Pet ownership is a tremendous responsibility. Owning a pet is not only a responsibility to the pet or the animal that you are caring for, but your own self-care and mental health.
The story of my last last pet in Binghamton, a ferret named Clausewitz, and new kitten Caesar, should signal the importance of self-care when undertaking pet ownership. While I often don’t speak of Clausewitz openly anymore, I feel it is time to reflect on his memory.
During the past few years, and after re-entering the social world and bridging new connections, I hear often suggestions that I get a pet or listen to questions about past pets I’ve owned and their status or my memories of them.
This is usually when the awkward silent pause will emerge in the pet conversation. To this day, when the conversation about pets manifests, I’ll give some explanation of why it’s just not the right time, or something I’ll make up about pets not being permitted in the building.
Well, there are no building codes at my place of residence regarding pets. Regardless, there simply may never be a right time again for me to ever have a pet after the loss of Clausewitz.
Clausewitz was named poignantly after the German operation ‘Clausewitz‘ during the early months of 1945. The war was culminating to a horrific end in Europe, and Clausewitz was the final operation completed by the German war machine in Berlin.
Well, somehow along the way of learning about this operation, and the early moments of my ‘break’ from first episode psychosis, I believed I needed a pet to soothe the agitation from an unknown and undiagnosed disease process at work and a bad breakup.
Months passed. Friends departed and graduated. My situation grew more out-of-control. Somewhere during that time, I discontinued care of Clausewitz. He lived a few feet away from my bed, but he might as well have been thousands of miles away. The smell of his lack of grooming and cage hygiene grew worse, and I began to grow afraid of touching and even playing with him.
During this time Clausewitz’s legs developed atrophy. I discovered this when a friend asked about him casually: ‘How is Clausewitz?’.
Looking into his cage I came to observe the loss of strength in his legs. He couldn’t walk anymore. Instead of nursing him back to health, I grew frightened, and left him to die in a box on the sidewalk far enough where he wouldn’t be discovered by anyone I knew or that knew him.
The life and death of Clausewitz has changed the way I viewed and understood animal cruelty, mental health, and the power humans have to both nurture and destroy so much that we love. Sometimes when I look ay my cat Caesar today, I think about Clausewitz. I think about what I wanted for him, and what I can do for Caesar. I think about keeping healthy, and remaining healthy.
Caesar’s story was not built on the edifice of looming defeat and downfall. His story is one of hope, strength and the power to adapt and change. When I first started practising as a licensed clinical social worker, one of my clients family’s spoke with me about their passion for taking in cats rescues. In fact, this family was connected to a local network in the Hudson Valley of New York that did just that.
One day, while I was working with my client, a bright young adolescent male, he mentioned that there was a new rescue at his home he was playing with and raising. Because of allergies, this family couldn’t keep the cats for the long term, but they could bridge the gap and transition the kittens safely from not surviving to their home, and ultimately, a caring long term owner.
I found this story so radically profound and antithetical to the downfall surrounding Clausewitz and his tragic life that when my client’s mother approached me to take this kitten on, I do so with open arms, and haven’t looked back since.
Today, Caesar is healthy, strong, rugged, and independent. He is everything that a cat should be, and I helped him get there. Caesar is a living example of how we can turn one relationship signalling grief and loss into a beacon of hope and comfort.
Image credit: Freepik
Max E. Guttman, LCSW is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.