By: Aimee Wilson
This post contains content and themes that some may find upsetting
Hello and welcome to the second post on the Calico Catch-Up monthly column!
In the last post, I talked about how my first cat; Saffy, had been a massive support for me during the trauma that I experienced when I was younger. In this post, I would like to tell you about my second cat; Dolly, who was a pivotal achievement in my mental health recovery.
The memories of my trauma were so upsetting and difficult to cope with that I attempted suicide in 2012 and was detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act and admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from my home.
Being so far away from my Mum, Saffy, and all my friends was so difficult, and this was made more challenging when I had to begin intensive therapy sessions.
After being in the psychiatric hospital for two years, my Psychiatrist started to consider discharging me and in a bid to motivate myself through the remaining six months in hospital, my Mum suggested that I buy a kitten collar for the cat I was planning to get upon my discharge.
I picked out a pink one with white spots and hung it up in my hospital room. Whenever I was feeling lonely or struggling to cope, I would look at the collar and feel motivated into working that little bit harder so that finally, that collar would be around a kitten’s neck!
As a step-down to hospital and to slowly introduce into life without 24/7 support, I was given a bungalow on the grounds of a hospital nearer home and if I’d been allowed pets then I probably wouldn’t have been in a huge rush to be fully discharged.
I wanted my cat though, and within a week of finally moving into my own home in December 2014 I was picking up my Maine Coon kitten; Dolly and straight away, that little pink spotty collar was around her neck!
At first, it was strange being responsible for another little life, but it also felt really natural and I feel that I had a really good intuition with Dolly; little did I know how valuable this intuition would prove to be ….
Dolly was home alone one day, and a miscommunication led to the Police caving my door in. After that incident, the usually curious and friendly kitten that I’d come to know changed, and Dolly became very anxious and aggressive.
My intuition told me that it was something she wasn’t going to get through without help and I phoned the Vets to make an appointment with their Behaviour Therapist. She did an assessment of Dolly at home and remarked that Dolly always seemed to be on edge as though she was waiting for something to happen. The therapist gave me some tips on ways to calm Dolly and soothe her but they all proved ineffective and after she attacked me and drew blood, the Vets said that they would have to put her to sleep because she was no longer a safe pet and would be unable to be rehomed. My intuition told me that this wasn’t the right decision and that there must be another alternative, so she was put on a very mild sedative medication.
After a year on the tablets, Dolly’s temperament had improved; she was still very uncertain when I would have visitors to the house, but she was no longer aggressive with them and – most importantly – no longer aggressive with me. It was so sad to think that the incident had changed her so much, but it was also a learning curve and taught me that animals can be just as sensitive and perceptive to upsetting situations as we can be.
Dolly and I spent three years together when – in 2017 – I decided to get my lop-eared, Lionhead bunny; Pixie.
To say it was a big decision would be a lie because it felt as though it was the right move and I was so certain that getting Pixie would be a good thing for myself and Dolly. My mental health had been doing really well and I’d been travelling a lot to mental health events and meetings around the country so Dolly was home alone a lot and even though she and Pixie couldn’t be left alone together, I thought that for each of them to just be aware that there was another presence in the house might be comforting.
My intuition proved successful again and the two of them became best friends!
Finally, in October 2018, Dolly become poorly and spent a week in and out of intensive care at the Vets until her kidneys began to fail and the Vet said that they could either try more treatment that might be painful, stressful and would have no guarantee that it would work, or we could put her to sleep.
Of course, I opted for the euthanasia because there was no way that I wanted her to be in pain. Dolly spent her last day at home and although she was poorly, I think she enjoyed being in such a nice, loving environment and having myself and Pixie there for her.
Coming home from the Vets without Dolly, I was so grateful to have Pixie there to comfort me and to keep me company. Pixie also needed comfort though because she’d lost her best friend; I think she was aware that something was missing and she was definitely aware of how upset I was so getting another cat within a week of losing Dolly seemed like the best decision for us both.
And that’s where the inspiration for ‘Calico Catch-up’ comes from; my little calico kitten; Emmy. Next month’s post will be all about my journey so far with her…
Aimee is 29 and lives in Northumberland with her calico cat; Emmy, and Lionhead rabbit; Pixie. After being admitted to a psychiatric hospital for two and a half years, she created a mental health blog and it now has almost three quarters of a million readers. Aimee wanted to start this column because she’s very passionate about illustrating the benefits animals can have on your mental health.