Cats have changed me. For as long as I can remember, I was a moody, brooding person with a natural attraction to tragedy and anxiety. But over the past few years, the deepening of my relationship with cats has opened my soul to joy. The love that I share with these graceful light-hearted creatures has allowed me to let go of old grudges and reconcile my relationship with my long estranged father. It has helped me to overcome my crippling fear of flying. I have also observed the calm and gentleness that they evoke in my emotionally turbulent daughter. I have great faith in the rehabilitative power of our relationships with cats.
Over the last two weeks, my marriage has crumbled. I have cried so much that I burst a blood vessel in my eye. During these dark days, I forgot much of what cats have taught me. My own dear cats, cuddly and kind as they are, seemed distant and beyond the breakdown of my family.
Last night, unable to concentrate on my more technical reading, I pulled an untouched book from my cat library. With the first few pages, I was flooded with feline joy. “A Cat Called Canoe” isn’t a work of literary genius. It is sometimes awkward , sometimes overwritten, but it is none the less full of one man’s exhuberant love of his comical, yet strikingly beautiful cat called Canoe.
Every page lifts me up, reminding me of the happiness a feline perspective has brought to my journey. His retelling of Canoe’s antics, his clever cat dialogue (putting English words into Canoe’s mouth) and the combined affections of the author and his wife for their cat all come together to make me laugh and remember all that cats have brought to my life. I am so happy to be reminded.
My Cat Odyssey began as a quest to learn more about cats and those that love them. In wanting to learn more about how to rehabilitate cats, I have discovered the cat's fascinating ability to rehabilitate people. I know that many humans have had similar experiences in their relationships with dogs, horses, dolphins, even elephants, otters and bees.
This is where my cat odyssey—my infinite love and curiousity for cats—starts to expand to an investigation of how animals are able to heal people.
At a prison in British Columbia, the local humane society began an experiment. They created a cat shelter in a nearby men’s prison, allowing the inmates to care for the cats, under the supervision of a qualified volunteer. That volunteer, Maggie, witnessed a transformation in many of the prisoners, as a result of their engagement with cats. Most strikingly of all was a young man named Roger. Roger had served 10 years in a maximum security men’s prison for armed robbery. During that time he had completely shut down. He wore a baseball cap over his eyes, blocking any facial contact. He refused to communicate with anyone. His body posture was tight and defensive. This young man was about to be released from his sentence and the warden was gravely concerned about his ability to function in society. So she recommended that he work in the cat program, hoping a miracle might occur before he was paroled.
Maggie was skeptical about bringing this young man into the program, but Roger surprised everyone. He had an incredible intuition for cats and their needs. He understood how to approach even the most frightened, reclusive cat and comfort it into friendliness.
During his time with the cats, Roger’s body language completely relaxed and he began to speak to the cats. Eventually, he spoke to other people.
By the time he was ready to be paroled, Roger had completely emerged ready to engage with the world—but he had also grown very attached to one of the cats at the shelter.
Maggie agreed to let Roger adopt the cat on the condition that he stayed straight on the outside, with a regular job. She believed that with the love of that cat supporting him, Roger would be able to rejoin society positively.
He checks in with her every month by phone. He is working and maintaining a home for himself and the cat, as well as volunteering at his local animal shelter. And he credits cats for completely transforming his life.
There are several cat programs buried in the corrections system in the United States. Tomorrow, I visit Indiana State Prison to interview 3 ‘offenders’, one on deathrow, all of whom share their cells with cats.
I’ve never visited a prison before and I am nervous. But that is overcome by an intense curiousity to understand what these cats mean to these men and how the cats have affected their lives and the way they look at the world.
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.