I’d like to think that even short-term readers will know by now that I try to keep things original and creative on, I’m NOT Disordered. So rather than do a stereotypical/predictable post about how fantastic my Mum is (which she obviously is!); I thought I’d team up with Cats Protection again and bring you a post about advice I – as a cat Mum – would give to others…
Where does advice come from and why does it matter?
I think that advice can come from a mixture of reasons; it can be about something you failed to do and wish you had, or something you did, and feel was wrong, or something you’ve just learnt along the way… This piece of advice that doing research and bettering your knowledge and understanding of what having a cat will entail, comes from the fact that I definitely didn’t do it and that I wish I had.
At first, I wondered whether the importance I put upon the research before getting a cat was more of a quality of my mental health and thought processes and feelings around that. I mean, I really don’t like the element of surprise with the massive things in my life and I think that really does stem from both the number of times that I was told I wouldn’t be hospitalised and then was, and the general unpredictable nature of my hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. It was like I couldn’t keep up. It was frustrating because how could I possibly win if I wasn’t aware when the war was starting?! I didn’t even stand a chance.
After thinking it was just me who thought of research, planning, and preparation as really reassuring and helpful; I discovered Cats Protection and the incredible content they produce to promote and encourage people to carefully consider their decision to get a cat and to be more educated on important aspects once you do have the cat. Then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t alone. I was right!
Prepare and be mindful of the practical bits
Fortunately, I got my first cat (Saffy) when I was younger and living at home with my Mum, so it meant that I didn’t really need much education on what to expect, how to look after a cat etc. A lot of that responsibility lay with my Mum. However, I do remember us being unsure of a few simple things like how long it takes for them to learn their name, and where the cat should be at night-time. We also hadn’t thought about buying a carrier for her first trip to the Vets. And whilst Saffy was so loved and well looked after, having her was definitely a learning curve.
Cats Protection offer so much advice and information on the practical aspects to owning a cat:
Neutering & vaccinations: Neutering and vaccinations | Cat care advice | Cats Protection
Poisonous flowers & plants: What flowers are safe for cats for Mother's Day?
Know why you want a cat
After being in a psychiatric hospital for two and a half years, I was discharged to my own home and because Saffy stayed with my Mum, I instantly wanted/needed a kitten to keep me company. At the time, I honestly didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it because it just felt like such a natural decision that was almost destined to happen. I mean, from the minute they started talking about discharging me around seven or eight months before I was, my Mum thought for me to buy a cat collar to keep in my hospital room to remind me of my recovery goal (to have my own home with my own cat). That thought kept me motivated to engage in therapy and cooperate with the hospital staff and the medication they prescribed.
Cats Protection provide advice and information for getting a kitten: Buying a cat? Adopt from Cats Protection | Cats Protection
They also have this more general article on owning a cat: Quick Guide to Owning a Cat - Help & Advice | Cats Protection
Respect your responsibility
One thing which I wish I had thought about more in getting Dolly, were the pros and cons of having a Maine Coon. Saffy had been a domestic short hair, so I had no real experience of fur care! I didn’t know she might need frequent brushing and hadn’t thought about her fur ending up being all over the house. And whilst knowing this absolutely wouldn’t have deterred me from buying Dolly, I’d like to have been better prepared. To have had a more solid idea of what to expect. Because this time, she was completely my responsibility, and after years of not taking responsibility for anything, it’s something that I don’t take lightly. I mean, having spent all of that time ignoring responsibility and hating consequences, it felt like a true testament to my mental health recovery to be able to say that I was capable of safely taking complete responsibility for this fluffy, little life. So, to realise that there was something (the research of Maine Coon’s) that I hadn’t done, left me feeling a bit sceptical of my capabilities and wondering whether I had failed already.
Cats Protection talk about the five welfare needs of a cat and how you can take responsibility for providing them: Your Responsibility to Your Cat - What You Need to Provide (cats.org.uk)
Trust your instincts
That worry about failure became even more intense and overwhelming when there was a huge miscommunication, and the Police caved my door in when Dolly was alone in the house and only a few months old. I can’t even imagine how scared and lonely she must have felt with all those loud noises and the huge boots belonging to a number of complete strangers who were stomping all over her territory, completely uninvited and without me to provide her with reassurance and comfort. To be honest, it kind of breaks my heart even just to think about it.
