Feeling Feline: Learning to Speak Fluent Cat.
When it comes to awe, I define it as a moment when the jaded heart gets a jump-start from the extraordinary. As a new writer/documentary filmmaker, I am a seeker and huge fan of wonder in every form. And yet, as the world shut down this past year, I struggled to find anything to awe, even on my good days.
My senses were bombarded with doom.
People I knew had died —my aunt, my friend’s mother. I couldn’t turn down the noise or my grief enough to enjoy those walks in nature, or find the gratitude for having nature to walk in while respectfully wearing a face mask. Lord help the poor soul who suggested I meditate in the eye of the storm. That’s when I’d unleash my litany of cynicism, which native New Yorkers like me, consider our basic vernacular.
Around this time, my on-and-off partner adopted a kitten, you know, to brighten the mood. This cute little tabby named Rocky, had white paws like boxing gloves, and liked to hang out in my bathrobe pocket, while I doom-scrolled on my phone. We’d play chase-the-mouse together, but our bond didn’t go beyond the cutesy stuff.
Then one morning, after his breakfast of canned Monterey Medley, Rocky fell off the kitchen counter and went into violent spasms and then limp. Several emergency visits with multiple veterinarians later, his prognosis remained grim.
Rocky had had a seizure due to a case of feline Covid, called FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). The disease had entered his brain and left him blind and paralyzed in all four legs. It was 100% fatal and there was no cure. Every qualified vet advised us to put him down immediately. I held little Rock who couldn’t see me, and just broke down in tears. My partner, a stoic pilot, cried even harder. The year had already been packed with too much loss. We just couldn’t go through with another one. Instead, I got to sleuthing on the internet for a feline shaman, a street drug, alternative therapy— there had to be a cure nearby - this was the Bay Area!
Turns out, I was right. In less than two hours, I located an underground support group for kitties diagnosed with FIP. With no guarantees, we signed on to an experimental treatment. It would involve months of administering painful shots, 24-hour care that might qualify us for a new career in Vet Tech-ery. In short, we’d be dedicating our lives in exchange for a little hope for Rocky.
That little hope took us a long way — all pandemic long. I was on board...no nights off. No mornings to sleep-in past a 5 am dose. I became enraptured, focusing all my healing energy—energy that had once been squandered on my phone. I now had a purpose. I let my animal nature lead, breathing slowly, listening to Tibetan bells in order to calm Rocky’s nervous system—and my own.
His healing went one wobbly step at a time. We learned how to do it together. I observed him echo-locating with a throaty meow— I didn’t know temporarily blind cats had skills like dolphins! Rocky fought hard and found brilliant ways to communicate with me. I knew from his tone when he needed help getting to the litter box, or when he needed to be fed with an eyedropper. I fell in love with this little guy, with every cell of my cynical heart! And watching him recover became my meditation on natural wonder, mystery and yes, awe.
Today Rocky has fully recovered. He has two new sister kittens to cuddle with and several humans loving him as they work-from-home. The rewards and lessons are too huge and too cat-lady-ish for me to get into. But I’ll say this, to walk beside an injured animal matters, to gently support, love and accept another living being, strengthens our human experience. We all don’t have to become Jane Goodall to know this.
I am forever in awe that Rocky is still with us, delightfully chasing his toy mouse and padding up and down stairs all by himself. He is, according to every vet, a miracle kitty! And I know Rocky is grateful to be alive. I know this because one of the bonuses of this past year is, I now speak fluent cat. He tells me how grateful he is every day, in purrs, winks, and a wiggle in his tail.
Petra Hanson is an MEA alum, writer, a former pop singer turned activist storyteller and founder of The B/Sider, a blog and podcast that celebrates stories of reinvention after the top-forty. She is currently finishing a memoir, an adaptation of her 2019 short doc, Xmas Cake —This American Shelf-life.