Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Joy of Living with Cats - Bringing Home Brulee

Contrary to what some people may think - cats are independent, fluffy, affectionate animals who can have numerous health benefits for the humans who share their lives with them. Samir Becic (2017) states that cats can reduce stress and anxiety; decrease risks of a stroke, boost immunity, lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels, increase sociability, provide companionship, reduce the carbon footprint, and have therapeutic benefits. 
Brulee, Mom Paula, and Truffle on November 5, 2011

Today is Brulee's 8th Gotcha Day and I wanted to share the story of her first day with us and of our life together as a family. I also want to share some of my experiences of the important bond between humans and felines on this special day.

Brulee 2019

People who meet me think I'm this extrovert who loves being around people and always has a smile on my face. I admist I am an extrovert and I like being around people, but kept a secret from many people - I've suffered clinical depression as the result of a rare form of obsessive/compulsive/perfectionism disorder for over 30 years. A few years after my diagnosis, my husband decided to leave me after 21 years of marriage, which left me severely depressed. I cried all day long and did not want to get out of the bed or leave the house. Needless to say, I was devastated. I've never thought about ending my life because I am a survivor; I just tend to get very depresses and nonfunctional for a few days when I feel things are happening to me that are out of my control. A year after our separation, I chose to go back to school to work on earning a Ph.D and decided to bring home my first Persian kitten, Praline. This was the best decision I've ever made. I felt I had a purpose in my life once again because I was taking care of someone who needed me and loved me unconditionally. I experienced the joy of laughter once again in my life as I was constantly amused at Praline's antics. My parents weren't cat people and my dad was very hesitant to allow me to bring Praline to their home when I visited. My mother told my dad, "Paula is finally happy and laughing again" and my dad allowed us to visit together. Praline brought me such purpose and joy for almost 16 years. Praline brought me comfort, joy, support, and relaxation as I went through a doctoral program and earned a Ph.D., went through a divorce after 21 years of marriage, and lost my first job as a college professor and was forced to change careers at 50 years of age. I also went through 13 surgeries over a 5-year period and she was always there to comfort me as I was recovering.

Mom Paula with Truffle and Brulee's Welcome Home Sign - November 5, 2011

Although I'd shared my life with cats for 25+ years, I'd only lived with one cat at a time. After losing Praline, I decided I wanted to bring home two kittens once I was ready to share my home with feline companions again. I'd hoped to bring home litter mates,Truffle and Beignet, but we lost Beignet at 12 weeks of age due to a sarcoma from his vaccination. I'd just lost Praline 4 months earlier and I was so anxious about bringing another kitten, much less two cats into my home. I knew I still wanted Truffle and believed she'd chosen me that first day I met her, but couldn't believe her little brother wouldn't be able to come. Brulee was born 4 days later. It took me several weeks to decide if I still wanted to bring home a second kitten. I'd always thought cats were solitary animals, but began researching, and discovered that many cats do well with feline companions, especially when the human travels and works as much as I was working the at that time. When Praline died, the veterinarian also suggested I consider bringing home two kittens. She noticed how emotionally involved I was with my one cat, Praline, and thought having two could help alleviate some of my anxiety and stress because the two could keep each other entertained and my attention would be divided and not so focused on one cat.

Brulee was 10 weeks old when she came to live with us. Truffle had been with me for 2 months when we decided to bring Brulee into our home. Most Persian Kittens do not leave their original home environment with the mother cat and litter mates until they are about 12 weeks old, but both Terri and I were concerned about how close of a bond Truffle had developed with me during her short time here. Everywhere I went, Truffle was underfoot. I almost fell several times because when I would begin walking, she was right there weaving between my feet. No matter where I went, she never left my side,even sleeping on my pillow. Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified cat behavior consultant, states that "if a cat meows excessively, follows you around, and generally won't leave you alone, it could be a sign that she needs more social interaction." (Lowe, 2019) Terri believed Truffle was still young enough to accept a feline companion, but didn't want to wait until Truffle was too much older which may result in difficulties bringing another cat in the home.

Brulee and Truffle discovering each other that first day in 2011

Many feline behaviorists recommend a careful and gradual introduction of a second cat into the home. Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant, recommends keeping a second cat in a different room to begin with and gradually introducing her to your first cat. She also recommends selecting a second cat with similar temperament and energy level to your first cat. I admit I did not follow this advice! Was I incorrect in my decision?  I don't know - but it was what I felt was best at the time. Truffle and Brulee had totally different temperaments, but they were both kittens and close in age.

Terri brought Brulee (2 1/2 months) to my home to help with the introductions. Even though Truffle was only 5 months old, she let out the loudest hiss when Terri put Brulee down on the floor. We introduced Truffle to Brulee and watched carefully as they began to interact. Brulee never showed any fear. She immediately began exploring the house, with Truffle carefully following behind and expressing her displeasure of this new "creature" in our home. The two of them began playing and when I believed Truffle was getting a little rough, I'd remove her and talk to her in comforting words and a hug. I now wonder if I encouraged her behavior towards Brulee because I was "rewarding" her for being a little too aggressive. I'd pull Truffle away, but as soon as I put her down, Brulee would pounce towards Truffle for more rough-housing. There were a couple of times that first week that Truffle was a little rougher than she should be (breaking the skin only once on Brulee), but they did become great "sisters" and continue to enjoy a spat now and then.

