I used to hate cats. Seriously. Everything about them seemed like an inconvenience. From the smelly litter boxes, fur everywhere and just overall poor attitude; I didn’t understand why anyone would want one. Their razor blade-covered feet and predator-like instincts made them seem like an injury waiting to happen.
In 2014, I relocated to New York City for my job. It comes as no shock I’m sure, but it is very difficult to find decent housing there. Although most of my adult life I lived alone, I understood that I would need roommates in New York to attain any sense of housing stability. Enter Rick and Phil.
An older gay couple who lived on the upper-upper-upper west side of Manhattan (okay it was Washington Heights), Rick and Phil had a bedroom available in their newly constructed condo building. It was a pretty awesome place: brand new kitchen, laundry in unit, gym, doorman and an elevator. There was one catch: two very eccentric Abyssinian cats.
Cleopatra and Alexandra, Cleo and Ally for short, two Abyssinian cats who controlled the apartment with their loud war cries and almost violent love of chicken. There seemed to be more rules about them than actual house rules. My favorite was to avoid looking Cleo directly in the eyes. I learned that lesson in blood. I wasn’t exactly thrilled but figured they were just a minor inconvenience and my room would be closed to them anyway.
At the beginning of my stay, I generally avoided the beasts. If I brought food home, I would eat it in my room as I didn’t want to deal with their incessant beggar’s meow or even the chance of finding a random cat hair somewhere near my food. Even just a stray hair on the side of my plate would have ruined my appetite. They never seemed to care for me either. That was about to change.
One night, my roommates were going to be out and asked me to feed the cats. I agreed as I had nothing else to do that night. Feeding these cats was no simple task. They had a tendency to eat too fast, so their meals had to be broken up into little bits to be fed every fifteen minutes over an hour. Too much at once and they would vomit it up. Full on divas. However, the quickest way to a cat’s heart is through its stomach. Soon I was greeted at the door and giving some lap time to the cats. I bonded more with Ally than Cleo. I would give her tuna treats and she returned the love with a headbutt.
Not long after the blossoming of our relationship, things took a turn for the worse. Ally fell suddenly ill, suffering ailments common to older purebred cats. The last time I saw her, she just suffered a seizure. Laying on the floor unable to stand, she reached up one paw to touch my hand as if to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking to know how we touched each other’s lives in such a short time.
A few months later, I moved into my own place. Living on my own, I was super excited not to find random cat hair on my belongings again. Finally, cat free! Over time, the loneliness set in as I found myself missing the energy of a little creature following me around the kitchen or even providing some peaceful mental distraction. I wanted a cat.
For weeks I searched online lists of cats available for adoption in the area. Then on one warm spring day in May, I made a trip with my boyfriend at the time to the ASPCA on the upper-east side. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to adopt that day, but if the right one came around I was willing.
Shelters are depressing. Many of the cats are in small kennels with their litter box, food, bed, and toys all inches from each other. We saw all sorts of cats but many of them didn’t seem too happy. I thought all hope was lost for the day. Then my boyfriend pointed out a six-year-old tuxedo cat named Coco. She was found on the street abandoned and brought to a city shelter before she was transferred to the ASPCA. She was very relaxed. She had a little pink feathery toy that she was very happy to play with. Sold! I named her Charlie.
Almost immediately, Charlie blossomed in her new home; sitting on my lap while we watched Broad City together. Over the next few months, we continued to bond. Coming home from work, there was nothing more exciting for me than to see her face, hear her little meow and give her a big hug. This is love.
Eventually, I returned to Chicago with my feline sidekick to help me embark on new adventures. Things were pretty chill for awhile. Then one day, last August, everything changed. Depression.
My family has a history of depression, anxiety and a variety of similar illnesses. Given my upbringing and circumstances around when I came out of the closet at sixteen, it was no surprise I would have to battle some dark clouds once in awhile. A few times in my twenties I had the occasional period of anxiety and depression, like most people. Usually, I would just ride the wave knowing that it would pass.
This time was different. What at first felt like a passing wave morphed into a deep trench with no bottom. I found myself choking up over the most random things such as a song or a line on a television show. Thankfully, it was summer and my sunglasses were able to hide my puffy eyes as they teared up on the train. I was a disaster.
Throughout the loneliness and misery, one thing kept me going: my cat. Coming home, collapsing in the bed in tears, she would come over and lay next to me. Her healing energy sent to me in the form of hypnotic purrs.
Things still were bad. I thought about killing myself. I didn’t quite have a plan but I knew I didn’t want to be around anymore. On a work trip to Italy, I entertained the thought of killing myself in Rome so that my mom would finally get to see a city she has always wanted to see. No thought that the trip would be tainted by claiming her son’s body. It’s scary the places your mind goes. I hit bottom.
When having these dark thoughts, I still thought about the consequences for Charlie. This little innocent cat loved me so much that I felt that killing myself would be abandoning her again. I couldn’t do that.
At the time I Googled “the only thing keeping me alive is my cat” and it was heartbreaking to see many people in the same position. Countless people going on because the thought of abandoning their furry friend was the deciding factor. I’m terrified to think what I would have done without her in my life. She saved my life.
Since then, things have improved. I received treatment for my depression and anxiety and can cope much better. The dark clouds still may appear, but they aren’t nearly as dark and ominous as before. As someone who is a creative type, I do feel it is important to have ups and downs in life. It’s part of being human.
Now, I volunteer at a cat rescue here in Chicago helping other people find their own little furry guardian angel. Another cat also joined my house: Henri. He’s rambunctious but very loving. He also takes the pressure off of her to be my sole protector.
For those who do not have pets, I highly recommend it if your circumstances allow you to. It’s quite amazing how much a little furry soul can brighten your day. There are also many studies that show how having a pet brings lots of positive physical and psychological benefits.
Often times I hear non-pet owners say “it’s just a cat/dog” when they hear someone talk about their fur child. I know they are much more than that. They can be life savers.