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 and I Am Pawso: Shake and Turn, Grow and Learn.
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.
“Pawso! Samba! C’mon babies? Where are you?”
An hour passed as Scott and I rummaged through every nook and cranny of our house in search of our fosters. No doubt spooked by the sounds involved in building Pawso’s Confidence Station, I mumbled under my breath, “this is the moment where I am fired from being a foster and deemed the worst one in the world.”
Did they get outside? Maybe the garage? Just when my catastrophizing thoughts seized my clarity, I heard a faint clank that led me back to the kitchen. Opening the kitchen cupboard, the clanking sounds got louder. Nestled behind the cabinet pull-out, which contained all of the larger pots and pans, Pawso stared at me with eyes wide open. Stuffed in an oversized boiling pot, he had managed to open the cabinet and stow-away. At that moment, I realized Pawso’s full capacity for survival. I noted that this little guy also knows how to open doors! I grabbed the pull-out and drew it toward me, freeing the space behind where Pawso occupied the pot. Grabbing the pot, I gently lifted Pawso out and onto the kitchen floor. “Wow,” I said to Scott, “socializing him is going to be harder than we imagined. Pawso really has some trauma.” Scott replied, “Yeah, we should have named him Potso!”
Just then I heard a thud. Leaving Pawso alone in his pot, I walked to the cat room to investigate. Samba had made her way to level two on the Confidence Station! To this day I have no idea where Samba had been hiding. Hair raised and sniffing every crevice, she focused her attention on ensuring every square inch of level two was safe and cat friendly. In no time at all, she had conquered the station and parked herself like a diva on the topmost floor.
I was amazed at how much a little stimulation brought out a new side in Samba. Even though she wasn’t playing with me, she was obviously playing independently. This was a huge start in the right direction toward adoption. Not to mention, Samba was so focused on the new entertainment in her cat room, she didn’t seem to worry about Pawso who was still sitting in his pot, peeking out the top, and watching her every move. I felt happy that for a moment she was losing herself in play and letting go of her caregiving responsibilities, something we all need from time to time.
After much coaxing, Pawso eventually left the safety of the pot and resumed his normal, skittish existence. Days passed, and he expressed no interest in exploring the Confidence Building Station. Then, one day, it happened. Pawso gave us a clue as to what makes him tick.
One afternoon, Scott was cooking some bacon. Leaving it displayed on a plate, he left the kitchen for mere seconds. We heard a crash, and we both ran into the kitchen fearing the worst: a crushed Pawso. However, to our surprise, Scott was crushed! Pawso had stolen his bacon! Pawso stood valiantly in the middle of the kitchen floor with two pieces of bacon gripped with his teeth. Growling and hissing, he assertively warded off any threats to his hard-earned hunting reward and flashed by us like a bolt of lightning, hiding behind the couch. Those two pieces of bacon were longer than he was, but he devoured them like he had never eaten a meal. Pawso was a foodie! He could be brave and courageous with the right motivation.
A new understanding
Empowered with this new understanding, we began challenging Pawso on the Confidence Station with food rewards. First, by placing yummy treats on the lower level, Pawso slowly but surely gained comfort and confidence. With each step, we gently encouraged and rewarded Pawso for every attempt he made to push his own boundaries. Meanwhile, when he won his treat reward, we gently reached out and touched his back. Even though he only tolerated a quick brush of our hand, we were making contact with him and showing him that human touch was not a threat.
As we patiently graduated Pawso from one level to the next, Samba had taken on a life of her own. She began leaping from the floor to the top of the station without hesitation until one day that was not enough. I heard the thump as she landed on the top, like usual, but on this day, I didn’t hear her thud as she returned to the ground. The silence was noticeable, and when cats are quiet, it means one thing: mischief!
I walked into the cat room and looked around: No Samba. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement near the ceiling. Looking up, there she was. She was cautiously traversing the curtain rod! “Samba!” I exclaimed, “you are in big trouble!” Ignoring me, she focused on her trek ahead, and made it to the end of the curtain rod. Clearly stuck with no options for getting down, she wobbled foot to foot. From my perspective, Samba had two choices—try to turn around and back track across the curtain rod, or, and this was my worry, slipping, tearing down the curtains, and landing in a tangled mess of material.
Samba chose neither. Instead, to my surprise, she proceeded using the narrow top of the flat screen television as her bridge to safety. As I watched in shock, I couldn’t help but also feel like a proud parent watching their child problem solve, take a risk, confidently forge ahead, and make it out with all nine lives in tact. I appreciated how much Samba had grown. She made it across the thin edge of the television and jumped onto the lower table, running through the house like an Olympic sprinter on a quest for gold.
Click here to watch Samba’s Curtain Rod Walk Video.
I felt a small tickle at my feet. There was Pawso. He had been watching Samba alongside me the entire time. “Did you see your sissy, Pawso? What did you just learn.?” I swear he answered me by saying, “wow, I want to be just like her someday!”
Two kittens are better than one
As I observed Pawso, I had a flashback to my first beloved cat companion, Bangalee, whom I rescued as a kitten in college. Bangalee had some really unpleasant kitten behaviors such as biting, lunging at my legs and latching onto my calves like a tree, and clawing at my back while I studied. I thought he was a “problem” kitten at the time, despite my unconditional love for him. In that moment, watching Pawso observe his sister, I realized why kittens need each other. It wasn’t just my responsibility to socialize Pawso and teach him life skills. He and his sister were teaching each other. Pawso gained confidence by merely watching his sister’s triumphs. A tear fell down my face when I realized that Bangalee wasn’t a problem kitten, he was simply lonely and needed a kitten companion.
Scott startled me when he peeked his head around the corner. He had seen Samba’s heroic (horrific) display. Expecting him to lecture me on my lack of boundaries and inability to teach the kittens good household manners, he surprised me. “Well,” he said, “if I don’t keep Samba busy and build something else, my house is going to be wrecked.” In that moment, the idea for version 2 of The Social Emotional Learning Center was born.
Not sure if Scott was joking or serious, I didn’t have time to react as my phone rang. It was the foster coordinator. Normally, I appreciated their calls, but this time I resisted answering. Had they found a home for Pawso and Samba? I felt a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach. Was I getting attached? I answered the call just before the agency hung-up.
“We have a home for Samba…,” the voice said on the other line.
“But what about Pawso?” I replied.
“This family only wants one cat,” she responded.
My face felt hot and I wanted to fight. Separating a bonded pair is just not right.
Stay tuned for the next installment: I Am Pawso: A Bonded Pair.
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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