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I Wouldn’t Be a Cat Writer If I Hadn’t Lost My Job

How do you turn a sucktastic experience into something awesome? With cats, of course!

 |  Mar 15th 2013  |   23 Contributions


One brutally cold February morning in 2003, I was puttering around my home office preparing for the beginning of my work day, when my phone rang.

It was my employer.

“JaneA, I’ve got some bad news,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”

Woman and black cat by Shutterstock

“I understand,” I said.

And I did. I’d seen it coming.

The economy had pretty much collapsed after 9/11, and the jobs my company had been getting were fewer and farther between. We’d even been taking some pro bono work just to fill up some time and feel as if we were doing something. I knew my employer and his very small business couldn’t continue to bear the financial burden of paying us without having adequate revenue coming in.

Sinéad "helps" me write.

The morning my boss called me, I’d awakened to a strange sense of separation, as if the energy bond that connected me to my work had dissolved.

As soon as I hung up, I took care of the practical stuff. I filed for unemployment. I cancelled my cable TV.

And then I sat there, staring at my computer screen, wondering what the hell to do with myself.

I was just climbing out of an episode of soul-crushing depression, and I still wasn’t at my best. Logically, I knew I could survive this -- I’d been poor before, so I knew how to get by on very limited resources -- but I just didn’t have the energy to start sending out resumes. My self-esteem was still so fragile that I didn’t know whether I could handle the inevitable slew of “nos” that come along with applying for job after job.

I knew I needed to get on with it, but what could I do to help ease the pain of constant rejection? As much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t just escape into video games all day.

Siouxsie stared at the computer screen right along with me.

As I was pondering my future, my cat, Sinéad, hopped onto my desk and looked at me with her soulful golden eyes, and three thoughts occurred to me:

  • I’ve always loved cats and tried to take good care of them, but over the previous few years, collecting cat-care knowledge had become a hobby. I’d bought every single cat book I could find, and by that point I had a small library of books by the luminaries of the cat behavior, health, and holistic care world.
  • Through my job, I’d learned how to design websites and work with image-editing software.
  • I’d been writing for most of my adult life.

It sounded like a perfect recipe for ... an online cat advice column! And, of course, it had to be written by my cats.

Thomas, right, joined the Paws and Effect Gang in 2004. Dahlia came along in 2006, shortly after Sinéad's death.

I was on LiveJournal a lot those days, so I wrote a post along the lines of, “I’m thinking of writing an online cat-advice column, and I’ve come up with a few possible names. First of all, would you actually read a cat-advice column, and which of these names do you like best?”

The answer was, “Yes, we would read it!” The results of the poll: My favorite name, Paws and Effect, was the clear winner.

Kissy, right, was the next cat to join the family.

I set up a LiveJournal account for Paws and Effect and asked my friends to write me with questions they had about their cats. A couple of my LJ friends responded, and my cats have been answering letters from readers ever since.

I’m not gonna lie: It was hard. Losing your job sucks, no matter how you look at it. Depression sucks, too, and sometimes Paws and Effect was the only thing that kept me going. In the beginning, getting letters to answer was like pulling teeth, and sometimes I even had to write them myself. But I’d expected that: My mother had started her own business, and from her experience I knew I couldn’t give up just because people weren’t beating down the door the minute I opened, so to speak.

I'm giving a presentation at the 2012 Cat Writers' Association Conference. Photo by Angie Bailey

Over the ensuing 10 years, Paws and Effect has evolved into a well-respected and popular cat blog and served as a platform for many other great opportunities -- including my position as one of Catster’s contributing authors.

More than that, though, Paws and Effect has helped me find my true passion. It’s given me the motivation to act on that passion and the courage to move toward my goal of making a life that revolves around writing, cats, and education.

I believe that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t lost my job, so even though it sucked at the time, in the long run I'm grateful.

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