I recall the first cat I ever met and the impact that cat had on my life as though it were yesterday, even though 41 years have passed. A family with a Siamese cat moved into a house across the street from mine in Southfield, MI. It was as if a bolt of lightning struck, because that cat and I had an instant, deep connection.
I never saw my Siamese friend again after my family moved to San Diego in 1972, and I never adjusted to the move, either. I was outside, wishing to return home, when a kindly lady came along. She told me she, too, was from Michigan. Because I was only 5, I thought everybody knew everybody else, so I thought this lady would help me get home.
She didn’t know my grandparents, but the kind lady -- whose name, I later learned, was Mrs. Hazel T. Cory -- asked to meet my mother, and she invited me to her home where I found, to my delight, that she had a cat. Mrs. Cory's calico, Melissa, became my best friend and was the first cat with whom I had a close relationship. Melissa was always there for me until, five years later, she was hit by a bus.
Several months after Melissa was killed, I was playing outside when a little stray tortoiseshell cat walked up to me and right into my heart. I was so happy. She’d be my Melissa –- Melissa II.
My parents let me keep Melissa, but they wouldn’t let her live indoors. This caused me all sorts of anxiety, because I knew what often happened to cats who lived outside -– they got killed by cars and wild animals. I proved to be a very responsible 10-year-old. I did everything for my Melissa.
Mrs. Cory, who had a household to run and a husband in declining health, helped me care for Melissa by often permitting the cat to come inside her house. After Melissa came within a whisper of becoming a meal for a coyote -- an event that didn't cause my parents to re-evaluate her living arrangements -- Mrs. Cory also helped me get Melissa into her garage every night.
Melissa, just like her predecessor, was my best friend. We were together for five years when my parents decided the way to get me to become a more sociable little girl was to take me to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately for the young people of San Diego County, this doctor is still in practice. She instructed my parents that I obviously liked cats too much, so they should take Melissa from me.
My mother chased Melissa down like a dirty dog on Feb. 20, 1982, shoved her in her car, and drove off with her. A miserable child who never adjusted to living in California, I turned into a wretched soul, even less sociable than before. Members of the Cory family assured me that one day I’d return home to Michigan and I could have as many cats as I wished -- and nobody would take them away.
Mrs. Cory wrote to Friends Of Cats, a wonderful San Diego-area no-kill rescue, to find out whether my parents had taken my cat there. She received a reply that Melissa had been there and that they’d found her a wonderful home. Years later, I was told that Mrs. Cory begged my parents not to take Melissa away, because her husband and she feared such an event would destroy an already emotionally fragile child.
Bruce Binstok, a therapist and graduate of Wayne State University who practices in the metropolitan Detroit area, says that children have enduring emotional and physical connections to their pets. There’s a learning process that’s expressed through the needs and behavior of pet and child as they go through different stages of life, whereby both respond to the needs of the other. He says that parents who didn’t grow up with pets might think of their children’s pets as, “one more thing to do,” but as a child grows older and is able to take on more responsibility, the “connectiveness” between pet and child can be positive and beneficial.
For a shy, introspective girl who might be uncomfortable socializing with peers, that relationship is even more important. Taking a pet away from such a child is a loss that generally causes anger, confusion, and enduring negative effects on that child’s relationships with adults that might last a lifetime.
I’m a middle-aged poster child for Binstok’s professional opinion, and I share this with readers only because I don’t wish anybody to go through what I went through.
My father must have felt some guilt, because four years later he gave me a tabby kitten I named Bobbi Frances. Even so, my relationship with my parents was one of doing what I had to do to survive. I never for one moment felt safe in their home. This came as quite a shock to numerous people who thought they knew me in my youth when I later shared my feelings about these matters because, from their outside perspective, my life seemed privileged and charmed.
Bobbi and I moved to Michigan 22 years ago, and I now have three cats, thereby proving members of the Cory family right. My mother often vigorously exclaims, “Get over it!” but I never shall.
I look back and thank my dear Mama, the late Hazel Cory, for loving me, because I could’ve easily been so wretched as to not value life –- I could’ve been a child who took the lives of others. So, as the Crosby, Stills and Nash song goes, “Parents, teach your children well,” because, whether or not parents understand their children, children are helpless in a parent’s care -- and they will remember.
Reprinted with permission from Catster.