Yesterday, my daughter, Alexandra, showed one of our cats, Merlin, in our county 4-H fair.
Generally, Merlin is the cat you see in the picture above. He lounges on our deck. He sleeps on the steps. He stays with us in the yard. He insists that we pet him when we are in the garage. He is a really friendly cat.
At the fair, he was in a cage in a hot building surrounded by other cats, people he did not know, and smells he did not recognize. And, he had to wear a harness.
During the judging, a person he had never met before held him and inspected him in front of about 30 onlookers.
He hissed at the judge.
When I took him from the cage to put him in the carrier for the trip back home, he hissed and growled at me.
When I got him into the garage and opened the carrier, he growled at me and ran away.
After I got him back to the garage, he growled and hissed at me as I removed his harness.
As he was lying on the steps from the garage to the kitchen, I petted him, and he growled and hissed at me.
Merlin was not a happy kitty.
In case you haven't been around cats very much, they can have what is called redirected aggression. Basically, this means that when they cannot directly address something that is irritating them, they just might express their aggression in a different direction against another animal or a person who had nothing to do with their initial frustration.
And, people often respond the same way. They feel stress, frustration, or irritation in one area of their life or in one relationship, and they vent it in a different area of their life or in a different relationship. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I'm just observing that it happens.
In Merlin's case, I didn't take him to the fair, and I wasn't there during the judging. I didn't do any of the things that stressed him. I just took him home.
Can you believe the nerve? He was mad at me — his rescuer!
When he growled and hissed at me, I didn't get angry with him. I could see that he was hot, scared, and stressed. He was losing large quantities of hair (that's a sign of stress in cats). I could tell that he was not angry with me directly. He was simply displaying redirected aggression.
So, I was nice to him. The cat that was growling at me got kind words and petting in return.
It worked like a charm. Within a few minutes of getting home, hearing kind words, and getting his head scratched, he was back to his normal, loving self.
I recognize that people are far more complex than cats. And, can't we learn a lesson from Merlin?
When people are stressed, tired, frustrated, irritated, scared, or hungry; they just might display some redirected aggression. As long as no one is getting physically hurt, why not try to understand rather than criticize or confront?
Calming words and an understanding attitude just might be what it takes to help them, like Merlin, return to normal.