I have a sick cat this morning.
I sensed it last night. Usually about dinner time both cats start circling the kitchen and yowing. That’s when we give them their canned food treat, and they never let us forget that chow time for us is treat time for them.
But not last night. Neither one brushed up against my ankles as I reheated some sausages on the stove. Even when I opened the can—the sound that makes them jump, the aroma that escapes like a siren—nothing. I spooned the “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast” onto their plates and Milo came for his. But not Chloe. Normally Chloe is so assertive she’ll eat hers and chase Milo from his plate, too. But when I offered the food she slinked off. I followed her with the plate, but she simply disappeared up the back stairs.
This morning when I went to make tea at 5:30, Chloe was sitting uncomfortably by the side door. Cat lovers know where their cats spend the night, and I knew she didn’t belong there. She’s always curled up on the goose-down comforter atop the guest room bed. That’s where you’ll find Chloe at 5:30 in the morning.
Not today. I went to pet her and she resisted me like an enemy. I let her go. An hour later as I cleaned out their litter box I saw Chloe lying under a sofa. I went gently to pet her, but she slid further under the sofa, beyond my reach. I got the can of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast”, put it on her plate, lay on my stomach and slid it under the sofa. Chloe slipped out the back, out of the room. I went everywhere, looking for her, calling her name, carrying the pinkish fish in my hand. When that cat is nowhere to be found, she’s almost always in the basement. Down there she has a half-dozen hiding places that Osama bin Laden would envy. I would never find her. I would have to wait until she felt better and came back to the family.
This is the way my cat responds to some illness—whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, or some combination of them all, I don’t know. Chloe isn’t well, and she withdraws. It reminds me of how humans often respond to illness. We’re not well, we’re hurting, and we crawl under the sofa. We can’t sleep; someone finds us at 5:30 in the morning crouched by the door. They ask What’s the matter and we say Nothing, and limp away. Someone offers us some gift, something to eat, and we say No thanks.
It reminds me of when my mother got cancer and all the kids wanted to come home and she thanked us but wanted to be alone. I was sad for her. It wasn’t her fault.
It often happens that I hear someone is sick or something has gone awfully wrong in a family, and when I call they say How did you find out? And, Don’t tell anyone. It’s natural to withdraw and lick our wounds. But it’s not good to be hurting—and alone. Some people may not have anyone to reach out and offer them care. But most of us do. We just won’t accept it. We hide from it.
Don’t be my sick Chloe. If you’re not feeling so hot today and someone offers you some version of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast”, take it.
Mimi Griffith says
Hi, David: Your essay today spoke to me today because I’m a cat person, too. Animals hide when they’re sick because their DNA tells them it’s not safe to let predators know they are vulnerable. Even after many years with a loving family, cats obey their DNA and hide. Maybe that’s what’s up with us humans. How can we override our DNA’s programming to hide when we’re hurting? How can a family, friend or community let a hurting person know that it really is safe with us?
Yes, I’m glad you said something about the DNA. Hiding is in our blood, and how–we’re asking–can we overcome that? A good deal of “spirituality” is overcoming our primieval past, which hangs on fiercely in our DNA. Recent brain research shows us that we have sectors of the brain that draw us to compassion and understanding, but . . . we’ve still got that old reptilian brain stem, and when we’re challenged or shamed or confronted or hurting, it’s easy to respond with our reptile brain. So–spiritual formation is–in one sense–accessing the higher sectors of our brains, and creating well-worn channels so that, gradually, our first response is one that accords more and more with the heart of God.
I lost my cat Stripes recently and he looked exactly like Chloe. Stripes was 17 years old, and died a natural death. During his last few days he was weak and could barely stand up, although he kept trying. I kept him in his cozy little cat bed in the bathroom because I was afraid he’d fall down the stairs. However, he kept getting out of his bed and I’d find him collapsed on the floor. I’d gently put him back, cover him up and stoke his sweet head. I found him dead, when I got home from work, in that very same position I left him. My son said that cats are prideful and he was probably trying to get out of his bed to go somewhere private to die. I hope that in my quest to make him feel warm, secure, and safe during his dying hours, that I didn’t stop him from doing the very thing he wanted to do the most, withdraw from us as he was withdrawing from this world. He has crossed the rainbow bridge now, and I will miss him. Hope Chloe feels better soon.
Thanks, Patie–and all who’ve asked after Chloe. She’s feeling fine.