That sadness and heartbreak, though, proved to provide me with a strong ability and dedication to watching Dolly closely and acting on the massive changes I noticed to her behaviour. My lovely little fluffy kitten became this hugely aggressive cat who would scratch and bite anyone/everyone who came into the house. They didn’t even have to touch her; she’d just come over and attack them! So, I paid for a Behaviour Therapist from my Vets to come to the house and assess her. When the Therapist saw Dolly sitting on the windowsill watching the birds out the front of the house but noticed that even though she was doing something deemed as pleasurable, her tail was twitching (a sign that a cat is annoyed). She explained that it was an illustration that Dolly was never relaxing. Never not anxious. Never calm. She was always on the alert and ready to defend herself.
I think that whilst anyone would be saddened and upset to hear something like that, I was particularly distressed because I felt as though I had an inkling of how Dolly was feeling. I felt as though I’d spent years always on the go. Either literally because I kept running away and self-harming, or psychologically because I seemed to just be constantly waiting for the hallucinations to come back; terrified of what they were going to do and say this time. Having that level and quality of empathy meant that when the Therapist made recommendations, I tried all of them and put so much time and effort into helping Dolly because I didn’t want her to have to go through another minute of feeling that way. But, unfortunately, none of the advice worked and one night she scratched me for the first time, and it drew blood. I called the Vets and they said that she should go on medication because if she didn’t, and I said I didn’t want her, she’d be euthanised because her aggression meant that they couldn’t rehome her.
So, even though the mild sedating medication was costly, I wasn’t ready to give up on her. The way I looked at it was that she’d been through a trauma and just like the one I experienced, it had the potential to end her life. And just like my loved ones felt about me, I wasn’t prepared to let that happen to Dolly. So, I paid for the medication and even though it took a year to get her better and back off the medication, her recovery was worth every penny.
Cats Protection have an excellent piece about stress in cats: Spotting Signs of Cat Stress - How to Care | Cats Protection
Don’t feel like a failure if they get poorly
As it turned out though, I didn’t feel like a good Mum for very long, because then Saffy was put to sleep. My Mum had noticed she was breathing differently and when she took her to the Vets on Boxing Day 2016, it turned out she had fluid on her lungs which, after being drained, was found to be covering a huge tumour attached to her major organs. Thankfully, the Vet explained that actually – even though there was nothing they could do for her – my Mum had caught it a whole lot more quickly than other owners who seemed to not notice anything until their pet was in pain. So, I’d like to think that mitigated any of her thoughts that she’d missed any symptoms and could have saved Saffy.
My thoughts of failure, stemmed from me not having a clue of what difficulty breathing in a cat could be a sign of, and when the Vet gave her diagnosis, I asked so many questions in a desperate attempt to understand something I felt that even though it was so important, I had a hugely insignificant knowledge of it. And that felt like a failure. To know nothing about something that could take the life of a best friend. Of a family member.
Cats Protection have an entire, thorough section about managing and maintaining the health of your cat: Cat Health - Help and Advice for Care | Cats Protection
They also have advice for getting insurance for your cat: Pet insurance for cats | choosing cat insurance | Cats Protection
Balance your heart and your head
Another instance of research I needed to do and didn’t exactly do(!), was when I decided to add a bunny (Pixie) to my home with Dolly in 2017. In fairness, I did seek guidance from the Vets and pet store about introducing the two of them to each other; it was just that I didn’t exactly follow their advice! And whilst I can’t and wouldn’t recommend ignoring the advice of professionals, I think it’s important to recognise instances where you may feel that you know your cat better than anyone and wholeheartedly believe something other than what a professional is saying, would be beneficial (in whatever way) for your cat. The essential aspect of this, is that you ensure your head, and your heart are recognised and balanced. That you aren’t thinking unreasonably and that in no way, are you risking a decision that has the potential to harm your cat in any way.
