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lost hiker

The Zen of Cat Greeting.

You might be a cat magnet. If you’re not, you probably know someone who is. Cat magnets are people who attract cats wherever they go. Cats they’ve never met before, often go out of their ways to fraternize with them, sometimes gracing these special people by settling on their laps or soliciting strokes and attention from them.

Even though some of these cats have earned themselves reputations of avoiding and distrusting people, they go out of their way to be close to these strangers. It seems counter-intuitive. Cat magnets don’t try to be cat magnets—cats just naturally gravitate to them.

Then there are those cat-admirers who find it challenging to make friends with cats they meet. No matter how hard they try to befriend them, their efforts are often met with indifference and avoidance. Sometimes cats will literally turn tail and hastily retreat from them. When their overtures are overly enthusiastic, some cats respond hostilely.

Why are some people cat-magnets and others cat-repellers? It’s all in the approach—or non-approach.

Cats need to have a choice in the matter. They do not respond favorably when cornered or forced to submit to stroking, fondling or being picked up. Compared to people, cats are small and vulnerable—it’s not surprising that most do not enjoy being approached by a stranger who hovers threateningly above them.

It’s not hard to become a cat magnet. Anyone, anywhere, can become a cat magnet. Even though there isn’t magic involved, there is something akin to a secret handshake or pawshake that cats understand. Proper cat greetings are universal—recognized by cats in all parts of the world. You can be in Rome, Japan, the United States or any other area in the world, remote or populated and the language of the cat greeting is the same.

The first rule in greeting a cat in a non-threatening way is to allow the cat the choice of socializing on her own terms. Don’t approach or stand over the cat. Instead, sit or crouch a distance from her. Depending on the cat’s human-trust level, the optimum distance might be a few feet away, or it might be across the street or room. It depends on the circumstances and on the individual cat. Whatever the distance, make sure that the cat can escape or retreat. The cat should never feel cornered or trapped.

Once in position, initiate the greeting by extending your index finger towards the cat at about the cat’s nose level. One way friendly cats greet each other is by touching each other’s noses when they meet. Your extended finger is the human version of initiating this cat salutation. It’s now up to the cat to make the next move. When she feels safe and is ready to say hello, she will approach your extended finger and touch it with her nose.

If she wants to continue hobnobbing with you, she will move her head until your finger is on her cheek. Once your finger is positioned on her cheek, she will rub your finger and hand, marking you. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that produce friendly facial pheromones. Pheromones are part of the cats’ communication system—broadcasting information about them while marking territory. Cheek rubs also indicate the cat is open to socializing—an invitation to pet her head, cheeks and neck. The start of a beautiful friendship!

Try it. Are you near a cat, or is there one across the room from you? Sit down and extend a welcoming finger towards the cat and see what happens.

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