Below you will find a photo of my beloved cat, Obie. I often talk about him during workshops so I thought I’d include him on my new website, too!
Obie was a feral cat (feral meaning wild) who came to our back door about three years ago. He had been living in the woods behind our house, and had never had contact with humans. We chased him out of the yard several times because he seemed to be aggressive and we were afraid he was going to tyrannize our other cats. But he kept coming back. In retrospect, I think he saw that we had other cats and was hoping we would adopt him.
One day he came to our back door, and his left front paw was swollen almost to the size of his head. It was cold and rainy, so we put a box under the table on the back deck so he’d have a place to sleep at night that was protected from the rain. He gladly slept in it each night, and we also put out some food for him. We hoped his paw would heal up, but after three weeks he was going down hill, so we captured him and brought him to the vet for surgery to save his life. He was thin and covered with scars, fleas, and tics, and he also had worms. He’d had a pretty hard life. During the surgery, the vet found a puncture wound on his paw from a fight, and said he had to stay indoors for ten days to receive antibiotics.
We put him in our guest room, but he was terrified and tried to jump and burst through the windows to get free. We put a litter box in the room, but he had no idea what a litter box was for, and used the carpet and heating vents on the floor instead. He hid under the bed in terror. Within a week, the carpets were ruined and the room smelled terrible. Eventually, we had to replace all the carpets and have the room repainted.
We let Obie out, but he never went far and would come back to the back door, and it seemed like he wanted to be a part of our family. At first, he was so fearful that you couldn’t get within ten feet of him. The first time my wife tried to pick him up, he bit her really hard on the cheek. But then, my wife discovered that he loved to be petted on the head. We used that tiny bit of reinforcement to gradually shape his behavior. And little by little, things began to change.
Now, he has become the sweetest little guy you can imagine. He is loving, thoughtful, and trusting. He gets up on my chest in the middle of the night and purrs and drools while I pet him. Then he shakes his head, and it is like being in a drool shower! If you don’t love cats, I’m sure that sounds gross, but if you love cats, it’s like being in heaven. Whenever I’m outside, Obie follows me like a puppy dog wherever I go, and nudges my leg every few feet. Then he rolls over so I can pet his tummy.
Petting his tummy was another huge milestone. Initially, he wouldn’t even let us pet his back, only his head. He was very mistrustful, but hungry for some love.
We were told that feral cats can only learn to trust one person, at most. But this has not turned out to be true. Even when my colleagues come to the house for our Sunday hike, he is very sociable and friendly with everyone. The neighbors call him “Obie, the miracle cat.” Our relationship with Obie really has been a small miracle, based on love, trust, and patience.
We have an older cat, Happy (also a stray), whom we adopted at the age of about 5 weeks. He has always been loving and sweet, unlike Obie, who was a huge challenge. Obie is far bigger and stronger than Happy, and can easily overpower little Happy, but whenever Happy wants to eat, Obie will step aside and give Happy the first choice. He waits to eat until Happy is done. He even brings Happy “presents” when he is out hunting in the middle of the night, but we’ll skip that part.
Obie has taught me a great deal about psychotherapy, and the importance of patience, kindness, and support, and he is my best friend, too. Obie has taught me other invaluable lessons as well. One of the most common themes I hear when doing therapy is that the patient firmly believes that he or she is flawed and not good enough. Perhaps you have felt that way at times, too, during your moments of self-doubt. Much of our suffering derives from our perfectionism, and our belief that we should be “special.”
But Obie is not special. He’s just an ordinary homeless cat who wandered out of the woods. Although now he is healthy and proud and has gorgeous, glistening fur, he is covered width scars and nicks, and won’t win any cat shows. And I’m not special, either, just an old fat fart of a daddy. But when Obie and I are together, it is pure magic. When you don’t have to be special, life becomes special. This may be what the Buddha was referring to when he talked about “the Great Death,” or the death of the ego.
One last point. Obie, like the rest of us, is far from perfect. In fact, you might say he is rather “human” in many ways, including the capacity to feel hurt and angry. About a year ago we had a visitor from Phoenix, Dr. Jeffrey Zeig. Dr. Zeig is the head of the Eriksonian Foundation, the group that puts on the wonderful Evolution of Psychotherapy Conferences every few years. He stayed overnight at our house and did a presentation on indirect hypnosis for my training group at Stanford. At one point, Dr. Zeig and I were sitting at my computer checking something out on the internet. Obie felt jealous and rejected and a bit threatened by this visitor who was spending too much time with David. To let me know how he was feeling, he peed on the modem right in front of us and shut the internet down. “Take that, Daddy. I’ll teach you not to spend time with visitors!”
I was annoyed, and we had to replace the modem. But I have to admit that I was kind of proud of the little guy, too.
Well, I’ll stop babbling now and let you admire Obie!
Thanks for listening.
After posting this, a colleague sent a picture of her cat reading my Feeling Good Handbook! Here’s the new picture–
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