So, in my instance, I believed that with Dolly having come through her trauma and being off her medication, she was so much stronger and more confident that I felt it unlikely that she would become stressed or upset in anyway if I weren’t to introduce her to Pixie in a gradual way (as was advised). If I had thought there was even a remote possibility that it would distress her, I would have followed the guidance of professionals. I mean, the things they recommended weren’t very easy to do in a practical sense, but of course I’d have made changes (no matter how drastic) to make it possible if I’d believed it was the only way Dolly would be ok with Pixie.
Fortunately, I was right about the situation and Dolly and Pixie bonded immediately and were pretty much best friends by the end of that first day of them together! I think it helped that Pixie was only little because it meant that Dolly wasn’t really intimidated by her, and that Pixie was growing up with a cat around her, so she didn’t really know any different.
Something I would really like to say here though, is that if you 100% believe your cat will react in a particular way, and then they don’t… Please don’t feel like you’ve failed them in any way, and don’t start to doubt your relationship and bond in wondering whether you actually know them well at all. Everyone can sometimes get it wrong with their loved ones. I mean, you might think your best friend is ok but actually, they’re really struggling. Or you might think your child needs to see a Doctor, but when they do, it turns out they’re not actually all that poorly. I think that as long as you do everything with the belief that it’s for the best and with the best intentions… That’s the important thing.
Cats Protection have a ton of brilliant advice for introducing a cat to other pets, other people, and children etc.: Cats and Your Family - Help and Advice | Cats Protection
Know when to let go
Pixie and Dolly’s bond didn’t become a negative thing until Dolly became poorly in October 2018. For about a week, I was pretty much backwards and forwards to the Vets with Dolly. They would do some tests, keep her in, send her home, she’d get worse, so I’d take her back in… Whilst a lot of my attention was obviously on her and the instinctual feeling that this wasn’t going to end well; I felt so sorry for Pixie too. I mean, I felt dizzy from it all, so I couldn’t even imagine how Pixie felt, having her best friend home, wanting to play with her, and then her going away for a while, and then coming back… It’s one of the very few frustrations I have with my pets – you can’t explain things to them and check to see how much or how little of it, they understand.
The other thing made harder by their bond was that when it came time to make the decision as to whether the Vet tried one more treatment which he warned could cause her pain and stress and might not even work, or I finally let her go. I was all too aware that I wasn’t just making the decision for myself. I wasn’t the only one who was going to suffer if I agreed to end Dolly’s distress… I mean, it was kind of like if I’d had a boyfriend or something – I would have regarded their thoughts and feelings on my decision with as much gravity and importance as I regarded Pixie’s. It was almost physically painful to know that if I let Dolly go, I’d be going home to Pixie completely empty handed… And I was even more saddened with the fact that once again, she actually might not really understand what’s happened.
But, of course, Dolly was the priority in that situation and there was no way I was going to be the one who caused her any more suffering just because I was terrified of the heartache, I knew Pixie and I would experience. Dolly’s pain had to matter the most. So, with all our wonderful memories – with the fact she’d been my recovery goal for so long, with the knowledge that I’d really helped her after the trauma, and the thoughts of all the lovely, fun times she’d had with Pixie – I held onto her paw whilst the Vet put her to sleep. He hadn’t even finished administering the injection when she passed away though, and he explained that illustrated just how close to death she’d been and that it meant I’d done the right thing. Made the right call. But I couldn’t feel relieved or comforted for too long because before I knew it, I was walking into my home to a lonely, quiet Pixie.
I was surprised that Pixie wasn’t as confused as I thought she’d be when I came home empty handed; it was as though she knew her best friend had gone. So, as I opened the door she came hopping towards me and then began circling my legs until I sat down on the floor, and she jumped onto my lap as I started to cry.
