What cats can teach us about emotions

We humans often have a hard time when it comes to emotions. Most of us in the western world were educated to not show our emotions, to suppress them, or better, not have them at all. But we are emotional creatures like all mammals whether we like it or not.

Animals don’t have a way to hide and suppress their emotions, you can see them in their behavior, in their body language. Some animals can be “tamed” in ways that they don’t act out their spontaneous behavior patterns and resist emotional stimuli. This works for instance with dogs or horses; some learn better than others. With cats, it seems to be almost impossible.

Animals –  our best teachers

We humans learn from our interaction with our animals – if we are inclined to do so. They can teach us a lot and remind us of our hidden nature. Today I want to tell you a story about Rosenrot, a totally red Tomcat who was given to me as a kitten many many years ago.

The Story of Rosenrot

red kitten

Kittens are sweet

I was very fond of this beautiful red fur ball which then was hardly bigger than my open hand. I took care of him and watched him grow with much delight. These little creatures are so funny, they make us laugh when they try to scratch their head and fall over on their butt because balance has to be learnt by practice, not unlike little children. He mastered his awkwardness quite quickly and he grew up into a slim and slender beauty who was very attached to me. We had our love time every day, he trusted me and I had confidence in him that he would not become one of those nasty Tomcats who lose their ears by fighting with others.

In those days all my animals lived outside my house which is embedded in the beautiful hilly countryside of Umbria in Italy. So all animals could have their own habitat and live as naturally as possible. That is what I thought, but underlying I seemed to expect they would be domesticated reasonable creatures just because they were in constant contact with me. Well…

The setting

After the hen disaster described elsewhere (HERE) the little stable behind our house became the home of rabbits. We re-enforced the fence so that they wouldn’t dig their way out underneath it and we enjoyed watching them move freely in the protected area. (The “normal” habitat for rabbits is a small cage and I always felt so sorry for them to be in such a narrow prison.)

Cats taking a nap during the hot hours of the day

Cats taking a nap during the hot hours of the day

In the hot Italian afternoons, the best thing to do is to take a nap which we did regularly. One day I heard a tiny but intense squeak. I had no idea where it came from, but later in the day, I found out that mamma rabbit seemed to have one less of her sweet little kids. Mhm. Strange. I feared that the hen story would be repeated, but all doors were closed, the dog under control, no way for him to enter the fence or the stable.

The drama unfolds

The next day during my nap the same noise. Now I jumped up like a rocket and ran out, barefoot (which is not a good idea when you leave the paved ground) and ran towards the stable when Rosenrot passed me with a screaming little rabbit in his mouth. I shouted at him. He stopped for a second as if he was undecided what to do but then went on and ran up the hill. My relentless shouting and screaming probably scared him more than convinced him that he should abandon the little rabbit but I was totally unaware of that. I was in an explosive state of mind, a mixture of fear, care, disappointment, anger and desperation which induced me to follow the cat up the hill to the edge of the wood, always hoping to convince him to let go the little rabbit. Rosenrot several times stopped, look

red cat eating his prey

I like to eat what I hunt!

ed back toward me – who furiously and breathless ran up the hill behind him. But he always decided that the little rabbit was good food and that it was not up to me to decide about  what his preferences were.


Then he disappeared in the wood and I realized that I couldn’t follow him down the steep decline with bare feet. The way back to the house was hard. In my overflowing emotions, I hadn’t noticed how much the dry grass and thistles hurt my feet but now, defeated, I noticed that every step hurt like hell. Finally, at home, I sat down and felt completely out of myself. The explosive mixture of emotions were still present in my body but now the mind woke up again and filled me with all sorts of unpleasant thoughts, beginning with “how can this beautiful cat do THAT to me”  to something like “how can I be so stupid to walk up the hill barefoot – you deserve to pay the prize for that”. And there was the overall feeling of defeat and total failure, together with a vague sense that another piece of my illusory paradise was lost. My naive belief in the goodness of nature got a second deep crack and my path towards recognizing the difference between imagination and reality had taken another step.

How do we act in the face of challenge?

