My cat is an orange tabby named Toby (pictured above). My husband, Jonathan, and I adopted him during the height of the pandemic, in the summer of 2020. Growing up, my family always had a dog, and I was reluctant to get a cat at first. Jonathan had been wanting one for years, and it took a long time before I came around to wanting one too. By the time we were waiting for the kittens at the shelter to be old enough to be adopted, both Jonathan and I couldn’t wait to have a cat.

For those of us who have had the privilege of having a pet of any kind, we’ve experienced how animals can teach us about life. Over the past few years of life with Toby, there are some things he’s done that have translated into life lessons for me. For this blog post, I’d like to describe what my cat has taught me about being in relationship. I admit that this is a bit humorous, so there’s room for laughing as you read this. I’d like this post to honor both the humor and the wisdom.

Toby has taught me about shamelessly asking for what you need and want. He meows (quite loudly) to let us know when he’s hungry, or when he wants to play, or when his toy is stuck in the closet because he pushed it under the door when playing. He’ll even sometimes lead us to his bowl or to his toys. I really appreciate that he is able to communicate so clearly because we don’t have to guess what it is he wants or needs. I’m reminded that the people in my life are not mind readers, I have have to clearly communicate my needs and wants too.

Toby models showing affection and—I believe—gratitude for taking care of him. His purrs when we hold him or pet him and the sweet way he rubs on our legs when we get home from work are ways he shows fondness and admiration. Even John Gottman would approve of that! It’s a way connection and respect are maintained in relationship. Toby’s generosity in this way inspires me to be intentional about sharing fondness and admiration in my relationship with Jonathan, and doing so helps reinforce what’s good about our relationship.

I’m sometimes woken up at 5 a.m. by Toby’s paw tapping on my nose or by him repeatedly jumping on me or by him standing on my chest and loudly meowing in my face. Sometimes he’s very much in the way of what I’m trying to do. The truth is, sometimes Toby is a little turd. And even though he can be really annoying in some ways, I still love that lil’ ginger boy. I’m reminded that it’s normal—even in the best of relationships—to be annoyed sometimes. And so sometimes we have to take breaks from each other, and ya know what? That also works for my relationships with humans.

I’ll end with this:

Oftentimes Toby is content to just be in the same room with us. He quietly “loafs” and squints his eyes and maybe even takes a little nap. It’s a reminder to me that sometimes what we need is just to rest and simply be. I’m a recovering perfectionist who still sometimes struggles with feeling like I need to be “productive” all the time. Toby has shown me how to slow down, to enjoy just being with others, and to enjoy some peaceful quiet.

I’m grateful for the joy and levity Toby has brought to my life. I’m grateful for the little lessons on being in relationship. I think it’s so cool that we have relationships with our pets, and that the lessons we learn from them can be transferrable to human relationships. What lessons have you learned from your pet?