Cats Protection have some helpful supportive advice around making the decision: When to Let Go Of Your Cat - Help & Advice | Cats Protection
They also have a piece on the euthanasia process: Putting a Cat Down - Advice On Euthanasia | Cats Protection
As well as advice on coping with the loss: Losing a cat - Coping with Bereavement | Cats Protection
And their own free, confidential support service: Paws to Listen, which you can call on 0800 024 9494 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm)
Don’t be pressured into adopting and not ‘shopping’
Six days after losing Dolly, I found myself looking for a kitten on the website I’d used to find/buy Dolly. So many people thought it ‘too early’ for me to even be considering getting another cat so soon after losing Dolly… But I was the one who was living in this house that was suddenly so quiet and just so completely different because it never felt ‘full’; no matter how many times Pixie and I cuddled and soothed and comforted each other. As much as we loved each other – and it was A LOT(!) – we weren’t meant to be a family of two. This house wasn’t meant for two. And so, Emmy made the house a home when became the third member of the family.
Whilst I was desperately searching this website for a kitten, my Mum spotted Emmy, on an Adoption Centre’s Facebook page and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to find a kitten in that way… I mean, my Mum had adopted Millie from a rescue centre after losing Saffy, but it didn’t occur to me to try doing it that way. And after seeing Emmy’s little calico face and hearing her rescue story of being abandoned on the streets at just a few weeks old, I very deeply began to feel like she was just the perfect match to be the missing piece of our little family. It was really humbling to hear she’d gone through such a rough start and was now safe, healthy, and happy. She’s like a little inspiration for me. For my mental health.
When I was talking to the staff of the Adoption Centre, I got Emmy from, they made a few comments that were basically very judging and stigmatising of people who ‘buy’ their pets from private sellers. I like to think that even if you’re a new reader, you’ll already think of me as honest and truthful; so, it shouldn’t be a surprise to say that I spoke up. I mean, I couldn’t just sit back and let them continue to believe and assume that I had never ‘purchased’ a pet; because, whilst it felt so amazing to hear Emmy’s story and know how lucky she was to have made it; I had absolutely no regrets on how I’d gone about getting Dolly. And Pixie! I think that rather than concentrating on where you got the pet, the important thing should be that you’re giving them a loving, safe, and happy home.
Cats Protection have some articles on adopting a cat and what the process is:
Then they also have a piece about buying a kitten online:
Don’t make comparisons
When I brought Emmy home on October 22nd, my first thought was ‘how do I introduce her to Pixie?’ In all honesty, the Adoption Centre had actually said they didn’t think that the two of them would ever be able to meet because of Emmy’s traumatic start they didn’t want to risk causing her more distress. But, once again, I found balance in my heart and head and whilst I had only just met Emmy, I knew Pixie so well that I was 100% sure she needed Emmy in her life. And I knew she would find Emmy’s presence comforting, reassuring, and stabilising. This confidence meant that in so far as considering Emmy in the introduction process/decisions, I knew Pixie wouldn’t hurt or scare her and I thought those the two most important aspects to their first meeting.
From the beginning of getting Emmy though, I was very aware of an almost natural inclination to compare her to Dolly. I found myself thinking either ‘if she doesn’t like Pixie as much as Dolly did, shall I still keep her?’ or ‘if Pixie doesn’t like her as much as she liked Dolly, do I still keep Emmy?’
I think it’s incredibly easy to fall into this trail of thought though where you’re adding a pet to the family after another has died. But the most helpful thought (for me) to cope with these comparisons was to remember that Emmy wasn’t a replacement. She wasn’t Dolly 2.0! She’s Emmy. She’s a whole different cat. And whilst this thought definitely helped in reducing me comparing her to Dolly, it was also kind of scary and intimidating to think that I had a whole new cat who I needed to get to know and be able to understand. With Dolly, the connection was so solid and bright that I felt I could predict her every move. Like, I knew what she wanted and when she wanted it. And Emmy? Well, I was just getting started.