Rosenrot, the red cat who liked to eat baby rabbits, has taught me about my lack of emotional management skills. I realized that entering into panic is not a way to handle critical moments and that I would need to learn more about myself and my emotions so as to become more competent in handling them, instead of becoming their victim in moments where presence is needed instead. Many thanks to this cat who dared to do what predatory animals usually do – against my idea and will!

No freedom in prison but safety

cat climbing the fence

The thief in action

BTW: The next day I found out how he got hold of the rabbits by observing the stable. He just climbed up the fence and probably would have eaten another one if I hadn‘t scared him away in time. From that day on the rabbits had to go back to live in cages which keep them prisoners but also protect them against thieves. Not long after that event and after having seen die a lot of rabbits of incurable diseases I gave up. Killing and eating them was not my favorite either, they are too similar to cats in their fur and really sweet creatures. Thus, after the last baby died which I had tried to raise with a milk bottle after their mother’s death I never had a rabbit again but many many cats who taught me other deep lessons, some of which are already described in this blog.



9 comments on “What cats can teach us about emotions
  1. Uta says:

    Oh your story took me away. I felt with you and I know certain similar situations. Not with rabbits tho, but in the context.

    I love animals for teaching us. I always had pets, like guineapigs, turtles, cats, fire salamanders and everything I saved from cats LOL.

    There is a German book I can recommend. It is called “Die Eichhörnchen Strategie”
    It is about animals and how they react in situations and what plan they follow for life. Super interesting and lot of things to adopt.

    I fell in love with Rosenrot. At some point in your story I feared you scared her of and she did not return. Such a beauty. You are really lucky to live the life you have.

    Oh. And I understand your decision about rabbits. I could not do that as I feel so sorry for them living in boxes.

    • Heidi Hornlein says:

      Thank you, Uta, for your nice comment and also for the book suggestion. I will get it, I really like to observe animals and to try to find out how life looks like for them. Sometimes I enjoy underlying them human thoughts and I have fun with letting them “speak”. This would also be an idea for a book – although there are out already many alike – for instance, the one in the sidebar: “the guide to human behavior”. It is fun to read.

  2. Uta says:

    Hahaha – That’s so funny, but true!

    The book sounds interesting. I will check it out. Thank you for this recommendation, too.

  3. Courtney says:

    Oh, this is so sad! I’m very emotional when it comes to animals — I had a tomcat who used to bring me dead field mice and birds. He’d drop them at my feet and purr and rub against my legs. At the time I didn’t know that he was giving me a gift, or that he was proud of himself as well. So I would scold him until I learned otherwise. How much worse would rabbits be! So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this story!

  4. Marion says:

    Hunting is a natural instinct for cats, it’s not something that we can change. At least not easily.

    My cat catches the occasional small rat and either brings it inside or deposits it on the doormat outside the back door. The birds are usually too quick for her.

    • Heidi Hornlein says:

      I have seen cats wresting with a giant lizard for hours – until they finally won with some bloody bites. And also with rats. They are amazing hunters. But actually, not all of them. I have also seen those who prefer not to run after a mouse or even jump out of a big weat container where a mouse was running around when I carried it there to catch the mouse. “No, thank you, I fear mouse”

  5. Sylvia Mann says:

    I remember one day when my cat PEPPER came home at the end of the day, it was always 5 p.m., yes, he was punctual. 🙂

    One day when I opened the door to let him in he had a mouse in his mouth and soon he saw me he put it down right on the doorstep and looked at me. It was kind of a gift and he was also in anticipation of how I will react.

    I didn’t scream or yelled at him but praised him for his hunting skills and also told him that he please don’t bring me anything anymore he had caught.

    He seemed to understand me and took the mouse back into his mouth and walked away.

    I waited a couple of minutes until he came back.

    We never “talked” about it again but it was an amazing experience for me to accept his natural behavior. 🙂

    • Heidi Hornlein says:

      Yes, we often forget that cats do hunt as their natural behavior. You did a great job in not shouting on him. AND it is evidence that animals can learn together with us.
      Thanks for the great story!

  6. Dog Car Seat Covers says:

    Hi, I find reading this article a joy. It is extremely helpful and interesting and very much looking forward to reading more of your work..

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