kittens and therefore more lovely, because they have chubby cheeks and big eyes? The father of Ethology and Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz described the baby schema (kindchenschema), suggesting baby features, such as big head, large eyes and round cheeks, trigger affection and care-taking in adults. Not only their appearance, but also their baby giggling has the same effect. Evolutionarily this gives human offspring survival advantages. More recent studies have showed that puppies and kittens elicit similar affection in human, both children and adults.

Maybe human babies trigger similar affection in cats and dogs? I don’t think any research has been done on this.

Now our boys are rushing to grow up. Both are shedding baby fat, getting taller than Dad, and have lost their baby voice. Mango did not change her love for these babies.

It is apparent the love between Mango and her brothers is mutual.

When it is time to feed Mango, the brothers fight to be there first. The winner gets to feed Mango, and tell her “Mango, remember the big/little brother is the best.” I only get to feed Mango when boys are not around, and get the privilege to remind Mango “Mango, remember Mommy is the best. She buys you food.” But when parents ask the boys for help with any chore? The standard answer is: it is my brother’s turn. AK recently posted an elaborate list of prices for every favor his brother asks from him. A young entrepreneur in training, we thought.

Mango coughs up hairballs sometimes, leaving a pile of smelly and sticky stuff mixed with undigested food on the floor. Her big brother cleans it immediately and often before we even see it. RK gets disgusted by other things easily but he never minds cleaning after Mango.

One day at breakfast we saw a scratch on AK’s face. He explained to us, “Mango came to my bed in the morning and tried to wake me up.” It did not bother him, and he would not have mentioned it if we had not asked. But the other day his brother scratched his arm during a play fight, we got to hear 101 times during the following week: “My brother bullied me. I am injured.”

The boys of course care for each other dearly. When one brother is sick, the other one always insists on going together for the doctor’s visit. When it is Mango’s time to visit vet, then the whole family go. Recently Mango got us worried because she left a little bit of food in the bowl without finishing it. This was very concerning, since Mango is always hungry and eats up everything in less than one minute. Last year our gray tabby cat Weiwei left us for the rainbow bridge at age of 11. We found out she had a congenital kidney disease that had no cure. It was heartbreaking. Even though we had done everything we could trying to save her, we have never got over the thoughts of “ if only we had done something differently, maybe …”

So we did not want to take any chance on Mango, and we went to see the Vet as a family of five. Our Vet is a very sweet lady. She examined Mango and did some blood tests. She told us there were additional tests, such as ultrasound and X-ray, that can be done if Mango does not improve and the blood test turns out normal. I had the impression that she offered those options to comfort the two worried boys who were staring at her the whole time she was checking on Mango. Next day the test result showed Mango was perfectly healthy. She has only one incurable condition called “cattitude”, mostly likely to protest against the healthy food choice we made for her. After the vet visit, she decided it was not worth the trouble, and was eating normally again.

Another blessed year went by for Mango and her brothers. No matter what happens in life, they don’t get disappointed at each other. In their world, love is simple, and unconditional.

On a normal weekday evening, Daddy could ask one wrong question at the dinner table that changes the whole atmosphere around the house: Did you do your homework?

– No.

– What were you doing in the three hours before dinner?

– I don’t remember.

– Okay what happened to your sweater you wore this morning?

– It MIGHT be at school.

– Where at school?

– I don’t know.

– Why didn’t you tell me?

– Well I was afraid you would get upset and yell at me…

Did she smell the tension? Mango came and headbutted her brothers, as if to say, everything will be fine. Then everybody smiled, and everything was fine.

Weiwei | by Isabel Wang @ Upandbetter.com

About the Author Isabel Wang, MD/PhD

I received my MD from PUMC in Beijing China and my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stony Brook University on Long Island. Over the years, I have worked in the fields of genetic research and clinical medicine in different parts of the US, including PA, MO, CT, FL, NY and MI. My research has been published in multiple scientific journals. Currently I live in Ann Arbor, MI with my husband and our children and Mango the orange tabby. I love hiking, running, baking, cooking and biking.

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