I feel that people always talk about how much they love their pets and all of my personal friends, Twitter followers and readers know that there is absolutely no question about how much I love Dolly. Yet, I do feel that absolutely no one can properly understand just quite how big and how special that love is. But recently, I have worried that it was unhealthy. I know, I know; how can loving your pet ever be unhealthy?!
It started when Dolly changed. Like a lot of things in life (or, at least in mine) it didn't seem to happen gradually; it was like she had always been so curious, friendly, playful and gentle, and then... Boom! She was different. And even looking back I can't pinpoint the first time I noticed. So basically, Dolly has become aggressive. Not towards me. Never me. But towards visitors, and not one in particular. Almost every single person that hears this, has told me that it is normal cat behaviour. That she's being terrotorial. Protective. But I wasn't convinced; I felt that I know Dolly better than anyone and I believed that there was more to it. Something deeper. And it was this that made me worry that my love for her was unhealthy; that maybe I was over-reacting and being over-cautious by thinking this way.
I had a lot of feelings around her new behaviours, which mainly consisted of her hissing at visitors and swiping at them. Sometimes she would climb into a visitor's lap but if they tried to stroke her then she'd attack. If she was ever sat on her play tower or in her radiator bed and a visitor went over to her and she swiped at them, then I wouldn't tell her off and would ask the person to leave her alone. In my opinion, if she was minding her own business then she should be left alone. But when she was sleeping in the kitchen and a friend went turn the light and Dolly went for her. Another time, a visitor was going to the front door and Dolly did it again. At first I felt embarrassed; it's always awkward to be at someone's home and their pet makes it obvious that they don't like them. And then I felt sad as I realised that no one was able to see the side of Dolly that I did. The Dolly who would come over and rest her paws on me when I was upset. The Dolly who knew the difference between play fighting and biting. The Dolly that would bring over a toy and drop it at your feet to play fetch. The Dolly who never knew whether to purr or runaway when she's being brushed. The Dolly who cries at my bedroom when she hears that I'm awake but it's not for her breakfast, just cuddles.
When I collected her from the Vets after she'd been spayed, the veterinary nurses told me that she'd been so aggressive that they couldn't get her out of the cage and into her carrier. They brought the cage in covered by a blanket, as I removed the blanket and opened the cage door, I was cautioned that she was distressed. The nurses shut up as they watch her walk out of the cage and into my arms purring.
Today, was similar. She had to get her annual booster injections and the vet made to get Dolly out of her carrier but Dolly swiped at her. I lifted her out without a problem. And I used the appointment as an opportunity to tell the vet about the change in behaviour. We talked through everything, and I made sure that she knew as much as possible so that I knew whatever her judgement, she'd made it with all of the information.
Dolly was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder today. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you laugh out loud at this. Because after all it's bloody hilarious for a person who has mental health problems to then have a pet with some. The vet said that her anxiety has been caused by a mixture of things, and although not all of them were caused by me or that I had control over, I will always blame myself. Ultimately, I'm responsible for Dolly and her health and happiness.
While the vet made notes on Dolly's file, Dolly began to stare out of the window and I thought maybe she'd seen something and the vet said 'I think...' And she walked over and touched Dolly and told me that she was tensing up and to put her in her carrier. Within a minute, the vet pointed out that Dolly was trembling. She told me that this, for a cat, meant she was having a panic attack. And the sentence that I'll never forget? 'We see hundreds of cats, and I've never seen one living on a knife edge like Dolly.'
Luckily I had my support worker with me on the appointment so I had her support afterwards. I was obviously upset, but I also felt validated. All of those times that people had dismissed my worries, and now the professional was basically telling that I'd been right the whole time. I'm so glad that I stuck to my instincts.
Dolly will now be going through various treatments for her anxiety and panic attacks and I'll be there the entire time. I hope that all of you fantastic people who support me, can extend this to my soulmate.
And I hope that this raises awareness that animals have mental health too.