Cooler Is My Cat And She Could Be Saving My Life

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Last June my girlfriend’s cat had a litter of kittens. After two months of taking care of them, and trying to find them a permanent home, we decided they’d all be better off at the SPCA.

Pretty much at the last minute I decided to keep one of the kittens. It’s probably the best decision I’ve made in years.

I’d never had a pet before, at least not since I moved away from ‘home’. I changed apartments too often, and for the better part of two decades I could barely afford to feed myself.

I adopted Cooler* for two reasons. One, with my first child on the way I wanted to find out if I could take care of another creature.

The other reason I adopted Cooler was for health concerns. I can’t find any definitive studies, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence having a pet can add years to someone’s life expectancy. When she was born I was in the middle of a nine month depression, and getting concerned about just how long I was going to be around.

In July of 2009 I wrote a post about the life expectancy issues surrounding manic depression and diabetes. According to a 2006 American study titled Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness it was found people with a serious mental illness, such as manic depression or schizophrenia…

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“are now at risk of dying 25 years younger than the general population, compared with 10 to 15 years younger just two decades ago.”

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Then there’s the Type-2 Diabetes and eighteen years of heavy smoking, both of which also take away decades of a persons life expectancy, so I should probably be dead twenty years before I was born.

According to the information I’ve been able to find, people with chronic or untreated manic depression should probably stay away from having a pet. Basically we’re barely able to care for ourselves, so how likely is it we’ll meet all the needs of a dog? I knew a guy who would buy all kinds of fish for his two gigantic aquariums while on a manic. But when he got depressed they’d all go belly-up.

For people who are introverts, or unable or incapable of having relationships, or just plain old depressed, a pet can really help get someone centred. It’s also a lot more interesting, and fun, having a pet… which is where the health benefits are supposed to come from.

Plus, having a pet is also a test of your empathy level. If you can identify with the pet, you’ll treat it how you want to be treated. The worse you treat your pet, the less it wants to be around you. The better you treat it, the more likely it is to want your company. The more you’re together, the more benefit you receive from its company.

Cooler has definitely made my life more interesting. My girlfriend likes to say my cat has “personality”, which is her way of saying Cooler is borderline nuts.

I can’t walk to the fridge without Cooler leaping out at me. Sometimes, when I walk to the living room, she’ll run up behind me and touch the back of my leg with her two front paws — like she’s playing tag, before she runs away.

She can use the handles on drawers to climb up my dresser, she’ll even open a drawer so she can sleep with my shirts. When I come home she runs to the door, and will even sleep near the door until I get back. Cooler also likes to play fetch with her little plastic mice-rattles.

Probably the most endearing thing she does is use her tail to balance herself when she sits like a prairie dog, with her front legs dangling down around her stomach. She does it when checking stuff out, like making sure it’s safe to get on the couch, or watching the TV scroll on the news channels. She loves hockey, because she can chase the puck across the TV screen.

She also sleeps with me, sits on the side of the bathtub while I shower, and spends a lot of time in my lap while I’m reading the paper online.

And, among a whole lot of other weird traits and habits, she also likes to hide her toys so she can find them later. Like, she’ll drop a plastic mouse into my shoe, walk away, come back, and fight to get it out — she’ll twist most of her body into my shoe in the attempt. Or she’ll get her plastic ball rolling, then walk beside it and, when it hits her, she’ll attack it like she’s seeing it for the first time.

There are people in my life who, every once in a while, would insist I get a pet. I’m glad I waited.

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*I named her ‘Cooler’ after Steve McQueen’s character in ‘The Great Escape’, “The Cooler King” — McQueen’s character would escape the camp, only to be caught and tossed into ‘the cooler’, over and over again. When she was a kitten, my Cooler lived on my porch with her brothers and sister. And no matter what contraption I built to keep them from escaping, she was the one who figured out a way to get out.

“Things That Have Nothing To Do With My Girlfriend Being Pregnant And A Cooler Update”, Nov. 24, 2009

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...thanks.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Diabetes, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Cooler Is My Cat And She Could Be Saving My Life

  1. Lili says:

    Cooler sounds awesome. I love when cats play tag with your legs. My last cat did that. I’ve found that having a pet kept me from going completely zombie in the past. It was the one thing I HAD to do. I had to walk the dog (only time I’d get fresh air and see daylight and people), had to go to the store to buy dog and cat food (got me into the world, around people painful as it was), had to smile when they did something funny or stupid. I think pets can be lifesavers sometimes. Sounds like you have a cool cat!

  2. HB says:

    Hey, I think this is my first comment, but I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and really enjoying it!

    I used to have a dog and a cat when I was a kid. They were my friends. They always could tell when I was sad. I would sit on the roof and my cat would sit next to me. I think she was comforting me. It sure made life better.

