Good Kitty: Listening to a Cat

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Once in awhile what I’ve learned from the horses about listening to them, also lands on other animals who seek me out. A few weeks ago, I met a cat I will never forget. Her person, an elderly man who lives alone with her, met me at the door of his home and invited me in. He introduced me to his recently adopted cat whom he called “good kitty,” because he doesn’t like names, he said.

What she lacked in a name, she made up for in her powerful countenance. She was  petite and thin (not because she lacked food from her new person), and a pale peach color which visually registered as anemic though she wasn’t. And frail she appeared, but she was not. She had eyes that penetrated from clear across the room where she sat upright on her pillow. We made contact. She simultaneously assessed me from head to toe, and deep into my soul, and at the same time, approved of me. I knew I was in. Thumbs up!

Her person spoke again gesturing to her, this time to say, she’s the one who caused the problem (which was the reason I was there to clean). He had found a flea and sprayed a natural bug killer in the house that left a film on everything which had been in need of a thorough dusting even before the spray. In my thinking, because of her, he was having his house cleaned. In response, I quipped back without much consideration,  “I think she is the solution!” Little did I know at the time how significant that statement was until my time there over the next 3 days unfolded.

I got right to work and turned on the shop vac that made a high pitched and abrasive sound. I noticed a little later that Good Kitty was no longer stationed on her pillow on a desk top in the living area. She had apparently found a place of safety in another room. I thought nothing more about it. The next day when I arrived she was curled up on her pillow with plants all around her and a picture window framing redwood trees outside. What a place to live, I said to myself as I switched on the shop vac with that loud and annoying sound. Good Kitty flew off her pillow like a bird under attack and nearly killed herself as she landed in a small space between the seat of a desk chair and the underside of the desk, only long enough for a quick direction change and launch as she continued her flight out of that space, out of the room and gone. Somewhere. Safe.

As my cleaning chores quieted, I noticed that she had returned. The next time I reached for the shop vac, I had an idea. I looked Good Kitty in the eye and told her I was going to turn it on. She seemed to soak in my words.

When I turned the vac on, she started to get up to leave and then in slow motion sank back into her pillow. That is where she stayed from then on as long as I gave her a heads up about the shop vac.

I was feeling a nice connection with this cat, and proud of myself for coming up with the idea of forewarning her. After the rest of the story unfolded, laughingly I realized that the idea for which I was taking credit, had actually come from her!

Her person who had a brilliant mind was struggling with some memory issues and confused thinking. Having someone in his house, his things moved around, and energetic talking triggered his frustration which he unintentionally took out on me. As I prepared to leave that day feeling falsely accused and shamed, decided I did not need that in my life. For a moment I contemplated not coming back the next day to finish the job. Two things stopped that intention immediately. One, he had prepaid me and I’d already used the money, and secondly, Good Kittly’s eyes beckoned to my heart. There was work to be done beyond the physical cleaning.

As I was driving home that day, the cat gave me a message to decipher and then to give discreetly to her person whom she adored. He was not a victim, I was to carefully tell him, there were things he could do to stop the deterioration of his brilliant mind. She offered a 3-step plan: exercise, drink water, schedule a session with my horses who are powerful healers sometimes giving tips about what herbs or remedies to take. Okay, maybe I added the last one about the horse session but it was a valid part of the plan. I sent him an email. There was no response.

I arrived my last day with some trepidation. He made no comment about my email, but didn’t fire me. A good sign I thought, though he had prepaid and wanted the job done. However, he did treat me very respectfully, then drove away a few minutes later leaving me to my cleaning and the abrasive shop vac. Once alone with Good Kitty, I explained to her that I had sent the email with the 3-step plan, and that I had done all I could do.

That day, my 3-day project was finished. I gathered my cleaning supplies and said my goodbyes. When I turned my attention to Good Kitty, I was taken aback by her response to me. As I said goodbye to her, she narrowed her eyes at me just like in the cartoons, and abruptly turned her head away. She had shape shifted into a hostile cat! I might have been done with my job, but she absolutely was not done with me!

A bit perplexed and a little confused, I drove out the driveway. By the time I came to the end of the driveway at the main road, these simple words came to me like a typed message in my mind which I could not ignore, “Check medication side effects.”  Aha! I thought. I went home and Googled her person’s medications. Sure enough, information from Mayo Clinic included an FDA warning of possible memory loss and mental confusion! It was at that moment that I knew Good Kitty, as I had said on day one, was indeed the solution but beyond just having the house cleaned.

As Kitty’s advocate, I emailed her person with the information about the medication side effects which he was experiencing, and a link to a site that confirmed it, and another site that offered natural and safer remedies. Kitty and I were finally done…or so I thought.

A week or two later, I met a woman at another cleaning job who was there to feed that client’s cat. I told her about Good Kitty. As it turned out, this woman had a similar health issue, had been on the same medication as Good Kitty’s person, and suffered multiple side effects as well. She was so exasperated she was ready to give up the medication and suffer the potentially life threatening consequences.

