You will know if I think a lot of you because when I sign off an email or message I will include the line ‘And purrs from Mr Kitty’ before I sign. My Kitty is my black cat, I have shared my lovely home Whimsy Manor with him since January 2013. Like many Autistic people I have an incredibly strong bond with animals, In my case that has always been cats although I have autistic friends who love horses dogs, lizards, snakes and probably most famously cattle (After doing some work with her online, I sent Professor Temple Grandin a photo of a pottery cow with a floral design that I have. I reckon Temple gets even more bovine things than I get black cats from friends and supporters!) .
I don’t know how much research there is on this but Autistic people often have a bond wth their animals that non-autistic folks simply can’t fathom. If any non-autistic folks are reading this, here is my attempt to explain what a cat does for me. I’ll use narrative because I like narrative and I usually do it well.
Between 2010 and 2013 I spent many months in psychiatric wards being treated for a pretty unpleasant psychotic episode. (I have a mental health diagnosis in addition to my Autism.) My life was a constant struggle: A struggle to keep my job and home; a struggle to keep my self-respect and dignity; and sadly on many occasions a struggle to exist at all. My apartment – at that point unnamed – was lonely and scary. A lot of my illness was focused on the house. I believed all the appliances were dangerous so showered in a bucket and hand-washed all my clothes in the middle of a Canberra winter. I went to work as often as I could and secretary longed to be able to live in the office – sleep under my desk and not have to return to my scary home.
I have always been close with cats and many friends told me ‘you will be happy if you get a cat.’ I dismissed this. I couldn’t even look after myself. How was I supposed to care for a living creature? On day early in 2013 I was home from work. Again. I felt miserable. I went to put the garbage out and there was a little tabby cat on the wall. I gave this cat a cuddle and he loved it. There was lots of purring and smooching. When I went back inside I realised while I was petting the cat my misery had retreated. Not only did I not feel miserable when I was with the cat, I actually felt good. I decided to adopt a cat at that very moment of realisation.
A close friend at the time was the local cat rescue lady. I called her and asked if she had a cat for me. She came over that weekend with four cat carriers. Three had several kittens in them.My home had nine kittens running around. They were lovely but I didn’t want to keep any of them. The last cat was an adult cat in his own carrier because he hated the other cats. He had been a stray up until three days previously. He definitely had an attitude! He was sleek and black. Instinctively I picked him up and gave him a cuddle. I could feel the moment we bonded – I held him to my chest and he purred deeply right away. I called him Hieronymus Bosch Kitty Purkis II which got shortened to Mr Ronnie and then somehow morphed into Mr Kitty, which is how he is known to most people now.
Mr Kitty is the closest being to me in the world now. That bond is so strong. I have to board him quite often when I go away to give presentations and when I am without him I feel a physical void where he should be.
He is incredibly cuddly – but only with me. We are a package – you want a Jeanette and you’re going to get a Mr Kitty in some form or another. My furry feline friend has had the most significant impact on my mental health of anything ever. Within a few months of his arrival my house had gained its current name and some artworks on the walls. I am now rarely anxious about my home which I would not have believed possible five years go. I am always content when cuddling Mr Kitty and when I feel bad I will old him close like I did that first day. He always purrs. My mental health care plan involves one third taking the right medication, one third my attitudes and thoughts and one third Mr Kitty and human friends and family.
Mr Kitty has transformed my life, He has been instrumental in me building mental health resilience and self awareness. He really is the best gift I ever received, My mum, who is one of the Autistic people who do not have a bond with animals – even she says Mr Kitty was a gift from God. I am inclined to agree with her.
Of course this isn’t just about me and my lovely furry boy. Many, many other autistic people respond in a similar way to their pets or assistance animals. So many autistic kids need their dog or guinea pig in order to get through life. There really is nothing in he world like the bond between an Autistic and their pet. I can’t explain why that is. For me I have always been drawn to cats. I understand them and they are a lot easier than most people to read and communicate with! But they also give me something transcendent. I a truly in another place when I am with Mr kItty. I look at his little face and I know him more than I can the human inhabitants of the world.
So thank you for reading this and purrs form Mr Kitty.