Alice in LA says
I nearly lost one of my cats earlier this year to kidney failure and the moment I took him to the vet was when he started crawling into deeper, darker corners to sleep – even the torn lining under one of our living room chairs. He recovered fully only to be attacked by coyotes 6 months later – talk about devastation. But more to the point of your message, my children – especially my son – retreat like this when in pain. If you ask what’s wrong, the answer is “nothing,” “don’t worry about it,” “it’s too hard to explain,” or “you wouldn’t understand,” and he won’t eat for days. Imagine my surprise when in a recent, dark and tearful mood, I braced myself for rejection and joined him on the back porch and asked “anything I can do to help?” He answered with a shrug. So I told him a sure wished I had a magic wand to make it all better, then just sat quietly with him. In moments he was talking, and then conversation went down 5 other roads from what was primarily bothering him. I left knowing I could sleep well without worrying what he might do in his despair, and he no longer seemed to have a 1-ton weight on his back. Granted, this was over a simple case of heartbreak. When it’s the darker side of self-loathing, it’s much harder to bring him back from that hiding place.
I hope your kitty is energetic and assertive self soon.
pam anderson says
What a treat it was for me yesterday afternoon to see Chloe standing at the dry food bowl but not eating. I high-tailed it the the fridge and quickly delivered her soft food treat. She ate it gingerly, so we’re hoping she’s on the mend.
Ginny Lovas says
Hope Chole is back to her normal self. Why can’t we seek out others help when we need it? Then, when we do, we feel like we should not have!
Is it that we talk about Communicty, believe in Community (for others), but when we need it, we think we can solve our own problem(s), so sink away to the basement to hide?
Liz Anderson says
Thanks for those words. It’s hard to accept gifts graciously when you’re feeling down or down and out.
Elizabeth Lobs Mattson says
Sometimes we need to accept help from others, perhaps requiring a measure of humility (hello Elizabeth), to encourage others. If we turn away it may cause another who needs help, comfort, prayer to hesitate to ask because they question if _____ toughed it out, handled it, managed they should be equally capable. Should they buckle it potentially compounds the difficulty they face.
Barbara | Creative Culinary says
I found myself in a position to need some help. A unique position for sure since I am the helper most often; the strong one who can get it all done and help my neighbors and friends. Years of single parenting and owning my own small business have seen me manage more than most and I know some look at me as somewhat invincible. I’m not.
But I gingerly reached out as hard as it was and what I found? People could not imagine I needed help. They gave a little but not a lot and I was soon finding that friends I thought I had were really most comfortable seeing my need.
I’m not sure what long held scientific or cultural parts of our past can account for what I’ve encountered but I can tell you this. Managing to do it all with a broken leg has made me stronger but less willing to want to help those again that turned a blind eye. I’m not bitter but I am certainly tired!
I hope your cat is on the mend. My dog is almost 14 and so I feel I have to look for signs daily to gauge how she is feeling. Thankfully most days it is pretty feisty but I enjoyed reading the first comment…I never would have considered a primal urge taking over her sweet body but I’ll be sure to watch for that…thanks.
I’m sorry you reached out and didn’t receive the help you needed, Barbara. That happens. But don’t let that make you close up your heart–either from receiving the gifts of those who can and will give to you (they’re out there!), or from giving your gifts to others.
Roger Stikeleather says
Is Chloe OK now? Hope so.
Yep–she’s back to her old self.
Marie cook says
My Chloe femail cat was sick for 3 weeks with uti had her exrayed vets said she had dence cancer. I took her to special hospital for ultra sound. She has a system no cancer. It is not giving her any problem. She was giving fluid and she bounced back. Today she is not eating and sleeping in basement . should I just let her be? Could she have caught something from me. I have seen sick for 3 days chills and fever.
Trish Merrifield says
I, too have a cat that hids out. Definitely not normal. Vet took blood sample and didn’t see much to be concerned with. Temp was normal. Gave her a shot for dehydration and a steriod to help.
I still didn’t see any improvement.
I thought maybe kidney or bladder problem. I don’t know.
See article to give a cat a mixed dose of apple cider vinegar, water and chicken broth.
She wasn’t too happy about it but I got a eye dropper full into her. Then gave her fresh cat food and water. . I Need to know if I am going the right thing or if anyone can give sound advice on how to make my kitty better.
Trish Merrifield says
My Stripper is like Chloe. I believe it is either bladder or kidney problems. Trip to vet for blood work was not conclusive.
Stripper finds hiding place. And drinks alot of water.
I have mixed a little apple cider vinegar with water and chicken broth to dissolve any crystals that may be in her urinary tract.
If someone can guide me to how I can help her, I would appreciate it very much.