Guest post: Affection with purpose

Guest post: Affection with purpose

Endless_HappyI’m primed to be a “fixer,” to a fault.
I have a feeling readers of this blog can identify, big-hearted bunch that you are.

If someone I love (of any species) is suffering, my first, fiercest impulse is to throw on my cape and fix. Fixing, or at least flapping about in a frenzy of good intentions, at least creates the illusion of doing something to help.

But leave it to cats to loosen illusions.

Buddy accepts his entrapment. All photos courtesy of Carrie.
Buddy accepts his entrapment. All photos courtesy of Carrie.

Sometimes the best medicine is a non-anxious presence. To simply be with a loved one in her ache is the hardest, holiest thing to do.

Nobody does it better than cats.

Our wonderful volunteer Carrie attests to this more beautifully than I could. I’ll let her take over here:

“After a very rough day, I crawled into bed at an embarrassingly early 7PM. A stomach ailment had robbed me of enjoyment of the day, leaving me with little more capability than huddling under a Sherpa blanket.

“Within seconds — perhaps twenty or so — I had company. Twice over. First to arrive was Buddy, the cat who came into my life 11 years ago, the one I call my ‘companion’ cat. Second was Sirius, who I refer to as my ‘love’ cat, who I had adopted in 2012 from Tabby’s Place, where he was known as Squidward.

“Typically, Buddy will settle in toward the foot of the bed, kneading the blanket into the perfect little nesting spot. His way of laying down is more of a slow, calculated flop. At 15 years of age, he does what old cats do best: he snuggles in and sleeps.

“As I lay on my side, mentally playing a tiny violin in a pitiful soundtrack of woe, Buddy slowly walked up the length of the bed. He did not immediately plant himself at the foot, no — he came straight up to the pillow. And he purred.

No cloud of despair permitted in the presence of this very Sirius face.
No cloud of despair permitted in the presence of this very Sirius face.

“The cloud of despair broke away a little, just enough for me to give him a pet. Buddy seemed to take this as an invitation — an acceptance of what he had to offer — and he purred with all of the depth and volume he could muster, vibrating the entire pillow, as he kneaded it into a more comfortable spot. He leaned in close, pushing his forehead tightly against mine, and carefully flopped his soft, round body against my head.

“Here, I sighed in relief.

“Moments later, Sirius had arrived: he stood up on his hind legs and put his front paws on the edge of the bed, peering over at me with one bright green eye and one cloudy eye. He hopped up, climbing right atop my body, sniffing loudly.

“And he settled in.

“Regally, much like the way the Sphinx lays, Sirius closed his eyes and relaxed. Usually, he might lay alongside me, or find a nice spot down by my legs. Not now — not while I was frustrated and sick. Buddy purred against my head, Sirius stretched out on top of me. Doctors Cat and Cat, at your service.

“According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, there is evidence that people who own pets can show reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In my personal experience, as I’ve just described, the very presence of Buddy and Sirius put me at ease. Their presence comes without judgment, without demand, without baggage. There is no unsolicited (although well-meaning) medical advice here. They don’t immediately suggest I go gluten-free. In a sort of scientific sense, their attentive presence could be as simple as stress reduction, allowing me to handle my situation with a clearer head.

Drs. Cat and Cat consult about their beloved patient
Drs. Cat and Cat consult about their beloved patient

“Sharon Crowell-Davis, a professor of veterinary behavior at the University of Georgia, has suggested that purring is a cat’s way of telling you they want you to stay nearby. The general belief — and it’s not always accurate — is that cats purr when they are content. A mother cat will purr for her kittens. Kittens will purr when a human picks them up and pets them. A sick cat will purr as she is being euthanized. For whatever the purpose is, Buddy’s purr beside my head is comforting. I consider purring back: ‘Buddy, do not leave me. Please.’

“My boys are affectionate, and their affection feels like it has purpose. They trail me in the way a dog might, especially when I am not at my best. And of course — when I lay down, they are on me. Literally.

“I didn’t train them to be this way. I did not put treats on the pillow to urge Buddy to sleep by my head. They do it on their own, and my gratitude is endless. Crowell-Davis also suggests that a cat is just as affectionate as a dog, though their body language and communication methods are different. I’ve had a Bernese Mountain dog the size of a pony lean against me, lifting his head back to give me a gaze of utter adoration. The same dog bounded away eagerly when someone else entered the room, doing the very same act of affection to them.

“Buddy and Sirius do not gravitate to my significant other in the manner that they do to me. They are mine as much as I am theirs. I know their ways of communication well. When Sirius gives me a slow, deliberate blink, I give him one right back. He’s saying ‘I adore you,’ and I let him know, ‘I adore you, too.’

“The love and affection that you get from the right cat can have a magnificent impact on your life, if you’ll let it. I hope you will. I’ve decided to let it have that impact on my life. When I am feeling my worst, Buddy and Sirius show me their best. For that, I am endlessly grateful, and to them, I will give my endless love.”

This love is our wholeness.

Sirius, Buddy, Carrie, thank you for the finest fix of all.

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