Her primary physician intervened on her behalf and recommended another doctor who could prescribe a different and newer drug that had no side effects (if that is possible). It was extremely effective for her and she wanted to sing the drug’s praises to the world! Good Kitty was at it again. I had another email to send with more information of perhaps a better drug that could do the job for him without the side effects. I sent the email, the name of the drug, the link, and the information of a local physician he could contact. This time, I think we are done, but I have thought that before. I will continue to listen…for yet another life saving solution from this amazing cat without a name!

Horses and Alzheimer’s

Horses are good therapy for the body, soul, and spirit.

Something new is stirring for me. In addition to working with those wanting to go more deeply into their spiritual nature, with those in the arts, and those suffering from childhood traumas, I’m beginning to explore bringing together the horses with those with severe memory loss. The following anecdote has further stimulated my interest:

When I picked up my Alzheimer’s client at her home, she was agitated. Not necessarily angry as she has been at other times, but restless and overly talkative about something that was upsetting to her. I was not able to interpret as I often do.

She was in another world. “Out of it” were the words that kept coming to me.

When we arrived at the pasture with the horses, she was not able to relate to them. She literally could not see them from afar or close up, nor did she want to help feed them. I began to doubt whether horses were the best venue for her as I had believed.

We had lunch together, and as I listened to her talk, it became clear that she was in a different story. I was one of the players in that story as sometimes I am if she is trying to let me know she’s upset with me. but this time I seemed to be a surrogate.  So I went into the story with her and became that person she was trying to convince.  I let her talk in words that sounded somewhat like gibberish at times, which I’ve been learning to interpret.

As she talked, I noticed that Dollar, our head horse, moved in behind her right on cue. I had become aware earlier that he was staying near her. Wherever she was, there was Dollar. I was curious and tried to make her aware of him but to no avail. Once again I began to doubt, and inwardly questioned whether I’d been fooling myself all these months about the benefit of horses in her life. We’d had some special moments together, she had sung, danced, and conversed with them. Her communication would seem clearer when we were with the horses. Today, however, nothing seemed to calm her. It seemed pointless.

So the 3 of us, Sarah (not her real name), Dollar, and myself were together in what I call the outdoor reception room for clients. She was sitting on a wooden bench with a bouquet of wildflowers in front of her which was sitting on my grandmother’s old laundry room bench now a “coffee” table. The coastal sun warmed us as Sarah continued to talk and Dollar munched on hay directly behind her back. She was referring to some encounter we’d had, nothing that was familiar to me, but with someone, real or imagined. I was the surrogate. She was being very mature, careful, and polite as she explained in broken words and sentences that she would never purposely offend me, but she needed to defend herself from some sort of accusation, a false accusation of something she hadn’t done, nor would ever do. She went to great lengths to explain it all, but there was always some piece missing.

Suddenly, Dollar whispered to me and I knew exactly what to say. I looked her straight in the eye and said with conviction, “Sarah, I believe you.”  That was all she needed. To be heard, and to be acknowledged. The change in her was amazing. The story stopped, she became her normal Alzheimer’s self again, and even helped put pellets in a bucket for the horses’ evening feed. We were back to our normal interactions, with a little less baggage for Sarah to carry.

Whether her story was something recent, or from years of struggle from what I know to be a childhood trauma she mentions occasionally, I don’t know. But with Alzheimer’s becoming epidemic, I have concerns but also inklings that there may be inroads we can make outside of medical solutions. Anything we can do that helps those with severe memory loss find some respite for their souls, is worth pursuing. I am speculating that childhood traumas that are suppressed might possibly contribute to a propensity to Alzheimer’s. At least in this case, knowing some of her history, I suspect it has.

What I am beginning to experience is that the horses can bridge that communication gap. They themselves communicate with a different language which some of us can understand. I credit Dollar with communicating to me, as the horses have done many times before, the very words I needed to say to her that brought her solace. I now have no more doubt about the benefits for Sarah of being in the presence of the horses without having physical interaction. I love heartwarming surprises like this one.

There is so much more I want to explore with Alzheimer’s clients. There are so many possible avenues to bring degrees of healing, and I am one to believe that anything is possible even when something is called incurable. There may not be a panacea nor ever be, but who knows what might be accomplished on an individual basis, and in this case in the presence of horses.

I can only imagine the torment they must feel when they are unable to communicate with even loved ones. We take for granted, I’m afraid, our abilities to speak out about a troubling experience or even a joyful one, or our ability to stand up for ourselves in normal family frictions. Some of us may not, but the option exists. It must feel like some kind of hell to them when they can’t and no wonder some would wander away looking for “home.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I am not an expert, but a pilgrim on a journey to understand more. Ohio State University has done preliminary studies and found significant evidence that the interaction of Alzheimer’s with horses caused improvement in behavior. There is more for us to know. We do not need to wait for science which often follows anecdotal records. Horses are an important avenue to bridge the gap in communication and bring healing to trouble in the soul.