My Empathetic Cat Helped Me Through a Dark, Scary Night
A recovering blogger, Christie B lives in Birmingham, Ala., where she deals with websites and data during the day and herds cats during her free time. In addition to her own two cats, she often finds herself taking care of other people's cats, because in the eyes of her friends and family she is absolutely the Cat Lady.
Ten years ago, my sons and I adopted eight-week-old kittens from a shelter’s display at a local pet store. One little tabby was asleep with her head twisted upside down and had such a cute tabby “smile” that I just couldn’t resist stopping at the window and telling my kids that we were about to adopt two kittens. They chose a tortoiseshell and I chose the tabby, and home we went with our two new family members.
Sally the tortie turned out to be quite meek and mild. My youngest son, David, who was 10 at the time, observed that Rosie the tabby was the most “fierce.”
After the kittens got over their adorable tiny kitten phase, we could soon see that Rosie never hesitated to strike out at anyone who petted her at the wrong moment or tried to pick her up when she didn’t initiate the attention. She didn’t growl or attack anyone unprovoked, but she was sure to snap at me when I’d lean too close, trying to cuddle the adorable little kitty.
My boys and I loved both of them simply because they were our kitties. They would always just laugh at Rosie’s sometimes irritable ways when she’d take a swipe at someone who only rubbed her longer than she liked.
I wasn’t as nonchalant. I’ve had pets all my life, and I had never had my own pet scratch or bite me, so while I loved Rosie and took good care of her, I didn’t really like her. At the time, I had never heard of petting-induced aggression, and I just thought of Rosie as “mean.” How had we raised an irritable cat from an eight-week-old kitten?
In April 2010, when David was a junior in high school, he was invited to the senior prom by a pretty girl. After the prom, the plan was that the couple and a few of their friends would drive in two SUVs to a lake house belonging to the family of one of the guys in the group. The lake house was more than 60 miles away, but the boy's parents had assured the group (via a printed page with directions) that they would be at the house when the kids arrived.
Prom night arrived, and at first it was a beautiful evening. The kids all looked wonderful, and we took lots of pictures. After the prom David texted me that they were about to leave for the lake house. He asked me to meet him quickly at his buddy’s house nearby so I could pick up his tux (and bring him his flip-flops) before they set out on their drive.
By now it was raining so hard I could hardly see to get to his buddy’s house. The rain was coming down in buckets. April in Alabama can bring some pretty scary weather, and I was already getting a little tense thinking about my child riding with a carload of 16- and 17-year-olds 60 miles up the interstate, then down 10 miles of dirt roads, in this deluge. I kept my mouth shut, though, and told them to have fun. David assured me that he would text or call when he got there, and I made my way home.
At 17, David had always been one to text me when he’d be late, or in any circumstance where I had asked him to let me know that all was well. He’s a good kid, sure, and he’s also smart. If he let me know what was going on when he wanted to stay out past his curfew, then he could arrive home to a sleeping family instead of an awake and worried or annoyed mom.
After I got back home and out of my rain-soaked clothes, I got ready for bed. Rosie got on her usual towel at the foot of my bed, and Sally curled up on her own towel. I read for a while, waiting for David’s text, but I realized that with it raining so hard, it might take them twice as long to get to the house as it would in daylight, so I eventually turned off the light, expecting the phone to sound off any second.
I came awake with a start at 2 a.m. My phone was still sitting there and there was no word from David! There was no call, no message, and no text.
I called David’s phone, and it rang and rang and finally went to voicemail. I knew logically that he could have forgotten to text, and also that there might be very poor cell-phone reception at the lake house. Sure, I knew all those things. But I also knew that it wasn’t unusual at all for teens to die on the roads around here, especially on weekend nights.
I had the cell phone number for the hosts, but I didn’t want to call them, since they might have been asleep for hours. This was going to be one of those times where I couldn’t do anything except wait, and my anxiety was really ramping up.
I quickly went online to look at our local news sites to make sure there were no headlines about recent accidents, then I turned off the light again and realized I would just have to tough it out alone.
It turned out I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Rosie, who had never wanted much attention from me in the past (aside from a twice-daily feeding), appeared beside my pillow. She began kneading my shoulder vigorously and purring loudly. She had never come up that close before, face-to-face, but she was being a totally loving kitty, with no grumpiness in sight.
Rosie's loud purring and continued kneading were so comforting that I actually drifted off to sleep! I slept until my normal wake-up time, and by now the storms were past and the sun was shining. I texted David again and he texted back. “Sry forgot to txt. Didn’t remember until 2 am didn’t txt then so not to wake u”
After that night, Rosie and I have really bonded, because now I understand her. She is the alpha cat and may be a bit of a bully to the tortie sometimes, but part of who she is is that she is extra sensitive to what’s going on around her. And I believe that is also part of why she scratches people, especially if we have a few people in the same room, all talking or making things a little too noisy.
If there is tension in the air, I notice Rosie will have what we call her “Morris face,” with flat-topped eyes. We know we’re taking quite a risk when she has those flat-topped eyes! When everything’s calm and quiet, she is like a cuddly 10-year-old kitten. And when I’m worried or full of stress, she seems to know that too, and sticks extra close, purring and leaning against me wherever I’m sitting.
Although we often think cats aren’t really noticing us, they actually pick up on clues we humans would miss. The pitch of our voice, our breathing and heart rates (if they’re lying on our arm and can feel that), even our smell -- all of those things are easy for them to read.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to calm my stress before I approach this empathetic kitty. Last year I had to take Rosie to the state veterinary school for treatment for hyperthyroidism, and I was really full of dread. I dreaded the ordeal for her, since it would involve blood tests and then a 10-day period of isolation, since she’d have radioactive iodine treatment.
I dreaded having her gone for so long. I also worried a bit. What if something happened to her? But I had to remember to try to think happy thoughts and be calm so as not to ruin her home-time before it was time to go.
Rosie did just fine, though, and she is back to being a happy, healthy kitty. Both of my boys are in college now, so she’s grown more and more attached to me. She loves to lie with her head or even her head and chest on my hand while I sleep or read.
And if I ever feel lonely or anxious, she’s soon right there, purring, kneading, and comforting. I only hope my presence is as comforting to her, too!
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