I enjoy telling the story of how I got Jack. I said to my partner at the time that I’d like to have children, he suggested we go to the RSPCA and adopt a cat. Being a cat lover of course I was going to say yes (he soon found out, it didn’t stop me wanting a child).
Jack was a rescue cat about a year old. I fell in love with him straight away, he had a dark, charcoal tabby coat. I had never seen a cat like him and he was complimented all his life for his looks. When you adopt a cat from a shelter, you have to audition. So we were sent into a room with Jack where we could all get to know each other. It was a bare room with just a chair and us.
Well Jack was very cluey, he knew what was up and jumped on my lap straight away. There were cuddles, purrs and I was sold. Packed in his fresh cage we took him home to our old maisonette. We let him have free reign of the house, to get to know it and that was our first big lesson.
Within an hour we lost him. We could not find him anywhere, we only had two bedrooms, how could this be? It wasn’t until going to bed that night we heard a meow from our bedroom fireplace. There he was trying to get out through the chimney. After pulling out a few bricks we rescued him – again.
From that day on Jack always found the quietest darkest place to hide. His safe place was in the shadows, he was scared of everyone and everything. I never knew what happened in that first year of his life but I gathered it had something to do with big men, chains and loud noises. All of these things scared him the most.
The only person he felt calm with was with me and what that did was relax me. If he was around I learnt I had to be calm too. Ironically his wellbeing was teaching me to take care of my own. He forced me to stop, give him pats, reassurance and care.
When my son was born he learnt to tolerate a newborn, but it was clear he was not a fan of sharing me. So in those early years of my son’s life Jack wasn’t as close to me, but any chance he got he was on my lap or sleeping nearby. Juggling a newborn then a toddler while working was tough, but Jack was my constant. Just seeing him took my mind off that and I was once again forced to think about our wellbeing.
After my separation my world was thrown upside down. I hit rock bottom and had to make my own way up. Of course when it came to divvying up the assets Jack came with me, there was no discussion. And the most amazing thing happened, Jack came into his own as my carer.
We have known for a long time that animals can sense happiness, sadness, stress and distress. Depending on our reactions they can be very responsive and – when we are open to it – support us with their company and actions. While I know dogs can be certified assistance animals – I’m here to say all pets can be credited with that role, even cats.
So suddenly there we were together in a little flat, just the two of us starting all over again. My son was with me every other week so Jack got quite acquainted with days and nights where it was just the two of us. His affection ramped up, the cuddles were constant and he never left my side. In fact I had to make space on my desk for him as he lay over my keyboard, my files and notebooks all day long.
At night he no longer wanted to prowl the neighbourhood, he slept next to me and rarely ventured beyond the backyard. In fact his biggest outing was following me to take the bins down my long driveway every Tuesday night.
When I look back on those days I don’t know how I would have got through them without him. He was a constant presence and companion. The affection was unconditional and company was real. He even managed to learn how to say “he-llo” in a meow when I came home.
As my life picked up and things got back on track Jack became unwell, he had diabetes and he was dependent on me again for daily insulin. For three years we went on like that, we moved into a new bigger home with a bigger yard and he found his patch in the sunshine on the back lawn. As I think back those were his twilight years, soaking up the rays floating in and out for food and cuddles.
His health deteriorated and led to pancreatitis, arthritis and eventually fluid on his lungs. Even as I write this the tears well as I think of the whole in my heart left with his goodbye. The grief for a pet you lose is just as great as any person in your life. And I let myself grieve, I promised my son he could get a kitten but not until the time was right – until the tears had really stopped.
That time came and my son chose another rescue pet – Nico. He was 3 months old and dumped in the Adelaide parklands. He is cheeky and cute and I love that feeling when I get home of seeing his little face peering through my staircase. The cuddles are so special too, Nico doesn’t sleep on your lap but across your chest and spread out under your neck when you’re laying on the couch. He rips boxes apart, runs wildly around the house and is full of life.
He is very different from Jack and that’s fine with me but what is the same is that unconditional love I would not swap for anything in the world.
NB: this blog was written for mindshare.com.au for Mental Health Month 2021.