So we had four humans, three cats and one problem, and that one problem was small and ginger, or so I thought. It turns out I had another problem too, which was how on earth to write about what happened on Thursday. It has taken a while, and many rewrites, but I think I’m there now.
Titan has featured in many of my Facebook posts doing adorable things like laying all over my keyboard while I’m trying to type, or sleeping next to me on my laptop bag (his ‘office’) while I write, but recently his behaviour has become less than adorable. He’s been bullying the other cats to the point where Rowan sleeps under our bed during the day, and several weeks ago he scratched Matt really badly; I escaped being savaged at one point by making my hand play ’dead’ so he wouldn’t sink his teeth in any deeper, but last week he gave Stephen a really nasty bite which resulted in a tetanus jab and some antibiotics.
The household was divided: Stephen, understandably, wanted to take him to the nearest rescue centre as soon as possible, Matt and his girlfriend Harry wanted us to forgive him and accept he is going through a ‘teenager’ phase, and me? I was stuck in the middle, a position which I seem to assume far too easily. (For any astrologers present that would be my Libra Ascendant.) As I would probably be the one to take him back to the Rescue Centre if it got that far, I have a huge investment in making this situation work; I’m not even sure I could bear to take him back, but obviously something had to change or we would stay divided and Titan would remain on a warning – with everyone on edge in case it happened again.
You might wonder why on earth I’m even discussing all this on what is mostly a cancer blog, and I can imagine any non-cat lovers reaching for the ‘back’ button on the keyboard in sheer boredom at the direction this is taking. Please don’t, as it is very relevant.
When I was diagnosed with lymphoma waaaay back in 2012 I had no idea how I was going to cope with the mental and emotional side of the treatment and just the very knowledge that I had joined the cancer club was terrifying. The whole cancer journey has undoubtedly taught me a huge amount, and being an introspective type by nature it stimulated much inner questing, all of which is contained in these blogs. And it continues, because once you start the process there isn’t an ‘off’ switch at any point, and I’m not sure I would want there to be, as it is a fascinating journey. What I discovered was that in the past I haven’t stood up for myself, spoken out when I wanted to, and I definitely compromised way too much in order to keep the peace. And that’s just for starters :-)
Fast forward six cycles of chemo, a stem cell transplant and four years later to that much longed-for state of remission, and, ooh look! I’m in a position where I’m stuck in the middle again, worrying about how to keep everyone happy.
I love the way the universe does this.
“Nope. You still haven’t learnt it, have you? Here we go… another lesson. See how you get on this time.”
Well I appear to have made some progress, as this time there has been some clear conversation between the housemates which involved me saying I’m not going to be stuck between warring parties again. That initially led to us (well, me, TBH) researching anything and everything that could possibly help with Titan’s bad behaviour. First up was moving the cats to a raw food diet so they aren’t stuffing their faces with additive-filled commercial cat food (think kids with smarties), and it does seem to have helped a bit, but we’re not quite there yet. Massive shout out to Darrelyn Gunzburg for her help and support in getting us going on that and for recommending the lovely people at Honey’s Raw Dog Food, who spent ages on the phone with me – thank you all so much. My questing also led to us getting in touch with Susannah Rafelle, an animal communicator suggested by our dear friend Judy Hall. Having seen Anna Breytenbach communicate with the beautiful black leopard on Youtube in ‘When Diablo Became Spirit’ (have the tissues ready), I was already up for it before Titan started munching people – he very thoughtfully just provided the reason. What none of us realised is how deeply it would involve us too.
I loved Susannah the moment I spoke to her on the phone, and we all had high hopes for the outcome of her visit even though we had no idea what it would be like. I had visions of Titan sitting in front of her and them eyeballing each other in a fierce yet silent standoff, not dissimilar to being called to the headmaster’s office to explain one’s bad behaviour. She kindly fitted us in at very short notice, so on Thursday we assembled in the lounge to await her visit. The cat flap was locked to keep all three cats in and we closed the doors to their favourite rooms so they had no choice but to be present at their own therapy session. That on its own created a potential war zone.
But then Susannah arrived and calmness descended – almost instantly – on the household, feline and human. As she asked questions and took notes about what had been going on, it dawned on me that we were all being helped by this, it wasn’t just about Titan. We spontaneously contributed memories of the cats at various stages of arrival in the household, their growth into maturity, and their developing intolerance of each other (amidst a few calmer moments), but what came out very strongly – including from Stephen, whose hand has only just healed up – was that we all wanted a happy and peaceful home where the cats felt safe and could relax. Voicing that as a family was quite a big thing for us, although we might have said it in conversation with each other in passing. How many families actually sit down for some kind of gentle honesty session?
I recall reading in one of my favourite books, (Horses Don’t Lie, by Chris Irwin) that there are no problem horses, only problem owners, and I wondered what Titan would have to say about his experience of living with us, and how we contribute to the Troubles. After Susannah took the case history she came to sit on the floor, and we sort of quite spontaneously settled ourselves in a circle. She watched the cats for a while with a special kind of intention and openness, so we did too, and in doing so we saw them in a different way. For me that was a revelation, as I’m pretty short on the attention front with small children and animals. It was a really special feeling to be there for them, to invite them to be part of what we were doing through a deep and genuine desire to communicate in order to resolve this problem.
