Written by Casey Hersch, LCSW
This is the third in a series of posts about Casey’s experience following the loss of her senior cat Yochabel. Click here to read I Am Pawso: The Journey Begins and I Am Pawso: Meet Pawso.
After her senior cat Yochabel’s passing, Casey was convinced that she would not regain stability unless she adopted another hospice cat. Struggling with her own chronic autoimmune disease and childhood trauma, Casey believes her life purpose is to give back her own healthcare knowledge to help vulnerable senior cats. Instead, to her surprise, kittens were just what the doctor ordered. She began her journey with foster kitten Pawso, who shows Casey her new life purpose. Pawso not only teaches Casey how to live but has a very important message to share with the world.
Let’s get the kittens adopted!
As I approached the one-month anniversary of fostering Pawso and Samba, I felt an urgency to make some positive changes. Thus far I had mixed feelings about my fosters. They were difficult and certainly not fun.
Frankly, Pawso was just a mess. If I had a hard time bonding with them, I knew it would be much more difficult for a new family. Scott’s ongoing reminders that the kittens were not mine stressed me. I secretly worried that if we did not find a way to make Pawso and Samba appealing to others, we would have no choice but to do the inevitable: keep them.
The rescue agency warned us that Pawso and Samba were already on the older end of the kitten spectrum. Since the agency was known for adopting kittens, they were concerned Pawso and Samba would age out. Meanwhile, Scott and I had no choice but to face our differences about how to approach the situation.
Scott took the practical approach: First, the kittens were not ours; therefore, he asserted, they did not belong any place in our home except for the foster cat room. “Do not let them get too comfortable” was his motto. Second, he insisted the kittens were not allowed on the furniture. Driven by his fear that he would be displaced by two obviously cuter (and cleaner) members of our household, I angrily disagreed with him. I took the emotional approach: freedom and play were the answers to ensure Pawso and Samba’s healthy development. “Help them feel safe and totally comfortable” was my motto.
The quest for more balance
As our disagreements deepened, my personal growth in working through my judgments and expectations of our guests placed me in a position to really see and understand Pawso and Samba. I was starting to meet them where they were and accept them for all their quirks and glory. (Scott, on the other hand, was a different story).
Pawso was no longer my difficult kitten. Instead, he became my special needs kitten who required skill building, gradual desensitization, and socializing in order to heal from his traumas. I didn’t see Samba as a self-centered kitten anymore. Instead, I understood that fending for herself and protecting Pawso had robbed her of learning how to be a free-spirited and playful kitten.
The Hawaiian kittens had reminded me that play is crucial in all of our lives. Now it was my turn to teach Pawso and Samba how to be kittens and play. I knew, however, as I took an honest look at my life, that the foster kittens weren’t the only ones in need of help. Like most married couples, Scott and I seriously needed more fun in our lives. We had a few tips to learn from Pawso and Samba about how to reconnect with our inner kittens.
Shake off a bad situation, turn it around into something positive
If there is one thing I can consistently count on, it is my husband’s ability to find creative solutions to any problem. Given that Scott identified as a dog person, I knew the Pawso and Samba problem was out of his league. As the experienced cat lady, I knew I would find the solution that would graduate them to adoption-ready furry friends.
I made a plan to help Pawso and Samba overcome adversity and build resilience through a balance of play, learning, and practice. After all, kids, adults, cats, and kittens all have similar developmental needs. We all need encouragement to identify our strengths and then apply how to use them to ignite our inner powers, coping skills, and confidence. We all need experience and patience in order to build relationships, learn from our mistakes, and problem solve. As some of the key concepts in my children’s book, I Am Pawso, slowly began to percolate, Scott threw me a curve ball by executing a plan of his own.
After being gone for most of the day, I walked into the front door exclaiming, “Hello babies! I am home!” Heading into the cat room to locate Pawso and Samba, I could not believe what I saw. Scott had used his brilliant general contractor skills to create a kitten confidence-building station.
Obviously built with Pawso in mind, sitting in the corner of the cat room was a small contained four-level learning station: Pawso’s first step in gaining confidence and coordination. Samba still needed practice and skills, but she was already more advanced than Pawso. Ideally, Pawso would catch up to Samba. The ground floor would be Pawso’s safe exploration zone. Lined with familiar carpet, this comfortable area was the gateway to the upper floors and the start of learning (if he could find the courage to climb). A ramp on the right-hand side gave Pawso access to a secret hole leading up to a second level with linoleum. If he made it through the mysterious hole, he had access to a cantilevered look-out platform, an interior carpeted nap shelf (scratch zone), where he could rest before continuing his journey. Behind him, a custom kitten winding stair-case leading to another mysterious hole would take him to the third story with artificial grass and yet another cantilevered look-out platform. The only way to the top-most level was to jump from the cantilevered platform.
As Scott peered around the corner with a big smile on his face, I knew this was his grand gesture to convey how much my happiness meant to him and his willingness to help me raise confident cats. Of course, his motives were not completely altruistic. By building a kitten playground inside the cat room, he created a structured place for the cats to learn and grow that also prevented them from roaming the rest of the home. But Scott also increased the likelihood that Pawso and Samba would find residence with another loving family. How could they not transform into fabulous companions with all this cat- focused stimulation.
Like two little kids, we couldn’t wait to find the kittens and begin our playtime. Scott had kick started our marriage therapy without even realizing it. Our playtime as a couple was just beginning! Just then, I looked over at Scott as he collected a bundle of catnip crochet balls and began tossing them. I hurried to grab a few cat toys for myself. Bopping me in the head with a crochet ball, he flirtatiously said, “I think I can do this… and I agree, freedom and play is the answer.”
We had successfully shaken away the bad feelings and turned the situation around into something positive: an opportunity for all of us to grow and learn.
Lost in the moment as I marveled at Scott’s creativity and willingness to compromise, I suddenly exclaimed, “where are Pawso and Samba?” Frantic, we both realized that the building ruckus had scared our beneficiaries into hiding!
Stay tuned for our next installment of I Am Pawso: The Social-Emotional Learning Center
About Casey Hersch
Casey Hersch, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, author, animal rescuer, and Latin ballroom dancer. She uses holistic and resilience-based models to help children and families cope with trauma, stress, and illness. Her upcoming children’s rhyming book I Am Pawso: A Cat Teaches Kids Ways to Turn Around Difficult Situations (Fall 2023—Amazon,) is about her foster turned adopted cat, Pawso. The book is a collection of Pawso Practices that reduce stress and encourage healthy choices. Casey lives in California with her husband, Scott (I Am Pawso illustrator), and her cats Pawso and Samba.
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