Yochabel’s Wisdom: Securing the Bond

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Guest post by Casey Hersch

This is the second in a series of posts by Casey Hersch. Casey discusses the many lessons she learned about caring for Yochabel during her illness, including her quest to stop Yochabel’s cancer from growing/spreading, barriers present with senior cats, variations in diet including supplements and herbs, and how to focus on the individual cat’s needs. Yochabel was not only Casey’s feline companion. She left Casey with ways to cope with her own illness, and with a greater sense of acceptance and gratitude.

Yochabel’s nine lives: life gets better with age

I don’t know the story behind all of Yochabel’s nine lives. In one life, I know she was abandoned and severely injured, rescued, and adopted. In another life, she was known as a “love” when one-on-one with other humans, but when she was with other cats, she was a bully. When free to roam outdoors, she got into trouble with neighbors for hassling their horses, and no matter how many times she was told to stay out of the neighbors’ garden, she didn’t listen. I imagined how she arrived injured and left to die in a field: Was she an owner release because she couldn’t play with other animals? Did her family lose her on vacation? Maybe her owners died? But as we all know, the many lives of our cats remain mysteries.

Yochabel came to live with me at 17 years of age. She was in poor health; I thought I might only have days with her. She could barely walk a few inches without needing to rest. She had kidney disease, infected teeth, asthma, dermatitis, tremors, and severe arthritis. A diet of exclusively dry kibble had been hard on her aging body, and she was overweight. I couldn’t help but blame her past nine lives for her deterioration. In the rural mountainous region where Yochabel first lived, it was not uncommon to have cats killed by wildlife at night. A common dilemma facing cat guardians in that area is safety versus freedom. In an ideal world, there would be a balance between the two. Her owner prioritized safety. Yochabel was well cared for and undoubtedly loved, but the majority of the day she was isolated and lacked socialization and exercise. She lived alone in a small building, separate from the main home. Overtime, this took a toll on her spirit and health.

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Yochabel didn’t hold any resentment about her past lives. She understood forgiveness and gratitude. Therefore, it was up to me to suspend my judgments about her prior lives. I needed to focus on how I could enhance her quality of life now. What I know is that for the last of her nine lives with me, she was infinitely loved, and the limited days I thought I had with her turned into years.

Don’t judge a cat by her fur (or her age)

When Yochabel came to live with me, I had many ideas about how she would behave in my home. I expected a senior “cranky” cat. I thought she wouldn’t want to be touched and fussed with–after all, the older we get the more we like our routines. Frankly, I expected her to bite or cuss at me when I put her in a travel carrier. She proved me wrong on all counts. From the moment I placed her in the carrier, through the day she passed away, she purred like an oversized motorboat any time she sensed human connection.

I assumed Yochabel would want privacy since she lived so many years in solitude. I had a room ready for her with a cat house and places to hide. Instead, she chose a spot with an open view into the rest of the house. She intently watched my husband and I come and go as we became her first experience of entertainment, and she loved it. After all, she had nothing to watch for the first years of her life, so watching us must have been like watching a blockbuster movie for her!

To my surprise, Yochabel was very social. Our first night together, as hard as it was for her to move even a few inches, she did. I called it the “clip-clop and plop” as she hobbled her small steps,” clip-clop,” then “plopped” down on the floor, and repeated. Each time she inched her way closer to me, eventually wedging herself against my legs. She welcomed my touch and reached for me with her paws, purring, as if to say, “Come here. Here I am. See me. Pet me.” Her eyes were so bright and filled with gratitude and love, I was overwhelmed. She was obviously starved of touch and human connection. Studies show that infants and animals die without touch. Studies also show that touch and physical contact strengthens the immune system and improves health in humans and animals. Yochabel needed to be touched, to be seen, and to be communicated with. Her transformation was beginning.

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Yochabel’s magic carpet

Building trust

The effort she was willing to exert to stay by my side was labor intensive. I wanted to ease this for her by carrying her around with me. She resisted being picked up–it was unfamiliar to her. She didn’t feel safe off the ground (she hadn’t jumped in years). So instead, we invented the “carpet ride.” She learned to “clip- clop and plop” into her bed in the living room (the start of an exercise routine,) then I would bend down and grab her bed while pulling the bed’s sides through the house so she could follow me. She enjoyed this immensely and she began to trust me at her own pace.