Truffle watching Brulee eat from a safe distance - 2011

Terri had worked well with Brulee before bringing her to me and Brulee found and used the litter box, drank from the fountain, and ate. I don't remember any growling from Truffle during mealtimes and they even ate from the same dish while they were kittens. Brulee and Truffle would play, scuffle, and sleep those first few hours. It appeared Truffle was accepting this new object of my affection and I was very happy for the first time in a long time. I slept on the couch that first night so I could keep my eyes on both of the girls. I took off a few days from work so I could monitor each of them. Even though I didn't use the traditional recommended methods of introduction; it worked out for us. I felt comfortable going back to work, knowing the two would be okay. I did drive the 10 miles back and forth during lunch those first two weeks to make sure they were okay. 

Things have gone well with Truffle and Brulee since that first day in 2011. Do they always get along? No. Do they detest each other? No. I've talked with two different animal communicators and they've both told me that the girls are typical sisters; they love each other but they don't always get along. I can relate to this!

Brulee collapsed the first day from exhaustion from exploring and playing with Truffle - 2011

My cats are my life! Don't get me wrong. I love my family and friends, but there's something about the bond between cats and human that can't be replicated between most humans. Dr. Nicholas Dodman (2015) states that cats have the capacity to "enter into bilateral relationships with us. They invest dependence and trust and, in return, receive care and affection, even love." Dr. Dodman believes that there is a mutual understanding of needs between humans and cats. He believes humans understand their cats' needs and wants, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and the cats come to understand their human caregivers. Researchers at Oregon State University (2017) found that the majority of cats in their study preferred human social interaction first and food followed over toys and scent.

I've continued to suffer anxiety attacks and bouts of depression for the past 30+ years. I try to stay strong for my cats because I know they need me and I truly believe they can feel and experience my emotions. If I'm depressed, Truffle will climb into my lap and settle in. If I'm sick, Brulee will climb up beside me and stay close. Every time one of my cats visited the vet because something wasn't quite right, the vet would ask me, "has there been stress in the home?" He was usually correct. We've since discussed the possibility that one of the major causes of Truffle's bladder stones was the result of stress. I felt quite guilty, thinking I may be the reason for her emergency surgery and subsequent health issues. When I travel, I have a pet sitter now who Truffle is very comfortable with. Denise says Truffle comes right out to greet her and stays with her while she's there and does eat. There were times in the past that Truffle would hide and not eat for a couple of days. The previous sitter was wonderful, but Truffle has a better relationship with Denise.

Brulee's newest choice place to eat - the footrest 

Recently on a trip to Meow Meetup in Chicago, I met with a new animal communicator. We chatted about the normal things I've talked with other communicators about in the past. I mentioned to Linda about Brulee's newest activity of leading me around the house each night at dinner to let me know where she preferred to eat. It's never the same place. She would begin walking and finally stop when she was ready for me to place the food on the floor. If I put it down at the wrong place, Brulee looked at me, and continued walking. When she finally stopped, I'd put the food down, and Brulee began happily eating. Brulee has also chosen the footrest in the living room to eat her kibble. Linda told me that Brulee was playing games with me. She said Brulee thought I needed some fun in my life. I thought it was cute and didn't think much of this information until I told her that we were a family and I take care of them. Linda's response brought tears to my eyes immediately when she said "and they take care of you. They are worried about you. You've been through a lot recently." I hadn't shared any information about my personal trials and health this past year, but she'd picked up on my stress and so had my darling cats. 

Truffle and Brulee keeping a watchful eye on me

Last year, I was diagnosed with asthma (62 years old) and sleep apnea. the doctor put me on a CPAP machine and I'm supposed to use it any time I sleep, even if it's a short nap in the afternoon. One afternoon this past year, I was so tired from physical therapy and the pain from my knee surgery that I fell asleep in my chair without using the CPAP machine. I was awakened by Truffle who had climbed onto my chest and was looking directly at me. When I woke up, she let out a little chirp and jumped down. I truly believe I'd stopped breathing while sleeping and she jumped on me to wake me up. There is definitely a connection between us.

It's rare when one or both of my cats aren't in the room with me when I'm home. When I'm in the home office, both are usually nearby.  They tend to take turns being near me when I'm in the living room, but recently, they are both usually at my head and feet. They are especially attentive and loving when I'm in my bed in the bedroom. In fact, this is the one location where Brulee insists on snuggling. She will climb onto my lap or snuggle up next to me with her head and paw resting on my arm when I've turned over ready to sleep. The animal communicators says this is where I am most calm and open and my cats feel safe there. My psychiatrist says this is where we are most vulnerable because our brains are shutting down for the night and that Brulee senses this and wants to help me relax so I can sleep. I've begun listening to "sleep music" at night and as soon as I turn it on, Brulee rushes in from other parts of the house, jumps on the bed, and snuggles with me until I turn off the lights. 

