Sunday, May 1, 2011

How Pets Have Helped Treat My Bipolar

I've written quite a bit about being bipolar and how that affects my relationships.  I've always been talking about human relationships.  What I haven't really talked about is how necessary pets are to people with mental illnesses like mine - in particular depression.

Having only owned and known cats for most of my 46 years on this earth, I've always gravitated towards the cute little kittens in the adoption cages and, more recently, the adult cats who were searching for "forever homes" after either being found abandoned or given up by their owners.

While I was going through all of my horrible medical stuff over the past four or five years, I definitely discovered the benefit of the therapy cat.  We have two cats - one a sweet, shy, tiny gray and white cat named Kylie who not much of a "people cat," despite the fact that she picked me at 9 weeks of age to adopt her by running up to the front of the cage and yowling at me every time I walked by until I just couldn't stand it anymore and had to bring her home with me.  When sleepy, she makes the perfect companion if you're depressed, as she will roll onto her back as she snuggles deep into our comforter and practically begs you to rub her belly.  If she's awake though she's not generally much companionship.

About two years ago or a little more, our cat, Kosmo, died unexpectedly.  Somehow I had neglected to notice over the course of a couple of days that he wasn't feeling so hot.  I since have discovered that animals who are in great pain or are dying tend to hide from their humans, but I had no idea that I hadn't seen much of him around for a couple of days until I thought about it later.  One afternoon, Justin and I went out to lunch and when we came back, Kosmo was on the floor in the kitchen, something clearly the matter with him.  His back end wouldn't come up off of the ground and he couldn't walk, leading me to scream up to Justin that something is wrong with the cat!!!!  I called the vet who told me to take him immediately to the other office where they could check him right away.  I drove with him in the passenger seat, bundled carefully into his carrier, not a peep out of him the entire trip (which was totally abnormal), bargaining with whatever higher power was up there to pay more attention in the future if he would just allow this big, dumb, friendly piece of fur that was the love of my middle son's life to hang on.

By the time we got to the vet's office, the cat was in shock.  I asked them if I should wait in the waiting room and the vet said no, he's got a blockage the size of a grapefruit in his bladder, I can feel it.  He's in shock.  Go home and I'll call you.  I can't promise a good outcome here.  What????  As far as I knew an hour ago, our 6 year old rescue kitty was just fine and we were having a nice lunch out while the kids were in school.  Now you're telling me he might not make it?

I got the call about an hour later that she had done everything she could but it was too late.  Oh, and did we realize that he was probably more like 12 years old than 6?  The things those adoption agencies do...but we would have taken him anyway.  I had to decide on the spot whether they were going to cremate him or if we were going to come pick him up and bury him ourselves.  We opted to pick him up and, just then, here came the kids home from school.  We broke the news as gently as we could and the younger boys wanted to go with me back to the vet to pick Kosmo up and bring him home.  I don't think either one of them ever really considered what a dead cat was going to look like and I made sure to bring one of Ben's old baby blankets to cradle him in the front seat so that I could shield the kids' view and hold him for a few more minutes.  That night, Justin buried him under an oak in the back yard and we lit a candle for our pet and Jamie and I sobbed.  The candle burned outside all night, despite a brisk wind.

I was resolute that we would not get another pet after that.  Kylie would be our family animal.  But...you go into Petsmart and, well, you know, somehow you end up by the cat cages and next thing we knew, Max was on his way home with us.  Approximately (we were told) one year old and having been given up by an elderly couple with five cats they could no longer take care of, Max came into our lives and has firmly entrenched himself here.  He is at least 6 or 7 pounds heavier than when we got him after I got tired of being woken by his horrific yowling at 6:00 a.m. to be fed and started leaving the dry food out.  This cat is a sweetheart of a cat though.  If you look at him, he starts purring.  He even loves the dog, even though the dog could eat him as a snack.  I often will find Max with his head dripping wet from Jackson slobbering all over him in an effort to either find some forgotten morsel of food or just from his licking the cat to get him to play.  Or maybe it's to show Max that Jack understands who is really in charge in this relationship, regardless of him having about 65 pounds on Max.  Either way, dog slobber on the cat's head on a regular basis.

Jack does not understand that Max is a cat and can't play with him.  It's really funny to watch a ten month old golden retriever trot up to this fur ball with feet who can barely waddle to the food dish and drop a ball in front of his nose, head down, butt in the air, tail wagging furiously, and then see the look of total bewilderment when the cat does not deign to respond.

Jackson is the dog I never knew I wanted.  I wasn't a dog person, ever, as I have written over and over on this blog (am I getting derivative of myself?)  He came into our lives last August, after we decided it would be nice to have something else shedding pounds of fur onto the floor, waking us up in the middle of the night barking every time a car went by, and generally raising hell in our household.  Really, if you're thinking of having a baby, get a puppy first.  You'll change your mind on the baby thing, pronto.  And if you don't change your mind, then you must really be ready to have a baby.

Jack has gone through most of his puppyness now and is becoming a really lovable dog.  And retrievers are the most friendly breed in the world, as far as I can tell.  He's no watch dog, although he barks loudly and frantically when the doorbell rings.  But if a burglar were to come crashing through, I believe Jack would more likely knock him over to lick him to death and beg him to play than to protect us.  I may be wrong and there may be some guard dog in this 85 pound wag machine, but probably not.  Although I do believe that if Jack thought there was a threat to any of his "pack," he would be standing over us in a very protective stance, teeth bared, and ready to attack.

Somehow, Jackson has wormed his way into my heart to the point where I have started to think of him as one of my own children (the cats got there years ago).  I worry about him when we are gone, I schedule things around his need to be fed and go outside, and for the one weekend we were gone in March, I called the kennel daily to check on him.  When he went in for his, ahem, altering, I spent two weeks following him around as he wore his cone and looked pathetic, feeding him treats and scratching where he couldn't reach.  I automatically look for the dog now when I get home and for some reason, that doggy smell that comes with every house that owns a dog I just don't notice.

The reason I got onto this topic is because I wanted to emphasize how much our furry friends mean to us, especially those of us with some type of depression, and to tell you how glad I am that we have this Marley-like frenetic puppy bundle of joy.  I've had a couple of very bad times since we got Jack and the thing I have discovered he is absolutely the best at is for me to grasp his fur in both hands, lower my head into his neck, and sob uncontrollably when something is so bad there are no words for it.  He is only ten months old, but he understands when something is horribly wrong and will stick by my side like glue until he is convinced I am okay.  He also listens to my incredibly manic impulsive ideas with great patience and allows me to get it all out without interrupting or arguing, which usually will allow myself to argue the point back around to where it should be.  Dogs are good listeners.

I never thought I would enjoy having a dog.  I was always going to be a cat person.  Well, that hasn't changed - I still am a cat person.  But I love this dog with all of my heart.  He may have been a menace when we brought him home, but I'm 100% sure he will be staying for the rest of his life or mine, whichever is so unlucky as to come to an end first, because I love that animal beyond all reason.

And now, I'm going to crawl up on the couch to read and have the 20 pound cat furball join me.  He's a great sleeping pill when he's heavily on my stomach and purring away loud enough to wake the neighbors.

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