Cats Protection have a brilliant, useful page about all the ‘common’ and ‘typical’ aspects to cats which can be really educational in whether you need to get help for your cat: Cat Behaviour - Help and Advice Caring For Your Cat (cats.org.uk)
Don’t give up on them
This one is actually really similar to something Mums of humans(!) experience… Emmy isn’t fully litter trained! At four years old, she’ll still only wee in her litter tray and do her poops outside of it. And when I say I’ve tried everything to teach her to poop in her litter tray, I mean EVERYTHING! The advice I’ve acted on has varied from putting the poop from the floor into the litter tray (she just started weeing outside of the tray!) to putting soil in the tray in case her being on the streets at a few weeks old had meant she was used to that texture when she went to the toilet (no change!)!
When I was talking to someone with two cats about this, she said she couldn’t believe I’d put up with it for four years now, she said she would’ve taken them back to the Adoption Centre by now! But I think this is one of those situations where the person in it (me) can’t understand the thought process of others, and the others looking in, don’t/can’t understand my thoughts and feelings on it. And it should just become a mutual agreement that I’m the one in it, and my decision is to keep my little Emmy and to not moan every morning when I have to clean poop up off my wooden floor (not having carpet is definitely helpful!).
In the grand scheme of things, the way I see it, as that all this situation costs me is five minutes of my time, a few sprays of air freshener, and some cleaning wipes! And the benefits I get from having Emmy in my life and in my home? Insurmountable.
And that benefit from the belief that there is nothing that could change my love for Emmy, was massively validated when Pixie was put to sleep in April 2021. In the same way that my relationship with Pixie has grown when we lost Dolly, my bond with Emmy was really cemented after losing Pixie. I mean, I felt like I had no one else to turn to – of course my Mum and my friends and everyone were incredibly kind and supportive… But unless they’d lived with Pixie 24/7 for the four years I had and the three years Emmy had, they couldn’t possibly understand what had happened to me, Emmy, and our home. You know they say that thing about footprints on your heart? Pixie had pretty big feet!
And whilst this doesn’t mean I loved Dolly less because I got Emmy so soon after losing her, it took a good few months for me to feel able to add a bunny back into our home/family. I mean, I really enjoyed those months getting to know Emmy even better and finding a real groove for the two of us to live as a family of two… But when Emmy continued to scratch at the door to the room I’d kept the sawdust and hay in to the point where I invested in Feliway, and that she would get really distressed and confused going from room to room if you just said Pixie’s name… Well, I realised that neither of us could do this without a bunny by our side. And so, our little mini-Lionhead lop, Luna, joined us.
Cats Protection have some specific advice about toileting for cats: Cats and Toileting - Help & Advice on Cat Care | Cats Protection
Know you’ll need to advocate for them
As I mentioned before, one of the very few frustrating things I see in having a pet is that they can’t talk and there can be validity in questioning the authenticity of their real understanding of some things/situations. That frustration comes in feeling completely unable/uncapable of either being able to explain what is happening, or fully understand how they’re feeling. To tackle my frustration I try to remind myself that it’s my job to represent them. I have to be their advocate now because I’m the closest person to them. To understanding and simply knowing them. You know? Like, you can take your cat to the Vets and they’ll say, “well they’ve only been off their food one day” and you’re like “yes, but that’s totally not like them! Something has to be wrong for that to happen!” The Vet might be specifically qualified, but in that situation; who really knows the pet best?
This responsibility I’ve taken on in having my pets has actually been massively therapeutic for me/my mental health too! I mean there were literally years where I felt I was either being silenced by the Mental Health Act or dismissed under the Mental Capacity Act! There are so many dangers or risks in sectioning someone, but one of the biggest that I experienced regarding this, was that once I had been, anything and everything I did or said was perceived as being some sort of ‘symptom.’ A ‘symptom’ that warranted some kind of response. Rather than being listened to and validated, I was prescribed more medication or my leave from the psychiatric hospital was cancelled. Feeling as though I had no real advocate myself for so long, really helps me to imagine my pets needs and the importance of me speaking up and acting upon their behalf.
Cats Protection have a piece about cats and the law: Cat laws | Animal Welfare Act | Cats Protection
They also have an article on neglect and cruelty: Protecting Cats from Cruelty and Neglect | Cats Protection
Enjoy and photograph every single second with them!
See more pics and videos on my pets Instagram: