“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened” ~ Anatole France
One winter’s night last August, whilst still grieving the loss of my beautiful Dalmatian, who I sadly re-homed a few years prior, I was mindlessly scrolling Facebook.
I have always followed lots of animal pages, so when I stumbled across cat adoption, it wasn’t really a surprise.
I had uprooted and changed my whole life a few years ago, and living in an apartment made it difficult to own a pet, but in that moment, I convinced myself I indeed needed a cat in my life. The last cat (my daughter’s cat) Gotham had died suddenly several years ago, and the grief was really painful, so I was nervous about loving another pet so deeply.
Anyway, back to this winter’s night. As I started looking at the cats available for adoption, one little girl stood out, like a sign, and I knew in that moment she was my perfect fit. Xena, named after Xena Warrior Woman, given the tough start she endured and the battles she won, was around two years old. She was found heavily pregnant in the streets and taken in. Sadly, this was not to be Xena’s happy ending. She gave birth to six kittens when the dog in this house attacked her, viciously.
Xena fiercely protected the life of her kittens, and they were all kept safe, whilst this beautiful girl, still a baby herself, was left bleeding from the neck which would leave her voice box permanently damaged. The worst was yet to come. The lady who took her in, for some reason didn’t seek help immediately. Perhaps through embarrassment or fear for what may happen to her dog, she left Xena and the kittens locked in a laundry for two days before calling the cat rescue group. I cannot imagine the fear and pain she was in as six little kittens continued to feed, whilst she lay there.
These rescue people are incredible, and once they were contacted, Xena and the kittens were taken in. The kittens were hand-fed until they were strong enough to be adopted, and Xena underwent several surgeries and treatments, which I’m so grateful saved her as she’s now in my life.
Driving to pick her up, I was nervous as I imagined she would be incredibly timid, so I was prepared for weeks of work to settle her in and make her feel safe. To my surprise, she entered my home and was a little skittish for a few hours, but something happened I really did not expect on that first night. She came and snuggled on my lap and began to purr. It was in that moment, I realised something. I realised that traumatic experiences can diminish in fear and pain; they can begin to heal in the right environment.
The first few weeks I could not rub under her chin and frontal neck area as this is where the dog had grabbed her. We worked on this, little by little with patience and love. Now she puts her head up as a sign of permission for me to rub this spot, this spot that caused so much trauma.
She is the most affectionate cat I’ve ever owned, and she’s taught me a few lessons about life and healing:
>> Giving the right environment can encourage the journey of healing.
>> Even the most painful of wounds has the ability to fade when tended to with love and care.
>> The start we have in life doesn’t have to be our whole story; stories can change.
>> One person can make a difference. Even the lady who took her in made a difference; yes, her dog attacked Xena, but perhaps life would have been far worse for Xena and her kittens on the streets. This one act brought Xena into my life.
>> When you truly open your heart, your heart is given the blessings of love.
I know many people will read this and say, “She’s just a cat.” Indeed, she is just a cat, and we are “just humans,” no better or worse. Cats, like us, suffer pain and feel happiness. Just like us, they want to be safe and loved. They need shelter, food, and water. And just like us, they face trauma. Animals can be our greatest teachers, if we choose to understand and learn from them.
Like Xena, I have been on my own journey of healing, and I think that is why that cold winter’s night she appeared in my Facebook feed. She needed me, but in many ways I needed her more.
When I wake up in the morning and she’s sitting there staring at me, I’m reminded that connection with our pets is such a precious gift.
I’m reminded that we can choose to change our story, given we are in a conducive environment to do so.
I’m reminded that our pets can help us grow, if we choose to open our hearts.