I'm a Crazy Cat Lady, and You Should be too
Rambling Back Story
I'm going to start this out by saying that I have always been an animal lover. The sun rose and set on my tiny dog's haunches. I say this because that snooty, adorable pile of curls was obsessed with putting her ass near my face while I was sleeping. And I let her.
There is not one animal in this world that I would actively mistreat. That being said, I was never a cat person. I vehemently considered myself a dog girl, and I always assumed cat owners were masochists and weirdos. I saw cats as aloof and sadistic scratching machines that didn't much care if their owners lived or died as long as they were being fed. Most of my experiences with cats had been brief and always consisted of a friend's cat covertly staring daggers at me or overtly hissing in my direction. Needless to say I much preferred the constant, eager and smothering love and affection a dog to the cold shoulder and passing glances of a cat.
It wasn't until I moved out on my own to a tiny studio apartment in Queens, almost seven years ago, that I even considered a cat as a pet. I was so desperately lonely in my tiny apartment that I became convinced that I needed a pet, and while a dog was my first choice, there was no way that I was getting up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to walk it, no matter how cute it was. I had priorities, and to my defense, I was working ten hour work days at the time. I needed my beauty rest, and a dog needed a lot more attention than I could give it.
After roaming the gray, sterile, and stinky hallways of the animal shelters no less than four separate times, I finally decided on Salvatore--a six month old, skinny, obsidian ball of fur with huge bat-like ears. He was extremely sick, and other than a few mewls and pathetic attempts at playfulness, he pretty much just laid there. It was like he was cosplaying as a puddle of tar. I could sense his death was imminent. The shelter was a kill shelter, and my save-a-ho instincts kicked in big time. I took him home three days later, after he was properly fixed.
The moment I took him out of his adoption crate, he started sneezing and walking around the house. I remember sitting on the bed and jumping and screaming when he attempted to hop on with me. I had no experience with cats and assumed this tiny five pound stranger-cat was about to attack me. I immediately called my boyfriend at the time to come help.
At first things were rough. He immediately peed on my bed and refused to eat or drink water. Terrified, I took him to the vet. Apparently the shelter did nothing in the way of medicating him before handing him off to me, and he had a severe upper respiratory infection. Even still, after I took him from his familiar surroundings, brought him to the vet to be poked and prodded at, had him fixed, he was always by my side, not exactly cuddling, just close enough to slightly touch. He wasn't completely sold on me yet. After all, you have to work for a cat's love, but slowly he was beginning to come around.
Today, he is a huge love ball of purrs and head butts who constantly wants to be by my side, and I have a huge fan of cats. I'm a firm believer that even the hissing ones that run and hide at your presence are just insecure and doing what they instinctively do best in order to survive. I no longer hold their untrusting nature against them. I totally get it, and if I am honest with myself, I am way more like a cat than a dog who freely gives her love away to anyone who will pay attention to her.
Pets and Cancer
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things my mom said to me was "you should give that cat away." My mom isn't Cruella De Ville. In fact, she adores animals, constantly feeding the stray raccoons and foxes she befriends at her job's accidental garden. At the time, she was just extremely scared and worried about me and grasping at anything to say or do to make the situation better. Like me, she had never been that into cats. She believed that cats, more so than dogs, carried a lot of diseases. She was right and wrong.
She was wrong, because a dog who goes outside frequently has a lot more of a chance to pick up germs and viruses than a cat who stays indoors does. That being said, cats do carry a virus called Toxoplasma Gondii. It's why pregnant women shouldn't clean out litter boxes. The virus is secreted into the environment through cat's feces. It's function is to hijack a mouse's brain in order to make it less afraid or cats and more susceptible to being caught. If a human with an intact immune system catches it, she will most likely feel the symptoms of a mild cold if anything. There is not telling what it might do to someone with the immune system of a sickly 90 year old woman, like I had. That being said, indoor cats, which Salvatore is, have very little chance of contracting this virus and passing it on. Also, there was no way I was getting rid of my fucking cat!
I asked a few of the women in my cancer groups what to do in order to make sure that I wasn't taking chances with my life. I mean, at the very least I could re-home him temporarily if absolutely necessary. Not only did everyone in my group unanimously say to keep my cat, but they also claimed that their pets were what got them through the toughest part of treatment. And I can now confidently say that I agree with them.
I'm gong to try not to be dramatic. I mean, did my cat save my life? Probably not. I would have survived whether he existed or not. He did greatly improve my quality of life though. Being single and having friends and family who don't live super close by is really tough when you are facing a life threatening disease. While my loved ones visited when they could, my mom coming to see me at least once a week, my cat was always there. He was there while I was crying hysterically when I found out I had cancer. He was there after treatments when I was running to the bathroom for one reason or another (I won't get graphic today). He was there while I was laying in bed with bone pain so intense it was as if I was slowly turning to stone. He was a constant source of cuddles and purrs through it all. I know all pet owners say this, but it was like he knew something was up with me and made sure to be extra cuddly and attentive.
I haven't made up my mind yet on what I believe as far as religion goes, and this is going to sound crazy cat lady-ish, but I fully believe that if there is any proof or evidence of some higher power that animals are evidence of that. We are so lucky to be cohabiting with these amazing, kind, whimsical creatures. My recommendation, if this is ever an issue for anyone is to definitely keep your pets during treatment.
Pet Care During Chemo
If you decide to keep your pets, which I am sure most of you will, there are some things that can be done to reduce risk to yourself during chemo. Here are some examples:
1. Make sure your pets are all up to date with their vaccines and vet visits before treatment.
3. Don't roughhouse too much with your pet so that you can avoid bites and scratches.
4. Keep the litter box away from the kitchen or places you eat. (Honestly, if you aren't already doing this, ew)
5. Always wash your hands before cleaning a cage/litter box/walking your dog.
6. If you are too weak to walk your dog and have no one that can help you there are great apps and websites like Rover.com, Wag, and Fetch Pet Care. If you can't afford regular dog walkings talk to the social worker at your cancer center.
7. Try not to take your dogs to places that are foreign to them where they can pick up new diseases. Try to take your walks or trips to familiar places.
8. Try not to handle exotic pets. If you have one definitely do the glove and mask method ALWAYS.