Written by S. Bowyer

 Purr Therapy

 

     "I wasn't looking for a cat," begins the writer, Dr. Kathy McCoy Ph.D., just as I wasn't looking for such a meaningful book when I bought it. While in the pet section, I saw Purr Therapy and thought it'd be a sweet little addition to my book list, as something to just read for perspective and add to the shelf stocking. However, I was wrong. By the fourth chapter, I already saw so much merit in the book. 

      Purr Therapy: What Timmy and Marina Taught Me About Life, Love and Loss is based on a true story, following a segment of the career of psychotherapist and cat lover, Dr. Kathy McCoy Ph.D. She had cats in the home as pets, but one day, her unique new kitten showed interest in one of her home clients and gained their interest. Timmy, the kitten in question, started with one client, then inspired years of work with client/animal bonds and how they can impact each other, such as in the following excerpt:

 

Timmy, the cat that started the new adventure.

 

    Julia was generally a quiet, depressed young woman who had felt rejected her whole life: by a father who left her behind both physically and emotionally when her parents divorced during her toddler years, and by a mother who didn’t know how to love this daughter who had come as a midlife surprise. Although her eating disorder remained in remission, she was still self-critical, bemoaning the fact that she was so tall. She couldn’t see the physical beauty that was so apparent to others: her lovely, sweet face; her healthy, svelte body; her innate sense of style. She was quick to label herself as “crazy” as she struggled with her fears and insecurities. She could also be critical and volatile with others: Julia’s relationship with her boyfriend, Jake, still could be tempestuous. She could go from mild irritation to threats of breaking up forever in a matter of seconds. Her friendships, except for a precious few, proved fragile. Julia was reserved, anticipating endings rather than beginnings, rejection rather than acceptance. 

      Yet here she was with Timmy, cuddling and laughing with delight. Timmy rubbed his cheek against her hand, looked into her eyes, and purred loudly. 

      “I love you, Timmy,” she whispered. “You’re the best!” 

      Cradled in her arms, Timmy rested and purred, his eyes never leaving her face. 

      She spoke quietly and with wonder. “I think he likes me,” she said. 

      “Does that surprise you?” 

      “Yes,” she said. “I don’t think most people do when they first meet me or even after they get to know me. It’s hard to say. I don’t trust people most of the time. But animals don’t lie, do they? I mean, if they like you, they show it, and, if they don’t, I guess they just sort of avoid you, right?”

      “You’re thinking that if Timmy likes you so much right away . . .” 

      “It means I have to have something going for me.” She looked at me, a trace of hope in her suddenly tear-filled eyes. She hugged Timmy tightly. He closed his eyes and continued to purr. 

     “What are your tears saying that you can’t right now?” 

      “That I matter.”

      And so we went on through weeks and months together, Julia, Timmy, and I. Although there were no instant miracles, there were more hopeful moments as Julia, soothed by Timmy’s presence, grew in her insights into her own life, feelings, and behavior: how she was quick to reject others before they could reject her; how she grieved the loving parenting she had never had growing up, with unrealistic expectations that teachers and employers would step in as parent figures; how the hurtful comments she hurled at Jake mirrored her lifelong pain within. It wasn’t an easy time for the three of us, but Timmy hung in there at least as tenaciously as Julia and I had over the years. 

     Every time Julia arrived, Timmy greeted her with a warm cuddle. As she embraced him, she marveled at how enduring their relationship had turned out to be. No matter how agitated she might get, no matter how loud her crying, Timmy stayed close. 

    “Just think about how loving you are with him,” I suggested. “You embrace him whether you’re having a good day or really bad day. Is that different in any way from some of your close relationships with the humans in your life?” 

    Julia paused. Her wide blue eyes lingered over Timmy’s upturned face as she tenderly stroked his throat. “Yes,” she said at last. “I don’t accept love as easily from humans. I’m afraid they’ll leave me, so I demand proof of love by . . . what? I act like a brat and then hope they’ll stay. I don’t say loving things, just critical things. I guess I want to know that a person would love me no matter what. With Timmy, I just accept him as he is, this minute. Is that what I should be doing with Jake? Or a friend? Just this?” 

      “Well, it might be worth a try, just to see what happens,” I said.