Susannah described her initial sensation of being with them as like waves crashing on the beach, then the pull of the water dragging you back. Constantly changing and completely unstable. None of them understood where they fitted in with each other. I understood at that moment how difficult it must be for them to exist in such an atmosphere, and how they must be wound up like springs, ready to ‘ping’ at any moment. No wonder they keep jumping on each other.
The first thing to happen amidst all this deep thinking was that Titan bounced into and out of and through our circle, frustrated by the closed cat flap, not knowing where to settle. He isn’t usually at ease with guests but he spent quite a bit of time walking past Susannah, ears pricking as he sensed her inviting him to communicate. However, apart from apologising to Stephen for biting him, his attitude was one of confusion. He conveyed that he is constantly on edge because he doesn’t know where he fits in with the other cats, and he certainly didn’t know how special he is to us. He does know now, as we (tearfully in some cases, but completely silently) assured him we love him like crazy and really want to sort this out. At that point he considered it job done and vacated the room. Well that was weird. Not at all what I expected. So he isn’t the problem after all.
Next up was Rowan, who after several frustrated attempts to escape through the closed cat flap resigned herself to a bit of sniffing around the circle, then settled herself as far as possible from the proceedings and retreated to the hallway. When I asked Susannah later what Rowan’s contribution to the dialogue was, she said that Rowan didn’t feel the need to be involved and had literally taken herself away. That surprised me as she is the one that gets picked on by both of the boys – I thought she would have a lot to say. The really strange thing was that when the session finished there was no outward sign it had, just a change of energy as we switched to chatting about what had happened, but at that exact point Rowan came back into the room to sit on her usual cushion as if she knew nothing would now be required of her.
Then right on cue, as Rowan was thinking about leaving, Rio awoke from his slumbers in the conservatory and wandered in to see what all the fuss was about. We have always known that as a (mostly) Russian Blue he is a healing cat; he has proved this time and time again, gravitating to spend time with people who need help or healing, but I realised as he joined the circle that he deserves much more respect than we give him. His communication with Susannah revealed that he feels supplanted by the other two and shunted to the back of the queue in terms of love. At that I really welled up, as he was my first cat and he is so special to me. Funny how we assume that animals understand that we love them, but maybe that message doesn’t actually get through. A bit like couples who never actually take the time to say ‘I love you’ because it is assumed. I was starting to see an analogy here. By slowing us down to observe and be open to the cats, Susannah was also encouraging us to be more in tune with ourselves. Wow. I love this.
At which point Matt leapt up and went to his room to retrieve a crystal he thought should be part of the process – a green quartz, good for healing the heart chakra and also for inter-species communication – which he put in the circle. Within minutes Rio had sniffed it, then to our amusement kind of planted his bottom on it. And then after another few minutes he got up, turned around, and literally arranged himself lying over the crystal so it was right under his heart. Woah!! That must have been SO uncomfortable. This wasn’t a smooth, tumbled little crystal, it was big and chunky and rough, and I definitely wouldn’t want to lay on it. We sat there for quite a while, touched by the wisdom of this beautiful cat, who quite obviously realised what he needed. Susannah feels that Rio, and not Titan, is the lynchpin to what is going on with them, and that by working to make him feel happier and more settled, we will solve the problem with Titan.
So – cat bit done (I know, yawn, sorry but it was necessary) – I need to say something else which is incredibly relevant. Susannah picked up a problem with Rio’s neck (maybe bad treatment in his early life), and we added that Rowan had stitches in her throat when we got her from rescue (nobody seemed to know why) and consequently is virtually mute. At the end of the session Susannah wanted to concentrate on Matt as she felt there was a blockage in his throat (there is, which has worried me a bit, given my history), and she told him he needs to concentrate on his music and be open to making money from it, as opposed to feeling he should do it for free. That encouraged him so much, and he has launched back into his music in the last few days in ways which gladden my heart immensely.
And so the grand irony in this is that, certainly as a family, we need to have the courage to have open communication with others, human or not, so that problems don’t fester within.
And I thought this was all about a little ginger cat. Wow.
Here’s a picture of the cats in one of their calmer moments, showing they can do it if they want to..
Huge, huge thanks to Susannah for opening our hearts and minds to our cats, and for giving them the space to communicate. The problem isn’t solved yet, but we have much more of an idea where to go with it, and we don’t feel at such a loss any more. The cats are calmer and we are calmer and we will be inviting them to regular ‘meetings’ because we loved what happened so much. I can’t recommend her highly enough.
You can reach Susannah through her website http://www.selfselectionforanimals.co.uk/
The amazing people at Honeys can be reached through their website: https://www.honeysrealdogfood.com
Wishing you all good health