Learning to Hiss: The Cats & Dog Story

by | Nov 8, 2016 | Power Dynamics

When we adopted Mr. Whiskerson from the humane society, he was already an old cat with a life-time trauma history.
He’d been found neglected and hiding out in a log pile, and although he’d been adopted twice before, his previous owners had returned him to the shelter.


He lived under the beds and “never came out.”

As predicted, we didn’t see Mr. Whiskerson for about 2 months as he acclimated to our home.  He’d slink close to the baseboards, darting from room to room.

Eventually he acclimated, and now follows me from room to room, and insists on sleeping on my lap, on my keyboard, on my neck, on my feet… you get the picture.

A little love, safety and predictability can go a long way.  

Fritz, on the other hand, was adopted as a kitten.

He doesn’t hide under beds in fear.

I’ve never seen him skulk in corners.

He pounces on everything, owns the couch and is assertive about anything that he wants.

He purrs loudly and often.

And then there is Sadie: a 9 year-old, German Shepherd mixed with Something-that-Howls-A-Lot,  rescued off the streets in Tennessee.

The problem is that Sadie chases the cats.  And although they nimbly dart out of reach, they then glare at me from a distance with palpable discontent.

I’ll spare you all the drama, except for this:

One day, Fritz simply decided to stop running.

Instead, as Sadie came after him as she usually did, he perched on the back of the couch, puffed out his fur, hissed at her and stood his ground.

Sadie whimpered and sat down, confused.

That moment changed their relationship.  

Today, Fritz stalks through the house freely, and Sadie paces around like him as if she is walking on hot coals.  Recently, I even walked into a living room with the dog napping on the floor and Fritz fast asleep on the couch 2 feet away.  Peaceful.

Nonviolence does not mean simply allowing others to intimidate you, frighten you or attack you. 

Rattlesnakes have rattles; Gorillas beat their chests, Cobras raise their hoods and cats hiss.  These are ways of saying: I don’t want to bite you, I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to fight you … but, don’t come closer or hurt me either.    

On the other hand, Mr. Whiskerson, continues to run and dart.

And predictably, Sadie continues to chase and bite at him.

My poor traumatized, neglected cat simply can’t find it in him – yet – to hiss at the dog. He can’t yet reclaim his power. He is ruled by his fears.

I scaffold all interactions between Sadie and Mr. Whiskerson: an example of the protective use of force:  I don’t allow them to just go at it and “work it out” – I protect them from one another.

As long as we avoid the thing that we fear, we are unable to develop a new relationship with the thing that scares us.  Avoidance keeps us constricted and limited, trapped in the bounds of our history and memories.  If we want to be free, liberated, healed, empowered, we need to learn to hiss with loving kindness.  

What about you?

What fears are controlling you and limiting your choices?

Where could you give yourselves a little more permission to hiss a little, to push back a little more than you usually do?

This week, how could you experiment with a little hissing and loving kindness?

If you like these ideas and want to take them deeper, you might enjoy this video by Paul Chappell on the Art of Waging Peace, or this parable about the Cobra who Learns to Hiss.


Relationships are the foundation of well-being. Join me in bringing more empathy, acceptance, and service into the world.  What one step can you take this week, that moves you closer to living the life you are truly longing for?

What one step?  


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