Meet the Cork-based art therapist turned ‘cat whisperer’

Cats are often misunderstood, says Cork-based Carol Hardie, who is on a mission to change people’s perceptions of our feline friends and dispel the myths surrounding them, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Meet the Cork-based art therapist turned ‘cat whisperer’
Carol Hardie and Branca.

CATS can get a bad rap, but a Midleton-based cat whisperer is keen to dispel the myths about the oft-maligned pet.

Carol Hardie, originally from Scotland, recently completed an advanced diploma in feline behaviour.

Carol, who works as an art therapist having studied fine art, has been living in Ireland for 25 years. She came here with her then partner who had got a job at UCC.

Throughout history, cats have been both doted on and hated by humans. The ancient Egyptians worshipped them while in the Middle Ages, Europeans associated cats with witches. Some people are wary of cats because of the notion that they’re linked with sorcery.

Perhaps one of the reasons why cats are sometimes regarded with suspicion is because, unlike dogs, they have a subtle way of showing their affection for humans.

While dogs often openly adore their owners, cats can ignore people and become irritated if they’re petted too much. And there’s the notion that they are only interested in the people that give them food.

But Carol prefers cats to dogs.

“Unlike cats, dogs can be subservient and that’s not something I like,” she says.

Carol’s family got its first cat when she was aged 12.

“At the time, I wasn’t interested in cats. I actually wanted a dog. But when we got Jasper, I totally fell in love with her. Myself and my sister used to tease Jasper. She always got us back for things she wasn’t happy about. I kind of liked that.”

From then on, Carol always had cats, apart from the time when she was studying for her degree and moving house a lot. In England, she volunteered for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) and decided to study feline behaviour “because I’ve had cats in my life for 30 years”.

She adds: “I had two cats, one of whom unfortunately passed away recently. Both neutered females, the interaction between them was absolutely fascinating and very subtle, sometimes. I knew they were conveying things to each other.

“I saw a lot of almost mothering behaviour and also dominant behaviour from the older cat. I found it really interesting.”

Having read Desmond Morris’s book, Cat Watching, Carol decided to look more deeply into cat behaviour. She is concerned that they can be abused by people.

“I think that occurs because of a misunderstanding about how they work,” says Carol.

She knocks the observation that cats don’t have the kind of loyalty to their owners as dogs have.

“That’s rubbish. I read an article that reported on an experiment with cats and dogs. When the animals were put into an unusual environment for a period of time, the owners then turned up later. The cats scored higher than the dogs in calming down in the presence of their owners. It was a similar response that small children have to their parents when they’ve been away for a while.”

The domestication of cats is completely different to that of dogs.

“We domesticated dogs because they were useful to us. Cats domesticated themselves. They’re drawn to mice and rats. We were happy to have them because (they kill rodents.)”

Cats, says Carol, also satisfy something innate in us. We have an inbuilt response to the baby schema.

“We are programmed to respond favourably to big eyes, a round head and a small area between the tip of the nose and the chin. We see this as cute in babies. And cats also have those features.”

Anybody that doesn’t like cats has either had a bad experience with one or is suspicious of them, says Carol.

“Dogs are more attuned to picking up on our emotions than cats are. Dogs are a pack animal while cats are solitary. The biggest thing cats suffer from is stress which they experience in a strange environment.”

Carol had a very close connection to her cat that recently died. Called Katie, Carol says she adored her — “she was the nicest thing ever.”

Carol rescued Katie at a vet’s practice where she was about to be put down. She was just six weeks old. Carol was at the vet because her cat, Jamesy, had a broken tooth.

“When I was given Katie, she never once took her eyes off me as I drove from Togher to Mayfield where I lived at the time. There was a bond straightaway. She knew exactly what I was thinking.

“If I was busy doing my studies on my laptop, she’d want to sit on my knee and would put a paw on my leg. If I said ‘Not now Katie,’ she’d go away. As I’d be coming home from work, she’d run to meet me.”

Carol doesn’t have children. She says that looking after cats probably satisfies her maternal instinct, to some degree.

“The thing is with a cat, you can ignore it for a while but with kids, you can’t.”

Carol now looks after a cat called Branca.

She is appalled at a practice involving the removal of the claws of cats which is allowed in the U.S.

“It’s not allowed here because it’s an abuse of the animal. Cats use their claws for all sorts of things. They become very traumatised if their claws are taken off. Cats use claws for marking their territory, they use them for communication, fighting and climbing.”

While Carol is a cat behaviourist, she says: “I suppose you could call me a cat whisperer. To be one, you have to have a rapport with the cat you’re working with and also with the owner.”

Carol, who looks after cats mostly in their homes when their owners are on holidays, hopes that when the coronavirus pandemic is over, she will go to schools and teach students about cats.

“I want to talk about their behaviour so that people will have more understanding of them and will be less likely to damage them. In Cork, you had people setting their dogs on cats.”

To give cats the assurance that she is no threat to them, Carol squints her eyes at them and then blinks a lot.

“Cats do that to each other if they’re friendly with other cats,” she explains. Who knew felines have such codes?

Carol Hardie can be contacted at 087 6880829.

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