What Senior Pets can Teach Us About Facing Adversity

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by Kathy M. Finley, contributor

This article was written by author Kathy M. Finley – an avid pet lover and someone who has spent a lifetime overcoming adversity by watching and interacting with her beloved pets. This article was written in honor of Ms. Finley’s beloved cat, Clio – pictured. 

If you are considering adopting an older pet and not sure if an older pet is right for you, please read Ms. Finley’s story to learn how senior pets can help anyone face adversity.

~ I will never spend another minute without pets. Even when I enter the “winter” of my life, I’ll either adopt an older pet or foster pets who are awaiting adoption. Why? It’s simple – there are so many homeless animals, and they provide us so much hope and strength in facing adversity no matter our age or theirs.

Since childhood, I’ve had seven cats and three dogs. When I was in sixth grade, I was constantly bullied. I felt that no one loved me and that I was a total loser. My father died when I was in second grade, and although my mother loved me, I felt no one else in the world did. I even considered ending my life because I was so unhappy. Then two cats who were unwanted and unloved showed up at our door, and everything changed for me. I had someone to care for and someone who now loved me.

Unfortunately, the effect of the bullying I endured as a child reared its ugly head later in life. My first husband picked up on my low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. What’s worse, he claimed he was allergic to animals so we had no pets. The marriage was tumultuous, and my spouse was abusive. After 15 years, he filed for divorce. Although I was devastated at the time, I received a wonderful gift for my birthday – a grey and white kitten whom I named Clio. During the bitter divorce that followed, my attention focused on Clio and watching her scamper, play, and act silly at times. I slowly regained my self-confidence. Moreover, she provided me unconditional love and helped me learn to love again. In short, she became my “super power.”

As we both grew older together, Clio helped me face the many challenges in life by her incredible ability to face adversity herself.  When Clio was two years old, I noticed a dark spot on her left eye. Five years later that spot turned to eye cancer, and Clio’s beautiful green eye had to be removed. I was devastated, but Clio recovered rapidly. I was worried that she could hurt herself jumping on counters and furniture because she would lack depth perception. However, I learned that cats don’t have depth perception, and aside from being slightly disfigured, Clio went about her cat life as usual.  Then three years later, Clio developed proliferate fibrosarcoma (injection site sarcoma) in her back leg (caused by the feline leukemia vaccine and unrelated to the eye cancer).

Although this diagnosis for a cat is usually fatal, Clio was fortunate that we had found the cancer early and the tumor’s location in her leg indicated that after a complete amputation she would be cancer free. A few friends and relatives suggested I euthanize her, but I felt since her chances of survival were so good that I couldn’t just “throw her away.” I did not want her to suffer but in this case, there was an excellent chance she would recover and have a full, happy life. As usual, my spunky bundle of fur made it through surgery and was up to her usual tricks. It took Clio awhile to master some “cat tasks” (like going to the litter box, jumping, and running), but she eventually overcame her disability. She used her tail for balance, and eventually was able to outrun me! Although she was not able to jump onto counters and dressers, she still was able to jump on living room chairs and even the bed.

I learned a lot from Clio about overcoming adversity. I realized that cats, unlike humans, are not obsessed with their looks. Not having an eye didn’t affect her spunky, “queen of the universe” attitude. Losing a leg was a temporary setback, but after she mastered walking on three legs, she led her cat life to the fullest.

Today, I have three cats. One of those cats, Benny, was considered unadoptable because he was older. However, Benny has been a delight. He is strong and healthy and completely self-confident. When our other cat (a stray) did not want to accept him, Benny didn’t care. He decided that he had us. He invented games to play (like throwing a milk ring in the air and catching on his paw like a bracelet or finding glitter balls around the house and bringing them to me). Eventually he and my other cat became best buddies. I later adopted another cat who I fostered but couldn’t get adopted because of her age (she was 7), and she, too, has provided hours of entertainment during the pandemic.

All my cats (and especially Clio) have made such a difference in my life. During the time that my home was blessed by cats, I faced a bitter divorce, a cancer scare, my mother’s prolonged and declining health and eventual passing, and an unbearable job. My cats (especially Clio) helped me face many of life’s adversities. Pets are great teachers of life lessons, and we never stop learning from them.

About the Author

Kathy M. Finley has been a lifelong animal lover and feels a special bond to cats. She grew up in poverty, was bullied as a child, and endured an abusive marriage followed by a bitter divorce. She has worked in the nonprofit sector all of her professional life and ran several national nonprofit organizations, but has entered into a new phase of her life where she  hopes she can combine her love for storytelling and writing to show how animals can provide unconditional love, acceptance, and insight into one’s self. She is currently working on a book on how her one-eyed, three legged cat helped her face many of life’s challenges.  For more information, visit her website at kathyfinley.com.

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