|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 7.50(h) x (d)|
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Divine Messengers of Comfort
By Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Allen and Linda Anderson
All rights reserved.
Is Life Better When We Curl Up Together?
Two are better than one ... For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
— Ecclesiastes 4:9–10
Cats love us.
Did you know that meowing and purring express a unique relationship between humans and cats that has evolved over thousands of years? People don't read body language as skillfully as cats do, so living with us has taught our feline friends to get our attention and affection, which they seem to want and need, by vocalizing. Cats don't meow or purr much if a person isn't around to listen to them. Cats also adjust their vocalizations — higher, lower, softer, louder, more frequent, or more urgent — to tell us when they are hungry, frightened, hurting, or content.
The extent of a cat's love for a human can be astonishing. In Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's book The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, he tells about a cat his sister encountered at a veterinarian's office. When she asked the vet why all four of the cat's paws were heavily bandaged, the vet explained that the cat's human had jumped from a ten-story window and died. The cat, in a desperate attempt to stop her friend from committing suicide, had hurled herself out the window right behind him. The cat had survived.
Cats love us back.
We are the major source of food, shelter, and affection for housecats, and often for feral cats as well. When we belong to them, cats mark us and our homes with their scent, a brand as distinctive as the most expensive perfume. Some people feel that cats consider us to be their children, not the other way around. Cats nurture, watch over, and play with us as if we were babes who didn't know how to take care of ourselves — and certainly didn't have a clue about when to indulge in a rollicking good time.
Cats love each other, too.
One night, Linda poured food into Speedy's bowl, then spaced out and forgot to move it from the countertop next to Cuddles's bowl and put it on the floor. Speedy is a big, elderly fellow, and he isn't able to climb up onto the counter. All evening, Cuddles, Speedy, and our dog Taylor fussed at Linda about something, but she couldn't figure out what they were trying to tell her. The next morning, when Linda went to feed everybody, she found that Cuddles had taken the situation into her own paws. She had somehow lifted Speedy's bowl of food and jumped off the counter with it. Without spilling its contents, she had placed the bowl on the floor, where it was supposed to be. Linda was grateful that Cuddles had taken such excellent care of her big brother, and resolved to be more present when feeding the cats.
The love of cats glows throughout this chapter. The first story, "One Lucky Cat," by Donna Francis, was the grand prizewinner in the Angel Cats contest, sponsored by Angel Animals Network, the organization we founded to use the power of story to increase love and respect for all life. Each of the succeeding stories demonstrates the true meaning of the words love and friendship. Cats' abilities to protect, to heal, to forgive, and to show loyalty have earned them a sacred place in humans' hearts and in the heart of God.
* * *
One Lucky Cat
A week after Smokey, our family's barn cat, prematurely delivered a litter of kittens, my mother called to tell me that all but one of the kittens had died. Mom moved Smokey and her remaining kitten into the garage and promised to keep me posted. A couple of weeks later, Mom called again. She said that something was wrong with the remaining kitten, and Dad wanted to "put him out of his misery." Since I have a lot of experience volunteering for my local SPCA, Mom asked me to take a look at the kitten and tell her what I thought about his health.
When I arrived at my parents' home, I saw something unusual. Smokey was nursing a small, mouselike, three-week-old gray tabby kitten. The kitten had only one eye open, and his mouth was deformed. With a crooked stub of a tail and a drunken walk, he was much more uncoordinated than most kittens his age.
Although I was concerned about this kitten's tiny size and premature condition, I couldn't help noticing that he was a real character. Whenever he heard our human voices, he would leave his feline mom and seek us out. He followed us everywhere as fast as he could with his lurching walk. If anyone picked him up, he purred immediately. The tiny kitten seemed so happy that I convinced my parents to give him another week.
The next weekend, I drove back to my parents' home expecting to find that the kitten had deteriorated. He had indeed lost some weight, but he still showed the zest for life I'd seen in him the week before. I asked my parents to let me take the kitten home with me so that I could put him in with a group of orphaned kittens I was fostering for the SPCA. I made the offer with the stipulation that I would not keep the kitten; I already had two dogs and a cantankerous Persian cat who hated other male cats.
The week after I brought the kitten to my apartment, we visited the veterinarian. There, I was surprised to learn that not only was this kitten underweight, but the formula he'd been eating was causing him respiratory problems. The vet gave me suggestions on how to quickly graduate him to eating dry food. The vet also explained that this kitten had a cleft palate and nose and should have died at birth or shortly thereafter because kittens with this type of deformity usually can't nurse properly. The vet checked the kitten's closed eye and said that it would never open. The entire left side of this kitten's face had not developed, and his staggering walk suggested that he might have brain damage. The prognosis for the little guy was not good. The vet predicted that the kitten would not live past his first birthday.
