Experience is everything. If you want someone to change give them an experience. Experiences shape our thinking and beliefs.
“I don’t swim. Water is dangerous,” says someone who fell in the water as a child; who almost drowned and never got back in the water again. While the suntanned surfer and the weather skinned yachtsman will say, “I love being on the water.”
When I was six years old my stepfather planned to move us away from Sacramento, to a small rural town below the Sierra Nevada. Its population was 3,000. My older teenage twin sisters were not happy. To them, we were moving to Nowhereville. Yet they both met and married their husbands there.
To my five-year-old senses, we were moving to Heaven. Fruit trees, wildlife, and flowers. The ranch-style house was perched on a hill at the top of a steep private drive. There were poplars, oak, patches of sprawling ivy, and a rose garden. Best of all, the house came with two cats and a Collie. The cats were absent the day we moved in. But ‘Teddy’ was there sitting patiently behind a fence for us to get out of the Buick. He was a black standard sized collie and had a fluffy stark white collar. I went to him and hugged and petted him. He would be my pal for many years. He waited for me and I looked for him every day at the top of the hill, to get home from school.
The cats… were another story…
They were a mother/daughter package, named, Harlequin and Taffy. All I ever heard about them was from our mother who complained that they woke her at 3 a.m. They clawed the screens to get in. Nobody was happy with the cats. Mom tried letting them in a few times, and they repeatedly soiled the carpet. Yes, I know, it was their way of saying, we belong here, but when you’re the one cleaning up the messes, it becomes intolerable. They were banished from being indoors but were cared for. They had a safe place in the garage if the weather became too cold or threatening.
I think the cats tried to make amends with mom. They brought their major ‘kills’ or… ‘finds’ and laid them at the front door. One time while my step dad’s mother was visiting, she was greeted by an enormous snake, when she opened the front door. “Euge!” she screamed. Eugene came and calmly inspected it. “It’s a harmless gopher snake,” he said and put his cigar down. He went to the garage and came back carrying a shovel. He very gently gathered up as much of the snake as he could and took it to the hillside where he set it free.
I tried to bond with the cats too. One day, while Taffy was in her cubby in the kitchen, I made the long telephone cord appear like a snake. She wasn’t fooled, and she wasn’t interested. She didn’t like the laundry basket over her either, but she was very good at transmitting her feelings. When I lifted the basket, she lunged at me and attached herself to my skirt with all of her claws. I twirled and spun frantically trying to shake her loose. She finally dropped off and we duly noted each other:
While she looked at me as if I was the problem, I earmarked her for being in need of an exorcism.
Twelve years later, in a new home, I was sitting outside when the neighbor’s cat came over to see me. We knew each other. I babysat for his owner, once. She was a single mother who had two boys. The cat might have remembered me as the one the boys had locked out of the apartment. The cat nudged me. I stroked his back and he flipped his back into the air. He was like a feline seesaw. I thought he was enjoying the petting until he made it perfectly clear he wasn’t when he injected his fangs into my arm.
Now I knew: Cats were evil, homicidal, and easily triggered.
Years passed. I had a daughter busy with her studies at university. One day she announced she wanted a kitten. We’d had hamsters, a rabbit, a parakeet. At that time, we only had a large aquarium. I told her, “If you want a kitten, we’ll get one, but its litter box has to stay in the patio.”
A few months later, one night, there was a huge howling at our back door. We lived on the third floor. Rarely, did cats make their way up the stairwell. It was the kind of howl you couldn’t ignore. It sounded like a large cat. I opened the door and there was this tiny black and white kitten. It was dirty, half-starved, looked terrified, and had a bad eye. I felt strongly it was being chased and had lost its mother. Either way, it was distressed.
“Can we keep it?” my daughter asked.
Feral cats were a huge problem the city didn’t know how to handle. We’d heard a rumor there were mass poison raids going on in our neighborhood to keep the cat population down. There were no humane societies or pounds. Still, I couldn’t believe this was true.
This was the heart of the Muslim world. Our Prophet, Peace be Upon him, said, a man and woman were granted Heaven just for giving a thirsty animal a drink.
“I’ll give him something to eat and drink,” I said realizing we didn’t have litter or a box to put him in. “If he’s still here in the morning, we’ll take him in. You have to help me take care of him.”
In the morning all of the food and milk had been consumed. He was a survivor and had smartly stayed there, all night, huddled against the door in the blanket I’d given him. He slept a lot that first day after a bath and more food. He used the litter box like a pro. A friend whose mother was a vet prescribed an eye salve. He would sit with me and put his head under my chin, and then go to my daughter, and do the same with her. He was taking turns, we guessed so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings. Four days later and his eye was healed and they eventually turned a beautiful green.
Despite all of the negative encounters I have had with cats, it is miraculous to me, that a cat we rescued, ended up rescuing us. Hunter has kept us company and has been a buffer during our stressful transition from being a broken family to becoming a functional one. He has provided my daughter and I a sense of normalcy when there was so much uncertainty. I am in complete acknowledgment that God sent Hunter to us and am so thankful.
Experiences. Change. Our thinking.