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Yochabel and the Healing Wheel: the beginning of true healing

After struggling for years with autoimmune illnesses, I created the Healing Wheel. It shows how healing is comprised of physical, emotional, and passion dimensions. Because I focused on balancing my Healing Wheel, I had achieved a quality of life despite being told Crohn’s disease is incurable. I knew Yochabel’s health shouldn’t be any different. So far, I had offered Yochabel touch, love, and an environment that fit her personality. These were already positively impacting her quality of life. I knew there were many aspects of her Healing Wheel awaiting discovery.

Don’t give up: miracles can happen

It would have been easy to give-up on Yochabel or not invest time and money into rehabilitating her. Initially her veterinarian said all I could do was offer pain management. After all, “she was very old and there is not much to do.” However, I know from my own struggles with autoimmune illness that our physical presentation is only one part of the healing journey. The mind and spirit are equally as important. Yochabel found a reason to live and this gave her the strength to “clip- clop and plop” despite joint pain. I saw a cat who wanted to participate in her life and was giving it everything she had–regardless of her age.

I began my search for in home integrative services which could help her heal from the inside out. I refused to ask her to travel with painful joints. For 3 years, Dr. Christine Haas, a certified veterinary acupuncturist, and Dr. Troy Stevens, DC, a certified veterinary chiropractor, came to our home. With each visit, Yochabel improved dramatically. Gradually, she no longer required her carpet rides to get up and down the hall way, but she still asked for them because she enjoyed our special bonding time.

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Yochabel during her acupuncture treatment

Building connection through talking and singing

Yochabel was incredibly compliant. Sometimes, I wondered why it was so easy to care for her. Even when she had fleas and I gave her a bath, she didn’t fuss one bit. Over time I understood why. As an only child, my mother crafted songs to help me through situations and we talked a lot. I grew up talking and singing to my cats about everything. Yochabel was no exception, I talked and sang her through each new situation. All she ever asked for was love and that’s all she ever gave back. But something more important was happening: I was listening to her. I wasn’t forcing her to do what I thought was best for her. I was offering her choices, observing her, seeing how she responded. I was taking the time to develop a trusting relationship with her. There was give and take and we both invested in our team.

While I was carpet riding her through the house, I sang her the carpet ride song:

 ♪  “Let’s go on a carpet ride, up through the magical sky.
Let’s go on a carpet ride and send it soaring.
Mommy loves her baby girl, baby loves her mommy,
sooo – let’s go on a carpet ride tonight.”

This song, while it may seem silly, became a part of our daily lives and our routine, a way we communicated our love for each other. This laid a foundation for more important communication and understanding, as singing became a way of dealing with the tough stuff years later when she became very ill with cancer. This song also helped me transition her to the “magical sky” when it was time for her to leave her body. From the beginning we were learning how to talk to and respect each other –  the heart of healing.

Stay tuned for Part Three:
Yochabel’s Wisdom: The Food Connection

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of http://www.lightyoursparkle.life.  She specializes in chronic illness and ways to empower others to be an expert on their own bodies.  Pet companionship, and in her case, her cat friends, have been at the heart of her own healing.  She is passionate about integrative treatment models for humans and pets. 

21 Comments on Yochabel’s Wisdom: Securing the Bond

  1. Feral cats' videos
    December 10, 2019 at 5:27 am (1 day ago)

    I understand the latest owner’s dilemma because I’ve been there myself. Many years ago, I had a hyper cat named Angel who desperately wanted to go outside, but I was afraid he’d get hit by a car, so I didn’t let him out.

    He actually suffered from depression because of it, and I couldn’t see him like that. Finally, I let him out, and he’d been going outside for fifteen years, and nothing happened. Died in old age.

    But yes, it is dangerous sometimes. There’s no wildlife where I live, but there are cars. One of the cats I have now was hit by one, and I saved her. She only had two broken jaws, but she’s all right now. Can’t stop the ones I have now from leaving the house because they’re from the streets, and they’ll go crazy if I try. Fortunately, the road near my house is a very small and quiet one, one way, in a side street.

    Sharing this story on social media.

