DEAR JOAN: Do cats feel empathy?
I’ve been wondering because two friends have told me cat stories that seem wrapped in mystery. In both cases, a grieving family was visited by a cat that was unknown to them, who stayed to offer purrs and comfort.
The humans tell me that this softened the grief and made it possible to start mending broken hearts. In one case, the cat came to visit every day for a year after the passing of the loved one.
Do cats have connections in unseen realms, dare I ask? Would your readers be willing to share their stories? If I know two, how many more are out there?
Shereen Motarjemi, Pleasant Hill
DEAR SHEREEN: When it comes to understanding the cat, scientists struggle to comprehend the basic things, but there have been studies that have shown cats do have empathy.
Their calm, quiet states also are known to lower our blood pressure and give us a sense of well-being (right before they cough up a hairball or attack the arm of the couch).
Scientists have discovered that a cat’s purr can have healing properties, not just for the psyche but for our broken bones and sore muscles. Cats purr at a frequency of 25 to 150 hertz, which is the same frequencies doctors use in vibrational therapies to promote tissue regeneration.
Cats also are considered Zen masters, eating when they’re hungry and sleeping when they are tired, two concepts that often are hard for us humans to grasp. They also can sit for long periods of time in what appears to be a meditative trance, starting into empty space with a look of rapture upon their faces.
So does this mean they have special gifts and are attuned to our emotions and needs? Or are we just more appreciative of them when we are in a state of mourning?
Whether these are real or imaginary, a case of wishing rather than anything rooted in reality, depends on your personal beliefs. It’s doubtful that a strange cat wandering by would sense a person’s grief and stop by to ease their pain, but it is possible that someone feeling sad would welcome the presence of a cat and be comforted by them.
Sometimes people who have lost loved ones see a bird roost on a branch right in front of them and choose to believe it was sent by their lost love’s spirit. Was it? Or is it just that the person, sad and more receptive to seeing comforting signs, is in a better position to notice the bird?
Even if you don’t believe in signs, they can provide comfort. When I was leaving Denver earlier this year after taking my sister’s ashes to be buried with her husband, I felt like I was leaving her behind. As I headed onto the freeway with a heavy heart, wishing I knew for certain that everything was OK, a rabbit darted into the road, stopped to look at me and then hopped away. My sister had had rabbits all around her house, something we often joked about and commented on.
Whether this was truly a sign from my sister or just coincidence didn’t matter. It eased my pain and allowed me to drive on.
I’d love to hear stories from readers about their experiences with pets.
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