Penny’s mom and I met as volunteers at our children’s elementary school. We spent hours cutting, gluing and copying side by side. I soon learned that she had a cat who’d been her companion since before she was married. Penny the Cat wasn’t young and she had some senior cat habits: hairballs, potty accidents and so on.
Penny spent most of her days sleeping; her photo revealed a quiet, gentle character. Lately Penny had seemed depressed and withdrawn and her person was concerned. Curious, I asked questions. The home was under renovation, was that the problem? Then I learned the whole family had moved into the basement for the duration and Penny had settled right in. She seemed to enjoy having the family closer together.
The problem wasn’t obvious. As the weeks went by I learned more about the home environment. Eventually, I learned that Penny’s dad didn’t understand her, or maybe it would be more accurate to say he didn’t understand pets. Recently, he’d started saying things about the cat that weren’t complimentary. “I’m sick of hairballs,” he’d say, or “all she does is lie around!” He commented that things would be better once she was gone. He said them in front of Penny.
“Well.” I said. “There’s your problem!” This was excellent news! We’d cracked the code and now we could make some progress!
He wasn’t a bad guy, but clearly he didn’t have the chops to live with a cat. Cats, I often think, don’t really need us. Usually, one is carefully selected by a cat, then put through a rigorous training process that we often don’t notice. Cat people have to be comfortable with the unknowable, patient and willing to be shown affection in ways that can be subtle. One must be more interested in love than fine furniture. A sense of humor is helpful.
This guy was low on skills but my fellow mom seemed to like him.
I suggested that Mom go straight home and tell Penny that Dad said some things that were unkind, but he didn’t really mean them! Tell Penny she’s a great cat, I said. Talk about the beautiful times you’ve had together and tell her what you love about her. Let her know she will always be with you and thank her for being your companion!
A week later the mom reported back. The night she talked to her cat, Penny played with her toys for the first time in months! She asked for affection; she was more relaxed. The children started correcting their Dad when he said unkind things about Penny. Dad shared his doubt she could understand English, and Penny coughed a hairball onto his pillow.
Pets are more like us than we think. They enjoy being seen and appreciated. They want to feel included and welcome. They hear what we say, and sometimes they need to be reassured! When a pet is having an emotional problem I always ask, “do you talk to them?” It can go a long way!
Rt. Rev. Katie Heldman is the Co-Director of Psychic Horizons Center, and wrote this article for the June 20th, 2022 eNews.