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When she adopted her cat, Lola, one year ago, Hilary Wise didn't realize just how much cat parenting would transform her life.
Hilary, whose family had cats while she was growing up, always interacted well with her feline friends. She used to dress up her cats in baby clothes – and the cats were willing participants.
Now, says Hilary, her special cat-human relationship with her own little fur baby helps her cope with the anxiety in life.
The Before Times
Before adopting Lola from an acquaintance who was moving out of state, Hilary found herself sometimes overwhelmed with "stresses that pile up, such as work and relationships." She placed too much importance on people's judgments of her, particularly when she felt that her "weirdness" set her apart from others.
"There used to be a lot of negativity in my life," says Hilary, "but there's no more room for that anymore now that I have Lola. She's taught me to endure and look past everything."
According to Hilary, it's Lola's approach to life that has changed her the most. Seeing her furry friend so at ease with the world has helped the ways in which she copes with stress.
As Hilary explains it, her new-found ability to "endure and look past" everything, such as the judgments of others, has had the biggest impact. "Things that seemed so important to me in the past just sort of fade away," Hilary says, smiling. "I stop and think, 'Did I need to worry about that?' 'Why was it so important in the first place?'"
Hilary, who has a degree in visual merchandising, believes that Lola's positive influence has spilled over into all aspects of her life. For example, she loves her job at a local shop that specializes in jewelry and unique gifts, a position that also allows her to express her creativity and quirks.
"I used to care too much about what people thought," Hilary reveals. "Now, even when I'm not around Lola, I can be myself."
Part of the Family
When Hilary and her boyfriend, Brandon, first adopted Lola, the couple had to earn their new fur baby's love.
The sweet-faced tabby, just over three years old when she was adopted, was distant and wary of people (perhaps, Hilary believes, because her previous owner didn't spend much time with her), a far cry from the cuddly, vocal cat she is now.
It had been eight cat-free years since Hilary moved out on her own, but the responsibilities of cat parenting came easily to her. Hilary was determined to win over Lola and took a "not-on-my-watch" approach to forging the relationship that has been so life-changing. "I wanted attention from her, too," Hilary reflects. "Give kitty the time of day, and she'll give it to you." She feels that you don't have to train cats to be affectionate and playful, you can "just be" with them. Cats want attention and may act out if they don't receive it.
The bonding period included a lot of cuddling and talking. "She responds well to the rise and fall of my voice, especially if I use a singsongy tone."
Lola is now a very well-behaved cat. She sure isn't shy anymore. Lola happily greets Hilary and Brandon at the door when they return home and demands their attention, especially if her humans are distracted. "If I'm having a conversation with someone else, Lola will jump up on my lap and make noises," she laughs. Lola takes to certain people more than others (as any self-respecting cat does, of course), can sense a "cat person" in her home, and, Hilary says, makes an effort to make people "feel special."
Over time, Lola has become attached to a fuzzy blanket that Hilary and Brandon keep on the couch, and she uses that as a signal that she wants to be. The couple has accepted the fact that the blanket has become a permanent fixture in their home, along with a paper shopping bag and random boxes, because, as any cat person knows, once a furry friend claims ownership of an item, it's there to stay. Forever.
Hilary is rightfully proud of the relationship she has created with Lola, and she acknowledges that her life would not be the same without this special friend. "Cats are a bit more forgiving [than people]," reflects Hilary. "They focus on the little things in a positive way" and not the unhealthy way that Hilary had become accustomed to. Whereas life pre-Lola included physical and emotional stress, life with Lola includes the appreciation of snuggling up in a cozy blanket or relaxing in a sun patch.
And perhaps the most transformative aspect of cat ownership? Her health. Hilary, a smoker who stopped just prior to adopting Lola, hasn't returned to her self-described dependency on cigarettes because she now has her fur baby to help cope with stress.
For Hilary, this change happened gradually rather than suddenly. Before Lola, she didn't give much thought to how she used cigarettes to destress – she "just allowed stress to happen" and "kept on living the same way" she always did, which included smoking. But once Lola came into her life, that need was no longer there.
Hilary points out that it's impossible to over-emphasize the ways in which her cat-human relationship with Lola has made everything more enjoyable. The positive effects were much more profound at the beginning of their time together, "but now it's become a natural way of life."
Now that Lola is such an integral part of her world, Hilary feels that she's much more grounded. "It's sad when you can't be yourself," says Hilary. "Now, I feel free to be my weird self."
As Hilary and Lola demonstrate, cat ownership is more than just sharing a space. It's about forging a life-changing bond with a feline friend that loves you for you, no matter what.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, former English professor, and long-time pet parent whose two Russian Blue cats rule the house. Her work also appears in Fit Pregnancy, What to Expect Word of Mom, and Care.com, where she writes about pets and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien