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The tiny ginger kitten wailed as he sat, bedraggled and sopping wet, next to an ornamental cedar. The concept of seeking shelter seemed to have eluded him, because, for all the refuge the little shrub provided, he might as well have been sitting in the middle of the yard. I hesitated. My neighbourhood at that time was full of feral cats, left behind when their humans moved away, and I had learned the hard way they were usually too savage to be helped.
But as the storm raged around us, it was clear this little fellow had no idea what to do, so with a sigh of resignation, I prepared to be clawed to ribbons as I moved him to the comparative shelter of my porch where at least he would be out of the worst of the rain.
However, to my immense surprise, when I picked him up, he snuggled down into my arms and looked up at me with the wide and innocent eyes of the true con-artist. I melted. Later on, I realized this was the moment I was hooked, but I remained in denial for weeks afterwards. Resistance, I was to learn, was futile.
In that moment, I decided that I would take this sodden little bundle into the house and at least dry him off before I took him down the street to the animal shelter. I had a client coming shortly and I would deal with him after the session. When the client arrived, she insisted the little guy be allowed snuggle up to her while he dried, and by the end of the session offered, if we could not find his owner, to give him a loving home.
Great! I thought. He seemed like such an affectionate and well-mannered little fellow I thought it certain he was not a feral cat. I would be able to find his owners and if not, it looked like he had a loving forever home to go to. And so it went for the rest of the afternoon. My furry little visitor sucked up to everyone who came through the door and by the end of the afternoon he had four offers of adoption.
I was pleased. It looked like I was going to have no trouble finding this guy a home, because I was definitely not going to have any more cats! After the demise of my two previous feline room-mates, I still felt too raw to think about letting another one into my life. So, I decided to keep him, just until I had checked around the neighbourhood to see who he belonged to, and if no one claimed him, I felt sure I could find him a good home.
Meanwhile, the cat had other ideas. He seemed to think his mission in life was to be a therapy cat and his obvious love for the clients, and sensitivity to their moods made him a valuable assistant. I did not realize how valuable, until I saw him masterfully out-manoeuvre one of my most difficult clients–the dreaded teen-aged tough-guy who had been “sent” to therapy.
Now, if you have teen aged boys in your life, especially ones who are traumatized and angry, you will note that they are generally not given to talking about their feelings all that much. My sessions usually would start something like this:
Me: “How’s it going?”
Me: “How was school?”
Me: “What’s happening with (insert some subject you hope they are interested in).”
Them: “Nothing . . .”
And so it would go, with me desperately trying to find a way to break the ice and usually getting there eventually, but not without a lot of pulling of teeth and gnashing of hair (or perhaps the other way around).
So at the last session of the day, I faced one of my toughest clients. This young fellow was not going to let me or anyone else get close to him, he was so hurt and angry. But he had never come up against Casey the Wonder Cat (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that by now I had named him. Stupid me). The client came into the treatment room and slouched down on the couch assuming the posture of the terminally bored, baseball cap pulled so low on his brow all I could see was his chin. I had just began my usual brilliant conversational foray (see above) when Casey sauntered into the room.
Now, I don’t know who had owned Casey before that day, but I suspect it must have been a young man, because the second Casey saw my young client he made a bee-line for him, rolling on his back and begging for a vigorous belly-rub. For his part, my client suddenly came to life exclaiming, “Buddy!!!!”, while sliding off the couch and onto the floor as if he and Casey were long-lost pals. I figured, what the hell, since everyone else was on the floor I would join them too, so we all sat down together and I was finally able to have an actual conversation with the young man, while he and the cat comforted each other. It was nothing short of amazing.
So that is how I came to have Casey the Wonder Cat in my life and in the lives of many, many trauma survivors who have been comforted and soothed by his, at times uncanny, sensitivity to their moods. For many of the people I work with, the family pet was the only creature who could be trusted and so Casey’s presence helps them feel safe while they tell me of horrors no one, let alone a child, should ever have to endure.
After that session the four people who had offered to adopt him all backed out for one reason or another and by that time a week had gone by. I looked all over the neighbourhood for his owners, but no one knew where he had come from. I listed him with the Humane Society and Animal Services and postered everywhere, but no one came forward.
And by that time, several weeks had gone by and I, too, was thoroughly besotted by this amazing little charmer. My clients threatened mutiny if I gave him away, so I finally gave up and admitted he was mine.
Or so he lets me think . . .