Wildy turned up on Nancy’s parents’ doorstep nine years ago. He was hungry, and they left out some food for him: they soon found that they were feeding him regularly and they realised that Wildy had adopted them as “his family”.
Nancy’s father was allergic to cats – if he spent time close to Wildy, he would get runny eyes, and start to sneeze – so Wildy was kept as an outdoor pet at first: he wasn’t allowed indoors. As time passed, the allergy seemed to settle down, and Wildy gradually wheedled his way into the Collins home. First he was allowed into the garage overnight, then he started to creep into the house, and bit by bit, he started to spend more time indoors. By the time Nancy came along, Wildy had become a house pet.
Nancy and Wildy get to know each other
When Nancy was a newborn baby, Wildy used to ignore her, but as she grew older, the two of them became more interested in each other. When she was just ten months old, she fed him for the first time, and she’s fascinated by his company. The two of them sometimes rub heads together, which is a classic friendly greeting in cat language. Nancy now takes out picture books and reads them to Wildy: he sits beside her on the bed so that she can do this. He doesn’t like his tail, back or belly to be touched, but as long as she just gently pets his head, he’s happy to be close to her, calmly purring as she shows him her favourite stories.
Many new parents worry about having a cat, but Wildy and Nancy provide a good example of how well it can work. Research in recent years has shown that the presence of a pet in the house can have a strong positive effect on children. First, as long as the mother does not have asthma, a pet can actually protect children from developing this condition. If Nancy’s mother had asthma, it would not be such a good idea to have a cat sharing her home. Since her father is the one with asthma, it is likely to actually lower the risk of Nancy going on to develop the condition.
Second, children that grow up with pets are more likely to become socially adept and confident. The reason for this may have something to do with the fact that pets cannot talk, so they need to communicate using body language. Pets like Wildy may give young children informal lessons in body language which come in useful later in life. We humans think that we communicate using words, but in fact, our own body language is critically important at a subconscious level.
Nancy loves sitting beside Wildy, and gently petting him on his head, but he won’t let her – or anyone – do much more than that. He is a long haired cat, which means that, ideally, he should be groomed every day. His background as a semi-wild cat means that he hates being brushed or combs: he backs off, hissing. Nancy’s parents have discovered that the only answer is to take him to the vet, once every six months or so, and get him sedated to have the excessive fur clipped off and combed out. During his most recent session, I kept the fur that I took off him, and I showed Nancy when she came in with her Mum.
Nancy was delighted, laughing and clapping when I showed her Wildy’s fur. She’s too young to say what was going through her mind but two things seem clear: Nancy thought it was funny, and Wildy was definitely not impressed.
Pets can be good for young children’s physical and psychological health
Parents need to supervise them to ensure that they get on well together
Regular vet visits are important to keep pets healthy