A year ago in January, my cat Clark was diagnosed with a liver shunt, a rare and still rather mysterious condition in cats that is difficult to treat and has an uncertain outcome for their health and longevity. Thanks to a combination of emotional support and help from my friends, good advice from a few veterinarians, hope and determination on my part, and Clark himself being loved, tough and happy, so far he continues to do well.
I confess that, at this time last year, I didn’t believe he would make it this far. When I think back, most of what I remember is worrying: about what to do, what was right for him, for me, about what kind of a life he would have.
Clark was smaller than his brother and always quiet when I got them at four weeks old. They had come into my life at a time when I truly needed something to love and care for, to wake up every day for, that needed me, too. After eight emotional and often difficult years, a main relationship in my life had ended. And right or wrong, all the love and energy I now had free to give went pouring into the two new additions to my pet family
But while his brother, Louis, was more than healthy, Clark and I made unending trips to the vet for mysterious illnesses and GI problems in his first year. After a frightening, seizure-like episode where my original vet suggested euthanizing him, at the advice of friends I took Clark for a second opinion. Following a few tests by the new vet, the liver shunt diagnosis was brought to light, and further tests by a specialist confirmed it.
We have come a long way since then. And I confess through it all I’ve formed a unique bond with Clark that feels way beyond pet ownership and borders, instead, on a fierce devotion I can only imagine as being close to parenthood. And I think Clark feels it, too.
Personally it is unique for me in all my relationships with animals, and a rather unsettling feeling at times. It still shocks and surprises me, how much this one little cat has come to mean. I have re-ordered my life around him, his medication times, making his food at home, making sure he gets sunshine, play, and fresh air. His care has given me an expanded sense of purpose that might seem burdensome to most people, but instead has helped me feel fulfilled.
I have written a few times about Clark here on the blog. It has helped me to write about it, as I have never had an animal that needed so much care or that caused me so much anxiety and sadness in such a short time. Many times before I have cared for pets that became ill toward the end of their lives, when it was expected.
But to have one so young get sick -and one that I had become so emotionally dependent on in the wake of a relationship ending-was uncharted territory.
It has gotten me to think a lot about what animals mean to me, what caring for them well entails and what a life choice that truly can be. Caring responsibly for pets and animals isn’t always convenient or easy, or cheap, unfortunately. I think we often enter into a relationship with an animal thinking only about the good parts, the fun times, the love and enjoyment we want to get out of it, not foreseeing any potential problems that could arise along the way, or preparing for them.
So maybe it is good to be reminded every now and then that animals-like any loved one-take work, time, energy, and devotion, especially when they have special needs. And in those cases, a lot of it. But somehow it feels worthwhile.
And I know I am not alone in this feeling. I have started to do some research into pet attachment theory, particularly among women and their cats, where there is a such a long-standing stereotype of the “crazy cat lady.” My mother might have been one, and so I might have acquired the gene, too. But it isn’t just us. There seems to be something about cats that attracts many women, or maybe vice versa. It’s an idea that I’m really interested in learning the origins of, and one that I think is often unfair and misunderstood.
Animals always help fulfill some need or purpose in our lives. What intangibles they give to us and that we give to them, is a bit of a mystery. Certainly for many people and their pets and animals, cats or not, an unshakeable bond can occur.
Like the one I feel I have with Clark after all that he’s been through. And as I wrote, I do think he feels something, too. He often stares at me, like he is doing in the photo above, watching and waiting for something. He seems to know when I am thinking or worrying about him, and comes to find me. And he knows when it’s time for bed at night, always ready to settle down into his spot on the bed snuggled up to my right side.
I remind myself every day that my time with Clark might be short. Liver shunts are unpredictable even with the best medical care, and surgery (while an option) is only a 50-50 shot. But it could be that way with any animal, or person, too. Nothing is ever certain. So I go on doing the best I can, trying to remember to enjoy my life, too, while hoping and helping Clark enjoy his.
I've never really liked labels: I am this, I am that... But in the interest of introducing myself to the world, I can say that I am many things: nurse, writer, photographer, poet, painter, gardener, friend, armchair philosopher, counselor, nature lover, real-estate aficionado, movie buff, sometime yogi, and aspiring world-traveler. I think that's a pretty good list... for now. I want to become a bigger part of the vital, creative force I feel deeply at work in the world and connect with other people who want to do the same.