    My dog was an outside dog and sometimes I visited her in the barn. I especially liked hanging out with her in the barn when it was raining outside. She died when I was a kid, and recently I just saw a homemade video of her…. It was great to see her again, even if it was just on tape! She was a special part of my life. I think pets are really helpful. They just listen and don’t criticize 🙂

    Cooler sounds like a great cat! What a great name, too!

    HB

  3. Clare says:

    Yay for Kitty Love!

  4. As if your blog wasn’t interesting enough, now you’ve got a crazy cat!

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Lili, welcome and thanks for commenting. I think having a pet to take care of when I was debilitated by depression would have been a great comfort… as long as there was someone else around to be the primary caregiver. There were days when I’d be capable of taking care of myself and a pet, but there were too many days where I wasn’t…

    Hello HB,
    and welcome to my little blog. I’ve heard of programs which team up people with disabilities — physical and mental — with the local SPCA, I think that’s an awesome idea. Having something breathing, something with a heartbeat, close by has definitely helped me recently… and it helped when I was growing up as well.

    Thanks for coming by David, and Clare.

    When I first made the decision to keep Cooler I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle an excitable cat, but she’s been perfectly capable of keeping herself occupied and happy. Except for the food, water and litter thing she’s more of a partner than a dependant… although I think I have to give her a bath soon.

    I made the mistake of giving her ‘human food’ a few days ago and now she’s sniffing around my dinner… I’ve never been very good at discipline. If I see her doing something wrong I’ll pick her up (after catching her) and tap her nose a few times. After that she’ll calm down for a few days, but then she’ll start pushing the limit again.

    For example… I caught her on the coffee table one night, she was licking milk out of my cereal bowl. So I grabbed her, tapped her nose and tossed her onto the couch. She stayed away from the table for the rest of the night.

    The next night she kept walking past the table and doing her prairie dog imitation so she could see what was on the table. The third night she was doing the prairie dog thing right up against the table, and when I walked to the fridge she put her front paws up on the table and was sniffing my yogurt.

    That’s pretty much it… my discipline lasts about two days.

    …to be honest, I think the weirdest thing has been watching something grow up. I’ve known Cooler since she was two days old, and about the size of my thumb.

  6. Bromac says:

    That’s really great, Gabe. Cats are wonderful. Had’em since birth. Have taken in dogs now but resisted them for a long time. They’re a lot more work than cats…..and they don’t purr. WTF?

  7. Lydia says:

    Congrats on the kitty!

    I’ve had at least one cat every day of my life, and I’ll tell you that I completely and totally believe they cannot be disciplined, and they don’t know their names.

  8. Gabriel... says:

    Interesting timing… a (very) recent Canadian research study published in the Journal of the International Society for Anthrozoology [wiki definition] found three things regarding pet ownership:

    1. “Between 1941 and 2006, the percentage of people living alone in Canada ballooned from six per cent to 27 per cent. Worldwide, one-person households are expected to continue increasing at a faster rate than any other type of household.”

    2. “…among single-dwellers with insufficient social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat increased the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.”

    — ‘…”the research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”‘

    3. …this applies less to cat owners than dog owners.

    — ‘People with limited community connections, for example, were more likely to humanize their dog — and those who engaged in this type of anthropomorphism were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.

    ‘Study co-author, Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Ottawa-based Carleton University, suggests this is because people who treat their pets like family will go out of their way to nurture the relationship, often at the expense of their personal lives.’

    — ‘Nikolina Duvall Antonacopoulos, a PhD candidate at Carleton and co-author of the study, says they were particularly surprised that cat-ownership appears to have no significant emotional effect on people living alone. She suggests the fact that cats don’t need to be walked might play a role in that.

    ‘Antonacopoulos notes that the physical activity of dog-walking stands to improve overall well-being, while the dog itself can act as a social catalyst, drawing the owner into interactions with other people. But because only 20 to 40 per cent of dog owners actually walk their dogs on a regular basis, she says more research is needed to support this conclusion.’

  9. Lorraina says:

    I’m so happy for you! Letting a cat own you is the best thing. My Pavel is 14 yrs old now and a real sweetie. He hasn’t been particularily healthy in recent years. If i outlive him i’ll be devasted and this old house is going to be very cold and lonely without him. I have never lived without at least 1 cat, and at one time had 4 along with 2 dogs.
    Pets are the heart of the home. Enjoy!

  10. Em says:

    great post!
    I’m glad Cooler has made your life more interesting, if nothing else! She sounds pretty awesome. I’ve always had animals at one point or another, and I don’t think I could live without them. I think I’m on my last cat though, as I was recently diagnosed with allergies.
    The study you posted in your comments above was authored by a few people I knew at school. I didn’t know their study was out – thanks for posting it!

  11. Jon says:

    After over three years of taking Lithium, I’ve decided to come off of it this summer and try something new.

    What do you recommend?

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