Sunday, February 27, 2005

Is It Safe?

If you have a Bengal for a pet, sooner or later (usually sooner) someone is going to worry about whether it's safe to be around. Family members will fear for your life. Friends will worry about whether it's safe to let their children visit your home with this wild animal running loose. It's probably the number one concern of people who aren't really familiar with Bengals.

Look, cats - Bengals or otherwise - have claws and teeth and they know how to use them. I can't speak for all cats everywhere. But I have literally never seen Leela display an aggressive impulse toward any living thing. On the contrary, she's quite affectionate, and perhaps the most universally friendly cat I've ever seen. After a few thousand years of living with humans, house cats are pretty well domesticated. If one strikes out, it's probably because something's frightened it and it feels cornered and threatened. And Leela just doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. (Sure, she doesn't like the vacuum cleaner, but I'm not sure if she's actually afraid of it or just doesn't like the noise.)

Play is a special case, obviously. When she plays, she means it, as Laszlo can testify. But even there, she's very careful about skin. If she grabs bare skin, her claws are sheathed. In the rare cases when she nips, it's very gentle. She really seems to be aware of it and careful not to hurt you. Skin that's covered (and sadly for Laszlo, this includes fur) doesn't get quite as much deference. She will pounce with great abandon on movement beneath bedclothes - if you move while sleeping, or curl up beneath a quilt on the sofa. And in these cases, the no-claws rule doesn't apply. Again, we're not quite sure what her little kitty thought processes are. Does she not realize that this is the same foot she'd treat more gently if it were bare? Or does she just figure you've got protection and she doesn't need to hold back as much?

But in any case, the bottom line is that she's never broken my skin, deliberately or accidentally. And the frequency of minor scrapes and scratches is no greater than it's been with the domestic cats I've had for most of my life. (A heck of a lot less than one of them, in fact...)

We had an illuminating experience not long ago when a friend came over to visit with her daughter, who's about two and a half. Indeed, she was a bit wary about whether her daughter would be safe around the cat. And indeed, the moment the daughter saw our cats, it was all "kitties!" and she was off after them. Laszlo was like Keyser Soze. He was smoke. He was just gone. But Leela was curious. She stayed around and she tolerated all the enthusiastic poking and prodding without any kind of retaliation. When the girl got too aggressive, Leela would move off a bit, but she'd come right back. Like I said before, the best way to get scratched by a cat is to threaten and corner it, and that's just what over-eager kids are likely to unwittingly do. But since Leela was never afraid of her in the first place, this just never became an issue. A fine time was had by all.

So my conclusion is that, despite their "wild" ancestry, yes, it's safe to be around a Bengal. Quite possibly even safer than a standard domestic cat. She makes a lovely pet, and I can recommend the breed without reservation.


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