I treasure the day both Truffle and Brulee came to live with me and we became a family. We've had some trying times with both their health and mine, but we do look out for each other. 

How have your cats enriched your lives?


Becic, Samir. October 31, 2017. ReSYNC Your Life: 28 Days to a Stronger, Leaner, Smarter, Happier You. 

Bakalar, Nicholas. May 2, 2017. Empirical Evidence: Cats Love People. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/science/cats-love-people.html 

Dodman, Nicholas H, BVMS, DACVA, DACVB. September 2, 2015. Understanding the Human-Companion Animal Bond with Cats.  Pet Place. https://www.petplace.com/article/cats/pet-care/understanding-the-human-companion-animal-bond-with-cats/.

Health Fitness Revolution. May 7, 2019. Top 10 Health Benefits of Owning a Cat. Fitness Revolutionhttps://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-owning-cat/

Lowe, Lindsay. 7 Signs Your Cat May Need a Feline Companion. PetMDhttps://www.petmd.com/cat/slideshows/7-signs-your-cat-may-need-feline-companion

Shreve, Kristyn R.Vitale, Mehrkam, Lindsay R., Udell, Monique A.R. August 2017. Social Interaction, Food, Scent or Toys? A Formal Assessment of Domestic Pet ad Shelter Cat (Felis Silvestris Catus) Preferences. Behavioural Processes, Volume 141, Part 3.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Wow, you have such a great connection with both Truffle and Brulee! I would not worry about whether you did or didn't do proper introductions, according to the cat behaviorists because nobody can possibly do everything perfectly. They love you and are truly emotional support kitties for you, as it is with all the best cat-human relationships.

  2. Such a wonderful day it was indeed! Happy Gotcha Day from all of us beautiful Brulee!

  3. Beautiful post. Happy Gotcha Day to Brulee!

    The Florida Furkids

  4. Happy Gotcha Day to Brulee! She is a very special cat and has a very special mama.

  5. HAPPY Gotcha Day Brulee!! Mom laughed at the introduction story - around here we do the instant "meet you new neighbors" game. We don't recommend it for most situations, but it works here. We are so glad you have these special girls in your life Mom Paula

  6. ♫♪Happy Gotcha Day to you,♪♫
    ♫♪Happy Gotcha Day to you,♪♫
    ♫♪Happy Gotcha Day Dear Brulee,♪♫
    ♫♪Happy Gotcha Day to you!♪♫

  7. What a beautiful story of your family! Happy Gotcha day Brulee!

  8. Happy Gotcha Day Brulee! We remember how excited we were for Auntie Paula when she brought you both home.

  9. Happy Gotcha Day beautiful Brulee! X

  10. What a wonderful post ! Happy Gotcha Day, Brulee ! Purrs

  11. Happy Gotcha Day to Brulee. We’re glad that she and Truffle bring you so much joy.

  12. Happy Gotcha Day Brulee - and many more !

  13. So much of your story is also my story. I am grateful that our feline companions have been there when humans failed. Happy Gotcha Day, Brulee!

  14. This is such a great story. Happy Gotcha Day, Brulee!

  15. What a wonderful story of a great Gotcha Day Brulee. Dad says we keep him moving on the days he feels like it may just be too much and that having us to care for, and vice-versa is the best thing ever. Happy Gotcha Day dear friend!

  16. I love your story of how you, Brulee and Truffle became a family. Pets really do pick up on our stress levels, I see it with my dogs all the time. Bless you all, Paula!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  17. Happy Gotcha Day Brulee, without pets I think our lives would be miserable so thank you for this wonderful post - LaylasWoof

  18. I finally have something to say about cats. My mom was quite lonely. Then, two kittens who were without mother (and owner) needed somebody to help them survive. They are keeping her busy but really improved her life.

  19. I feel the same way about my dogs, sorry I have never owned a cat. My dogs always follow me around and make me laugh, and yes they are part of my family. Happy gotcha day Brulee! You've made you momma so happy!

  20. It's amazing how beneficial animal interaction is. There are several cats in our Therapy Animal program and they would like to have even more.

  21. Kittens bring such joy (and chaos), and are usually pretty easy to blend together when they are young. Truffle and Brûlée are so cute together - as kittens and as 8 year olds. I totally relate to your relationship with your kitties - I’ve been through a lot of similar things (my ex took off after 20 years too) - I believe my cats have saved my life several times.

  22. Thanks for sharing your story with us! I am not surprised at the bond you have with your cats. My sister and her cat share a similar bond, and I feel the same way about my dogs. Happy Gotcha Day to your family!

  23. Your story and your courage always amaze me. You shine through and show the world that you are a Southern lady with pride and courage, and a huge love for her cats, and the cat world in general.

    Your lovely girls are lucky to have a mom who spoils them as they deserve!

  24. Kitties bring so much to our lives. They are so intuitive. They can help us feel better when we're having a rotten time. I'm really glad you have Truffle and Brulee there with you. You and the girls are blessed to have one another. You are a wonderful family <3


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