    Reply
  2. Robin L. Waters
    July 7, 2019 at 5:54 pm (5 months ago)

    This is such a beautiful story. I am sharing it on social media. Love to hear how one can bond with such Grace with a pet!

    Reply
  3. Marilyn
    July 4, 2019 at 10:04 pm (5 months ago)

    A beautiful story and very well written with such love. I had to put my 20 year old Isabel to sleep yesterday. We had 18 years together and we adored each other. It’s so difficult to make the decision. My heart aches but then I see her beautiful face and remember all of the good years together. Your story really helped, many thanks and please keep writing.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 5, 2019 at 2:10 am (5 months ago)

      Marilyn, my heart aches with yours; I am so sorry for your loss. Your baby’s beautiful face and memories are always with you and nothing can ever take this away. It makes my heart full knowing Yochabel’s story gave you some comfort.

      Reply
  4. Eleanor Skibo
    July 4, 2019 at 3:07 pm (5 months ago)

    I’m at a loss for words, however, Yochabel, you’re one amazing cat. And to you, Casey, you’re a blessed human being, may G d always walk at your side.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 5, 2019 at 2:12 am (5 months ago)

      Eleanor, thank you so much. We are all so blessed to love and receive love from our cats.

      Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 3, 2019 at 10:03 pm (5 months ago)

      Thank you Melissa & Mudpie—It makes me feel good to have it described as a love story. Yochabel taught me more about love than I ever imagined possible.

      Reply
  5. Debi
    July 3, 2019 at 1:48 pm (5 months ago)

    My sweet kitty was deaf the last few years of her life. Communication had to be touch, hand signals, and reading my expressions. I still talked to her and showed her my love every way I could think of, mostly lots of kissing, petting and snuggling. I had to let her go June 17th. The CKD was just too hard on my 20 and a half year old baby. I’ll miss her forever. We shared such a special bond. ;(

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 3, 2019 at 2:21 pm (5 months ago)

      Debi, I am so sorry for your loss. What a long life your sweet kitty lived, thanks to you! You are a special cat guardian–listening and finding ways to connect and love– in a way that was completely perfect for your kitty.

      Reply
      • Debi
        July 3, 2019 at 2:44 pm (5 months ago)

        Thank you, Casey. It was my privilege and pleasure to love and care for her.

        Reply
  6. Jackie Pasquini
    July 3, 2019 at 12:23 pm (5 months ago)

    Beautiful story and so happy for Yochabel finding a great Mommy and the perfect home filled with love xoxox

    Reply
    • Casey
      July 3, 2019 at 2:23 pm (5 months ago)

      Jackie, thanks for reading Yochabel’s Wisdom. It really is amazing that Yochabel and I found each other.

      Reply
  7. Timmy Tomcat
    July 3, 2019 at 11:20 am (5 months ago)

    An uplifting story that shows the power of communication, love and touch. Cant wait to read more

    Reply
  8. kat
    July 3, 2019 at 8:41 am (5 months ago)

    what a wonderful story!!! cant wait to read the rest; hope Casey is doing well; its amazing what can be accomplished with love…..

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 3, 2019 at 2:27 pm (5 months ago)

      Kat, I am glad you enjoyed Yochabel’s Wisdom. I look forward to sharing more in the next blog post. You are right, love can do so much.

      Reply
  9. Marie
    July 3, 2019 at 7:35 am (5 months ago)

    Very uplifting. Thank you!
    Delighted to hear her carpet ride song.I sing to my cat, too, and she loves it. Just a silly greeting song, starting and ending with her name.
    And always w a kind, relaxed facial expression and a smile (the latter, recommended by the Way of Cats author). Cats love to hear their name.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 3, 2019 at 2:29 pm (5 months ago)

      Marie, I am glad you enjoyed the carpet ride song. I still sing it to myself, it is a part of me. Exactly! Cats love to hear their names and I think they even enjoy many of the silly nicknames we give them (at least I hope they do).

      Reply
  10. Janine
    July 3, 2019 at 7:24 am (5 months ago)

    I’m glad Yochabel found a good place and family to spend the remainder of her life.

    Reply
    • Casey Hersch
      July 3, 2019 at 2:32 pm (5 months ago)

      Janine, Thank you. I am grateful Yochabel chose me to see her through her final years.

      Reply

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