This story was written by author Carl Japikse in his introduction to The Tao of Meow. It is reprinted with permission.
As soon as I read this story of Carl’s cat Waldo, I wanted to share it with you. Amusing and profound at the same time, it points to a unique way of viewing certain cat “problems” that could lead to breakthroughs for our cats—and for ourselves.
Carl’s story begins…
“It is always somewhat humbling to discover that your cat, no matter how fond of him you may be, is a deeper thinker than you are.
We always knew Waldo was a superior cat, from the very first day he appeared in our lives and firmly introduced himself as “Waldo.” We made the usual jokes: “Would you like us to call you Ralph?” and “So, where’s your pond?” but he just smiled and endured our little pleasantries. It was only later that we learned that the name “Waldo” actually means “ruler,” and that our new feline friend was merely making a statement of truth.
Over the years, Waldo has taught us a great deal about living. He is, after all, the developer of The Waldo Principle, one of the great guidelines to personal growth. Throughout his long tenure with us, Waldo has only demonstrated two faults. One was an unfortunate proclivity to break wind in our presence, which blissfully cleared up as his diet improved. The second was a neurotic habit of chewing away the fur along his hind legs—and sometimes other parts of his body as well.
He would begin to clean himself, like any cat would do, and then become so intently involved in licking one spot clean that he would actually tear away the fur, leaving a raw spot in an otherwise immaculate coat. This habit of self-mortification was so strong we decided he must have been a Catholic monk in an earlier life.
Wanting to help Waldo overcome this affliction, we naturally did everything we could think of to make it worse. We took him to the vet, who attached a long, Latin name to the condition; he also gave us an ointment to rub into the raw spots Waldo had made.
The ointment had a foul taste; the idea was that when Waldo began licking his favorite raw spots, he would be repelled by the foul taste of the ointment and quit mortifying himself. Which was an excellent theory, except for one consideration. It didn’t work.
Waldo did, as predicted, ignore the anointed spots—-but at the price of starting completely new ones elsewhere on his body. What’s worse—he would run and hide from us every time we called him, fearing another application of the dreaded ointment. He spent most of his time cowering under the chaise.
This effort was followed by several other, equally moronic attempts to help Waldo conquer his neuroses. Nothing worked, until the day we realized that we were so obsessed with curing our cat that we were, in fact, estranging ourselves from him. So we adopted a new strategy. We threw out the ointment, the sedatives, and the other pharmacologies and let Waldo be himself. We sat down and told him that he was a fine cat in every regard, and if he wanted to chew himself, we could learn to accept that.
Instead of trying to cure him anymore, we would limit ourselves to loving him and being friends with him. And we made a special effort to make up for all the time we had lost in getting to know him.
Within a week, Waldo had stopped chewing himself. Naturally, we were delighted. But we also realized that the problem had never been that Waldo chewed himself. The only problem was ours—we needed to learn how to love a cat properly.
Waldo took on the assignment-—at some personal sacrifice—and never once gave up on us, until we triumphed. Considering the smell of that ointment, this was no small act of tolerance.
Being a student of human growth, I was impressed by the dramatic results of looking beyond Waldo’s neurotic behavior and treating the whole cat with love. I thought of the many people I had helped over the years, and how many of them, in essence, had the habit of chewing at themselves. Isn’t that what worry is? What about guilt? Or fear? Low self-esteem? These are obsessive traits by which we gnaw away at our very life vitality. We see each other doing it, but we are so involved in it ourselves that we do not even recognize the horror of it.
Waldo opened my eyes to The Waldo Principle—that the vast majority of human beings go through life chewing away at their own self-image, just as Waldo chewed on his fur. Some of us go to psychiatrists, others go to our pastors for help in changing this condition, but the ointments and medications we are given just refocus the problem. They don’t heal it.
It will take love—the same kind of love that we give a favorite cat—to heal these neurotic habits. If Waldo could cure himself in one week, given a proper treatment of love, it seems reasonable that most humans ought to be able to do the same within a month—or at least a year.”
Excerpted from the introduction to The Tao of Meow by Waldo Japussy, a unique collaboration between author Japikse and his cat. “A collection of 81 reflections on life and the way to total self-gratification as only a cat can tell it. Any resemblance between these verses and the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is entirely deliberate and indicates that you are a discerning reader.” (Amazon description)