In January 2018, my beloved companion of 16 years, Osky the Spy Cat, decided he’d had enough of chasing down international criminals and left us for the Home for Retired Cats of Mystery in the sky. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Oscar had been my best friend through some incredibly tough times, personally and professionally. He was by my side through cancer, through my dad’s death, and through some of my hardest moments as I struggled to come to terms with my Parkinson’s. He knew when I was in need of furry love and a purry kiss or two. In short, he was a dude.
I said to my husband – who had come in late to the Osky love-fest, but whom Osk loved dearly (and vice versa) – in between the sobs; ‘I’m never getting another cat! Never! Ne – (hic) – hever!’
Famous last words, and I know that somewhere on a verandah in Cat Heaven, sipping a Gin and Tuna, Osky was rolling his eyes.
April the same year, and I was having a pretty shabby mental health day. I texted my (long-suffering) husband: ‘I think I’ll go to the RSPCA and pat some cats. Just to feel a bit better. Only patting, not purchasing!’
Two hours later, I was home, with a glamorous eight-year-old calico newly renamed Jellypants, who immediately took over the bed and the house – not to mention my iPhone camera – with her squishy love, and affinity for selfies.
Kate and Jellypants
Fast forward to December. Tim and I had moved from Perth to Melbourne, and it seemed to me that Jelly, despite conquering social media, was in need of a friend. Somehow, I convinced my husband that it would be good for her to have a younger cat brother (I think he just got fed up with me sending him photos of rescue cats). And there he was. A poor little tail-less bloke, who, apparently, they were having trouble placing because ‘he wasn’t very appealing without a tail’. This made me so cross I went to see him immediately at his foster mum’s, and the newly renamed and gorgeous Harry, (for Horatio Nelson, another mighty amputee) was part of our family not long afterwards.
Kate and Harry
Cats are amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love dogs, too, but when mobility is not on your side, feline friends are… well, the cat’s pyjamas. The cat’s miaow. See? Even the cliché police agree! Apparently the internet also agrees in Jelly’s case. I am a keen photographer, and my images are available for free on a ‘stock’ photo site. One of Jellypants has been downloaded over 40,000 times. She would like me to inform everyone that she’s available for movie roles. Just talk to her agent (me, apparently).
Jelly and Harry are lifesavers. They are non-judgemental company and comfort. Let’s face it, in human terms, I’m the equivalent of a rescue cat, and much like Harry, I’m not sure I’d have much curb appeal. Tim and I consciously choose to adopt rather than shop, and to bring older cats rather than kittens into our family, because older rescue cats don’t tend to be adopted so easily.
Pets are there when times are great, and when they’re absolutely rubbish. They lend a paw, and a purr, when I am struggling with spasms and the worst that Parkinson’s throws at me. Last year I was in lockdown (sound familiar?) for over seven months, as my immune system was severely compromised due to an extreme flareup of Rheumatoid Arthritis. There by my side, every day, were Jellypants and Harry. They were aware I was in pain, and Harry in particular was very careful not to jump on me. I’m about to face major surgery, and I know yet again, the Zoolander of the cat world and her faithful sidekick, the feline garbage disposal, will be there to make me smile.
It can be very easy to not care about what’s going on in the world around you – and to not care about yourself – when you are struggling with any kind of illness or disability. Parkinson’s, in particular YOPD, has a very strong element of mental health attached to it. Depression is something we all grapple with, to a lesser or greater extent. I know that for me, part of dealing with depression effectively is leaning on my pets, and ensuring I care for them properly. Being responsible for them makes me more responsible for myself.
Being isolated at present is massively tough. If you have a pet, whether it’s a cat, dog, parrot or axolotl, make sure you make the most of your relationship. If you don’t? Why not check out some paws online… and make the best friend you never knew you had.
For Paws 4 Parkinson’s we are asking you to share a picture of your pet on your Facebook or Instagram and tell us what he means to you. Make sure you tag us in and use the hashtag #paws4parkinsons.