I cried on the way home from the veterinarian's office. "What am I doing?" I wondered. "Does this kitten have any chance at all?"
When I came home, I put the kitten in the bathroom in a place I'd set up for the foster kittens. These babies were the kitten's age — four weeks old — yet he was only half their size and not nearly as well developed. With sadness in my heart, I wondered if the kindest thing would be to let my vet put this tiny, deformed creature to sleep. I went into the kitchen to cook dinner and think about what I should do.
As I made dinner, I noticed that Abbie, my toy poodle, wasn't underfoot as she usually is at dinnertime. I went to see what trouble she might be up to and was shocked by what I found. I had isolated the kittens from the rest of my four-legged family with a tall baby gate in the bathroom doorway. In the three years I'd been fostering kittens, the permanent residents of my household and the foster kittens had remained safely separated. However, I found Abbie staring intently at the baby gate. To my surprise, with one giant leap she landed on top of the gate and jumped over it to where the kittens were. I had no fear of her harming them, but I'd never seen her show any interest in the foster kitties. I silently watched as Abbie went straight to the deformed kitten and gently picked him up by the scruff of his neck. She climbed back over the baby gate with the kitten in her mouth and took him to my bed. There, she snuggled with the kitten and groomed him.
After a few minutes of tenderly caring for the kitten, Abbie looked up at me as if to say, "If you don't want to take care of him, I will. I won't give up on him." I guess you could say that, in that instant, Abbie made up my mind for me. The kitten was here to stay.
I never again isolated the kitten with the foster kittens; Abbie wouldn't allow it. If I tried to take the kitten to the bathroom, Abbie would grab him and carry him to my bed. (Not a good thing, since this little kitten wasn't litter-trained yet.) Abbie and the little kitten became inseparable; she took over his care and even protected him from my other cat.
In the meantime, my foster kittens were getting adopted and new foster kittens were arriving. No one who arrived as a prospective adopter seemed to be interested in a one-eyed, deformed kitten with breathing problems. Okay, so maybe I didn't try as hard as I could to find him a home, but I couldn't bring myself to upset Abbie by adopting out her baby.
Due to the respiratory problems caused by his cleft palate and nose, I had to take the kitten to the vet several times a month. At one point, he was even going to the vet twice a day for treatments. Each night, Abbie and I closed ourselves in the bathroom with the kitten and a vaporizer, just so this baby could breathe. Many nights I cried, fearing for the poor creature's life. I would listen to the kitten struggling for breath and wonder if it was cruel to keep him alive. But all I had to do was look into Abbie's eyes as she expressed her love for him, and I knew I was doing the right thing. "Don't give up on our baby," Abbie seemed to be saying. Our dedication was fueled by the mischievous sparkle that lingered in the kitten's eye.
Months after his arrival, I still had not named the kitten. Partly to spare my feelings, I was thinking, "I can't bear to name a kitten who might not survive." I had been through the pain of having foster kittens die, and I was not looking forward to feeling that kind of loss again.
With the vet's help and constant advice, we eventually got the kitten's breathing problems under control. I was delighted when he could go for an entire month without treatments. Finally, he was healthy enough to be neutered. On the day of the surgery, I realized that the perfect name for this kitten was Lucky. Yet I still had my doubts about what kind of life a sickly, deformed kitten would have. I needn't have worried.
As I write this story, Lucky is six and a half years old and weighs a healthy — even portly — sixteen pounds. Fortunately, he has no brain damage at all. When he sleeps by my head at night, though, it sounds like I'm with Darth Vader; Lucky's cleft palate makes him snore louder than most humans do. But I don't mind. Lucky still has that special swagger in his walk. My Persian cat didn't grow to love Lucky, but he also never tried to beat him up, as he had the other male cats I'd brought home. And, much to my amazement, this very special cat who had such a rough start in life has grown up to be an award-winning therapy cat.
I started taking Lucky to work with me at Jefferson Elementary School in Sherman, Texas, where I taught deaf children. There he began to share duties with Abbie, who is a registered therapy dog.
When Lucky came to school, he would greet everyone at the door with a loud "Meow!" If that didn't get my students' attention, Lucky would paw at their legs until they said hello or petted him. Then he'd sprawl out on the table and bask in the children's attention. My students loved it when Lucky decided that they'd worked long enough; he'd lie right down in the middle of their work. We called this "taking a Lucky break."
