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Yesterday I watched a relative’s virtual graduation ceremony; definitely a sign of the times. After the video compilation of days when we weren’t on lockdown (remember gathering in groups and hugging friends?), and after the speeches made by administrators standing alone at a podium, there was a slide show of the graduates. Each slide had a photo of the student, the student’s name, and a quote. As you can imagine the quotes ranged from the typical inspirational ones to funny ones to ones I imagine the graduate might regret in a few years. Some things haven’t changed. But there was one quote I particularly appreciated. It said, “The best therapists have four paws and a tail.”
Throughout my life there have been several therapists, all cats. While I bonded with all of them, some therapists better than others, they were all loved. A few of my cat-therapists were very influential in my life.
My first important therapist, Cinder, began seeing me when I was about six years old. Though he only saw me for a few years, he taught me about unconditional love and grief. Cinder was with me through those times that adults tend to brush aside but are important to kids. And through his loss, he inspired me to become a veterinarian. Cinder contracted feline leukemia when it was still a very new disease, dying soon thereafter. As a child I didn’t understand that feline leukemia was caused by a virus and this was before a vaccine had been invented. All I knew was that people could get leukemia and could be treated. It made me want to become a veterinarian so I could save cats just like Cinder.
My next influential therapist, Oliver, came to me in an odd way. My sister and I had gone out in a boat to a speck of an island near our home. There, this therapist came out of the bushes mewing in a high-pitched squeak. He was very friendly and as I got close enough to touch him, I realized Oliver’s unusual meow was due to a very tight flea collar. I took it off of him – one of my first veterinary acts -- and thankfully there was no serious skin damage. Assuming Oliver lived nearby, I put him back on the ground to return home. Instead he followed us to our boat.
Then he climbed in.
I couldn’t imagine a cat staying on a boat, but he did. We took him home to care for him while trying to find his owners, knowing our father would not want another cat. But Oliver was smart. While my sister and I put up signs looking for his people, he befriended my father. Within a week, Oliver was allowed inside the house and sleeping on my dad’s lap. No owner was found and Oliver got to stay. We bought him a life jacket and he went on boat rides, car rides, and would eat chef salads, leaving behind the tomatoes. Oliver taught me to look for the good in all people, even those who may not like you in the beginning.
Some therapists are great simply because they stay by your side through numerous life changes. Tess was like that. She started seeing me in my early teen years and stayed with me through many milestones: high school, college, and veterinary school graduations; marriage; and numerous moves across many miles. She was simply a really great friend.
The last therapist to have left me was Bear. It wasn’t a name I would have chosen, but she came from the shelter with it and it was never changed. At first, she was a shy therapist, hiding behind the sofa, but once she came out and trusted us, she was the best. We bonded very closely and Bear was always confident of her surroundings, even new ones, so long as we were together. She was the kind of therapist who would absolutely light up when she saw you walk into the room. I never tired of hearing her purr just because we were together.
Our four-legged therapists take incredible care of us. They help us grow. They stay with us through the good times and the tough times. Like now. I just wish they wouldn’t leave us so soon. I have a new therapist now. Over these first few years as we’ve gotten to know each other, our relationship has blossomed. As we head into a very uncertain future, I look forward to seeing what he has to teach me.