Friday, September 7, 2012

Cat lessons


Placing a warning on this because I am still not feeling well and when I write in this head space it tends to get dark. The B-12 injection has an unpleasant side of effect of nausea. I am on day #3 of 24/7 nausea. My tolerance for dealing with it is slipping.


I keep being drawn to an image that is calling me to write about it.

So often in life nothing really phases us. Nothing hits you in your gut and makes you go OOPPPHHHFFF. When they do occur they impact you, sometimes changing you.

As a writer I collect those moments. They glisten like gold in my writers bucket.

Years and years ago on the farm we had a cat named Tootsie. (yes named for the movie).

She had been found by some children in a junk yard. It had been a blistering August day, over 100 degrees. She and her teen age litter mates had been placed in a stack of tires with piece of sheet metal over it. She was the only one alive.

The vet told us sadly she had suffered brain damage from her abuse.

Having a child with Cerebral Palsy somehow makes that diagnosis not so scary or insurmountable. So she came home with us.

It didn't take long to see the ravages of the effects on her. She used to clean herself like a normal cat, but then couldn't stop and she would lick huge sores all over herself. Sometimes she would just bite herself for no reason.

I was in therapy at the time, working on healing from my own struggles with self injury. It was a ping to my core to see this young cat injuring herself because of the damage in her brain. It gave me lots to think about.

She took up residence on top of the microwave.

Anytime you got in/out of the microwave she would reach down and claw you.

KSS was maybe 6 or 7 at the time and as we cooked dinner one night she stood a the counter staring at  Tootsie.

Finally she asked Grandma and me why she she was clawing people.

Grandma explained, "Her brain was cooked by the heat. She has basic cat instincts but her brain is so damaged she doesn't know how to be a cat."

KSS thought about it for a moment and then turned back to Tootsie. "I'm going to teach her to be a cat."

She reached out her hand, and Tootsie reached out her paw and clawed it. They repeated this several times before KSS ignored the clawing and reached past her to stroke her head.

Tootsie cringed as if she had been hit with a stick.

"I will teach you to like to be petted." KSS said to her, stroking her head again "You should know all cats like to be petted."

The world swam before my eyes as the image of the little girl with brain damage, teaching the cat with brain damage, seared itself to my soul. Unable to catch my breath I slipped out to lay in the yard and cry in solitude.

The images of my therapist reaching out to me and me clawing him, flashed in my mind. How gently and firmly he kept reaching for me...teaching me to be a human.....and reconnecting me with the world I lived in. To work with what was in my brain, not what should have been there. He didn't force me to be normal...but rather to just work with what was left of my soul after the abuse, and teach me to function the best I could within my mental limitations.

We all followed KSS's example and worked with Tootsie. Cat Physical Therapy was a family undertaking.

To love Tootsie was a chore. She bit and scratched. We would wrap her in a towel and hold her and pet her. Sitting her in in our laps and feeding her and touching her. Talking to her and reassuring her. She never sought out human touch so we brought it to her.

I will never forget the day she came to me for the first time and stood on the floor looking up at me. Her skin just twitching and jerking as she decided and then she jumped in my lap. I didn't touch her. I let her fight this battle on her own. She continued her quivery jerking and then laid down.

"KSS," I whispered

She looked over at me.

"Your cat lessons are paying off." I used my eyes to point to Tootsie.

We grinned like maniacs.

She could never be a normal cat. We never asked her to be. To love her meant reaching past the flying claws and teeth most of the time. Cat PT continued her whole life. Each day petting her until the panic and fear left her eyes and we could see a fleeting release of tension in her deep green eyes and we knew we had connected with her.

Years later without cause she moved from the microwave to the plate cupboard.

It caused unrest in the house. A clawing, scabbed covered, long haired, shedding cat isn't the most sanitary thing you would want on your dinner plates.

Knowing how change in her routine upset her, we would gently remove her and put her back on the microwave. She would hop down zip over and scale the counter and claw open the cupboard door and get back on the plates.

This went on for several days.

Finally the stress of being moved daily caused her to start vomiting.

We had no choice them.

She was removed and a baby lock applied to seal the cupboard.

For the second time that cat sent me spinning.

Watching her frantically claw at the baby lock and meow pitifully as she tried to get in. Nothing we could do could comfort her. This change of routine was a coat hanger jabbed in her brain and twisted. You could see the unraveling of her soul. Her meows escalated to a frantic screaming.

The look in her eyes will haunt me forever.

We took turns wrapping her in a towel and rocking her. When she stopped screaming and clawing and biting herself we let her down and she went right back to the cupboard door.

We discussed options.

In the end Grandma placed a box in its side on the microwave and placed several plates in it and shut the box flaps like cupboard doors.

We put in there and shut the box flaps.

There was silence.

We peaked in.

Tootsie starred back at us, and peace returned to the house.

Eventually the vet suggested an avocado based food for her to try to help her self inflicted injuries heal faster. Like a miracle it cleared up her skin. Turned her coat shiny and seemed to calm her somehow. Or maybe she seemed calmer because she was no longer self injuring.

Over the years on the farm as I personally grew and healed I was taught lessons on living and being the cats. In a way I was so nonhuman that the best teachers, by force had to be the animals. The cat lessons from Tootsie still cling to me to this day.


  1. Hey Dogdancing, you haven't posted for 3 days! Just so you know...

  2. Hmm, that might be a while - you failed to take the Hill yesterday. : )