When Lucky purred, it excited my deaf students; they didn't have to hear it to know that they were making him happy. They could feel the vibration of his purring with their fingers, and they could see him shake. Lucky shakes when he is happy — which is most of the time, as long as someone is giving him attention.
Lucky also worked with the hearing students. One year, we had a writing contest in a first-grade classroom. The children were to write a short story about the therapy pet of their choice. Several students chose to write about Lucky. One low-achieving student, who hardly ever finished his work, turned in a story that won first prize. He was very proud of his story, but not as proud as I was. In his story, he'd written: "I love Lucky because he loves me, too."
Another of Lucky's volunteer jobs was at the Reba McEntire Center for Rehabilitation in Denison, Texas. He loved to lie on the clients' beds and feel their love. The clients and staff got a kick out of seeing a cat walking on a leash down the sterile halls of the center.
Lucky's deformities caused clients at the rehabilitation center to realize that their conditions could be worse. A client said, "Lucky reminds me of the saying 'I cried because I had no shoes; then I saw a man who had no feet.'" On one visit, a nurse came and got us out of a client's room; another client was upset because we'd skipped her room when she was asleep. By the time we arrived from the other end of the center, this client was out of bed and in her wheelchair, rolling down the hall to be sure she got to see Lucky. She took one long look at him and said, "My goodness, he's worse off than we are."
But perhaps one of Lucky's most important jobs was to teach people about differences — either their own or other people's. I helped Lucky write his own autobiography, which we still use to teach schoolchildren about accepting differences. I can only hope that the children learn the lesson Lucky lived to teach.
I didn't realize how effective Lucky and I were at conveying his message until the mother of one of my students related a story to me. This student was a beautiful little girl who was having trouble understanding why she was deaf and different from other kids. She would go home after Lucky's visits to our classroom and describe him and his antics to her father in detail. This was a wonderful way to expand her limited language skills, which was one of her educational goals. One day after she had described Lucky's visit, she said, "And he only has one eye. But that's okay, Daddy; he's different, just like me."
Lucky put in almost six years of hard, loving work before retiring due to the onset of carsickness. He isn't taking retirement well, as he now seems to feel neglected; I can't give him all the attention his clients used to give him.
Yet I think that Lucky has used up at least four of his nine lives. Looking back on Lucky's career, I'm amazed at how successful he was. In October 2000, Lucky was the co-winner of Delta Society's National Therapy Pet of the Year Award. Lucky and I flew to Boston to receive the award, and he was the only cat present. Highlights of Lucky's life story have appeared in newspapers, magazines (Animal Wellness, Cat Fancy, Cats, and PetLife), and a book (The Healing Power of Pets, by Dr. Marty Becker). He was featured in a segment of Amazing Animals on the Animal Planet network and on Miracle Pets on the PAX network. Lucky's photo even appears in the 2003 Cat-a-Day Calendar. Lucky not only worked miracles; his entire life is a miracle. Lucky continues to inspire people to never let misfortunes or obstacles keep them from giving their best to life.
Have you ever known a "different" or "special" cat? What has this cat taught you about valuing your own or others' uniqueness?
My Mother's Cat
My family lived in Hungary during World War II. When my nineteen-year-old mother died two weeks after giving birth to me, I inherited her cat, Paprika. He was a gentle giant with deep-orange stripes and yellow eyes that gazed at me tolerantly as I dragged him around wherever I went. Paprika was ten years old when I came into this world. He had been held and loved by my mother for all ten years of his life, while I had never known her, so I considered him my link to her. Each time I hugged Paprika tightly to my chest, I warmed to the knowledge that my mother had held him, too.
"Did you love her a lot?" I often asked Paprika as we snuggled on my bed.
"Meow!" he would answer, rubbing my chin with his pink nose.
"Do you miss her?"
"Meow!" Paprika's large yellow eyes gazed at me with a sad expression.
"I miss her, too, even though I didn't know her. But Grandma says Mother is in heaven and watching over us from there. Since you and I are both her orphans, I know it makes her happy that we have each other." I would always say these words to Paprika, for they were most comforting thoughts to me.
"Meow!" Paprika would respond, climbing on my chest and purring.
"And it makes me so very happy that we have each other," I would tell Paprika.
Excerpted from Angel Cats by Allen Anderson, Linda Anderson. Copyright © 2004 Allen and Linda Anderson. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One Is Life Better When We Curl Up Together?,
Chapter Two Do We Get Help to Heal Life's Scratches?,
Chapter Three Were We Meant to Play with Our Littermates?,
Chapter Four Are Cats Mirrors of the Soul?,
Chapter Five Will We Hear the Sound of a Heavenly Purr?,
About Allen and Linda Anderson,