It has probably not gone unnoticed that my two Burmese cats, Cappucine and Peaches from time to time make guest appearances on these pages. They are often the barometers of the household’s emotions and sometimes it is easier to express my feelings by describing theirs – or what I make up as theirs.
Perhaps that’s a function which is ascribed to many of our pets.
But today Cappucine is taking a starring role. Anyone who knows our cats will tell you that Peaches, a blousey rather large (we don’t like to say fat), blonde has an easygoing, fun-loving personality. As long as you give her lots of cuddles, keep her food bowl replenished (often) and tell her how pretty she is, she is content.
Cappucine is a very different kettle of fish (!); a slim, leggy, beautiful brunette with a slightly nervy temperament, she is fiercely intelligent, sensitive, proud and circumspect with her affections.
A year ago, Cappucine became very sick indeed – she was diagnosed with acute kidney failure and to my great distress, was found to have very little kidney function left. We prepared ourselves for the worst. However to my surprise the kitty dialysis administered by the vet, combined with a daily pill and a new diet seemed to improve matters and although skinnier than ever she seemed to be generally healthy.
Until, that is, a couple of weeks ago.
The big house move followed by our vacation resulted in her going on hunger strike. Clearly everything was much too much for this little creature and she couldn’t take one more stressful event. She had to find a way to tell us she really wasn’t coping very well.
When I returned from hols, I concentrated on feeding her up again but she got skinnier and skinnier until one morning she awoke with a terrible affliction. Two round bald patches had inexplicably appeared on both cheeks and a few of her whiskers were frizzy and dry – she seemed to have contracted some weird type of feline alopecia. An emergency dash to the vet shed little light on the problem. A battery of tests produced nothing conclusive. All the vet could conclude was that these two little bald spots were the outward manifestations of a rather stressed interior.
The vet suggested we use some plug in hormones around the house to calm her down and watch and see. Also instead of the special diet she no longer seemed to stomach, we should feed her whatever she wants.
Again I prepared for the worst. By this time she was so thin, her gorgeous, chocolate brown coat once so sleek and rich, lay mottled and dry.
With heavy heart and little hope, I plugged in the hormones, fed her a lot of what she fancied, watched anxiously, cuddled her a lot and prayed her fur would grow back rather than the hair loss increase. There is a breed of bald cats but I can’t take to them. I am ashamed to admit that in certain, dark moments – mainly late at night – I found myself asking whether I could find it in my heart to truly love a fur-free feline.
Fortunately it turns out I am not after all going to be tested. A couple of nights ago we saw a miracle had occurred; irrefutably two new growths of velvety brown fur have appeared in the bald patches like two tiny toupees. I am so thrilled – my beautiful Cappucine is once again restored.
And then I got to thinking – if this is how the body of a little animal reacts when things get stressful, is it any wonder that our human bodies play up when we experience times of stress or grief? And maybe when that happens what we simply need to do is plug in some feel good vapours, have a little of what we fancy (or a lot), be cuddled and watched over by the ones who care for us.
But even as I write that, I know it really isn’t that simple. Most people can buy the feel good vapours – a scented candle, yoga class or a bit of meditation for example – and the nice food and drink, but not everyone has someone to cuddle or watch over them – to love them. And sometimes, even if there is someone there to love you, they may not notice (or worse, may choose not to notice), you have bald patches on your cheeks or are off your food or a little quiet.
And like Cappucine you may not be able to say OUT LOUD what is going on for you. You may not have the words. Or the voice. Or the courage. Or even if you do, you may not be heard or listened to. You may even feel the urge like her to resort to taking drastic measures like refusing to eat. There are many, many reasons why people in pain continue to suffer in silence. And it may take something really dramatic for the rest of us to sit up and take notice.
So if you feel stressed or grief stricken, don’t soldier on in the hope that someone may notice or that things will get better by themselves. Don’t leave it so long that in the end you feel you have to do something extreme before someone pays attention. Please ask for the help you need. Or ask for the help to learn to ask perhaps from a coach or other professional.
And if someone close to you needs a cuddle or some loving, open your heart, open your arms, and hold them close.