 

      In total, we follow the lives of two therapy cats, Marina and Timmy. The story reads as a journey and a documentation of the different ways they assisted clients in personalised ways. Both Timmy and Marina create their methods of interaction with clients, either comforting, distracting, or siding with certain clients based on their behavioural and communicative patterns. These interactions will bring growth and positive change as often relationship issues, be it family or loving relationship, stem from behaviours or communication patterns that are clashing or not effective, leaving the parties involved frustrated, withdrawn, angry or appearing indifferent. The result is typically argument or avoidance because of the interactions, and the actual issue remains the bone of contention that becomes "unsolvable."

 

Marina on her days off.

 

      Dr. McCoy, 70, has been a licensed marriage and family psychotherapist for many years, and the author of many other titles including The Secrets of My Life, Making Peace with your Adult children, Life Happens and The Teenage Survival Guide.  Her expertise in the written word is crisp and melodious, as well as her passion in her profession. Being a health volunteer in the helping professions, I understand her motivations and was pleased to have such a compendium of care in my grasp. Anyone in the field of psychology knows that our efficacy is often affected by our inspiration and intrinsic potentials, so having a book that gives that perspective is of value. As is the sharing of the personal experience of learning about the human-animal spiritual healing bond, and how animals can alter how people see themselves. 

      At the end of the eras McCoy writes a list of the ways her cats also impacted her, such as:

    Fun and play have a place -- even in the most challenging of times. We can find rest and comfort it levity, even during a time of great pain. Sometimes we forget this and chastise ourselves for smiling, evening laughing, when we feel we should be grieving nonstop. 

      Timmy seemed to know the value of playful distraction as he worked with patients -- sometimes cuddling up to comfort them, sometimes seeking to distract them from their pain or anger by inspired silliness and playful antics. He helped many patients take a break from their stress, sadness, or anger and simply enjoy a moment. He gave a vivid demonstratio of the fun of being in the moment -- the fun of being real -- To Peter, the television producer who was feeling that life had lost its zest.

 

      Embrace change. We spend so much of our lives contemplating, fearing and resisting change. Yet in those moments when we embrace change, when we take the risk of trying something new or setting off on a road not taken, we often experience our times of greatest growth and deepest satisfaction. 

      Marina, in particular, taught me a lot about accepting and embracing change. 

      At first glance, cats would seem to be the last role models imaginable for positive change. After all, they tend to be fixed in their habits and rituals. Any deviation from these can meet with stubborn resistance and immense displeasure. Try introducing a cat to a new food or, at times, even a new toy that you had hoped he or she would enjoy. 

      But with major changes, cats can show incredible grace and resilience.

 

      While I don't normally give rankings or scores on book reviews, as I believe it can tarnish a good book based on my own personal views which inevitably someone would disagree with based on different tastes and experiences, I'd like to say this book would rank very high if I was to. It's one of those books you pick up randomly, then love so much you want to buy a copy for everyone. The writing just spoke to me so strongly, and yes, I cried at some points. The text hits the reader with such gusto and spirit that you will find yourself being more of a cat lover than you were before. Unfortunately, some animals have passed on now, but I believe they are on their rainbow bridge, grateful they are being thought of daily by the many lives they touch through this novel.

 

Gus and Hammy share some quality time.

 

      Dr. McCoy Ph.D. continues her work, including her interest in animal rescues, which can be found on her blog site, http://drkathleenmccoy.blogspot.com.  It's a wonderful place to visit once you've read the book (Careful, contains spoilers!), as you can see all the book characters -- family members. It also follows the search for the new therapy cat. Below is a video on the contenders, who are also all family members in the McCoy household:

 

 

      Dr. McCoy is also active in animal rescue, and has adopted a black cat called Ollie. She met the kitten at Catoberfest in Los Angeles while signing copies of Purr Therapy.

      "He had the misfortune of being born in a gang-infested area where cruelty to animals is common," she explains. 

      "He had been mutilated at birth, stabbed and one of his legs cut off mid-thigh and he was hoisted by his umbilical cord, causing a massive hernia. They then threw him in a garbage pail and left him to die."

      Oliver has since had three surgeries, to correct the hernia, amputate the half-removed leg, and neuter him, and now resides in the McCoy household.

Gus, Maggie and Sweet Pea enjoy an afternoon nap.

 

      Purr Therapy is available on Amazon Kindle, and many bookstores in print and e-book editions. 

 

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