I was living alone after a bad breakup that had shattered me, mind and spirit. After moving twice, once from another state and once from an apartment complex after I lost the job that paid for it.
I was damaged, and I was alone, in the upstairs of a small house in a small town. I asked my landlady if I could have a cat. She was dubious, but said yes.
I found a cat at a shelter. She was an adult tortoiseshell calico named Bijou. She was small and shy and quiet. The first night I took her home, she slept across my throat.
We needed each other. I needed someone to care about, to focus my attention outward on. She needed someone to draw her out of her shell, to care for and about her.
We took it slowly. At first she didn’t like to be held. When I got home from work she would meet me at the door. I would pick her up, give her a quick kiss on the head, and set her right back down. Soon she learned that being held wasn’t such a bad thing.
Since then I have never been without a cat.
And they have improved my mental health. Pets do.
Pets entertain when we need distraction. They can make us smile and even laugh.
Petting them brings tactile comfort and purring offers a soothing sound.
Caring for a pet makes us feel – be – needed. Even when we have a hard time caring for ourselves, a pet becomes a responsibility bigger than we are.
Losing a pet teaches us about the process of necessary grieving. Then getting another pet teaches us about the process of loving someone new, opening our hearts again.
Pets listen. They don’t judge.
Pets communicate with us, and teach us their personal language.
Pets are now being used as therapy animals and comfort animals for the anxious, the aged, prisoners – and psychiatric patients. The laws and policies regarding “assistance animals” are only just beginning to be enacted. They are far from catching up with the need.
Even visits with farm animals – lambs and chickens and ponies – are fulfilling vital roles in people’s lives.
I’ve written about “crazy cat ladies” before and even identified myself as one (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-bI). There is a stigma that goes along with the label – yet another kind of stigma that we would be better off without. Admittedly, we can become obsessed with our companion animals, even to an extent that is unhealthy. They can be burdens, and annoyances, and expenses.
There are some people – perhaps people with rage issues, for example – who should not own pets. Having pets is a choice that should only be made if they and you fit together well. We’ve all read the stories and seen the pictures online of people who abuse pets horribly. Now those are the ones that I consider crazy.
Pets may not me be the right choice for other reasons. A person who travels a lot, or has extended hospital stays, may not be able to make the commitment. Germophobes and emetophobes may not be able to handle the inevitable messes that come with pets. Even pet fish need their bowls cleaned.
Personally, I would avoid fish, unless the care of, say, tropical fish fascinates you. And their placid swimming can be calming. But for most of us, a pet that interacts with us is preferable. Birds aren’t very cuddly, but they make agreeable (to some) sounds. Reptiles have their own fascination and aficionados. Me, I want something I can pet.
The picture that accompanies this post is of Louise (aka The Queen of Everything). She is 20 years old and, although she is hanging in there, I will be devastated when she goes. My husband’s 17-year-old cat, Garcia, has some health problems, though again, not terrible ones considering his age. Then there are our youngsters, Dushenka and Toby.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that they are as much a part of my support system as I am theirs.