Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Boo the Cat Taught Me About Trauma


                                                           By Philip Foley

A person can learn a lot about trauma from a feral cat. Boo is our cat. Boo has taught me much about trauma and how patience, love and respect for boundaries can transcend the crippling impact trauma has on someone.

We found Boo under our shed when she was just a very small Kitten. She was abandoned in the forest where we live and left to die. Boo wanted nothing to do with Kathleen and I at first; but she did accept the food and water we left out for her every day. Every time we would approach her she ran back under the shed. We did not force the issue. Eventually, she would allow us to get close to her but touching her was out of the question.

We gave her all the space she needed and after several months she allowed Kathleen to pet her. I would have to wait a while longer.

As Summer arrived we began sitting on our screened porch and Boo would approach the door and look in on us. In the beginning she would not enter. Gradually, Boo would come onto the porch through the door which we left ajar. After hanging out on the porch with us for about a month Boo would allow us both to pet her, but only on her terms. The slightest movement or unfamiliar noise would startle her and she would retreat to a place where she felt safe. Through patience and giving her all the space she needed Boo began to trust us more and more. Finally, Boo moved into the house with us.

Over the next several months Boo would begin to sit on our lap and let us comfort her. Boo, however, is like the legendary Jersey Devil who haunts the forest we live in. Everyone has heard about her, but no one, other than Kathleen and I ever see her. You see, trauma still rules Boo's emotional life. Although she has been living with us for two years now her trauma has not gone away, it is simply managed more effectively. We need to make Boo feel safe or she retreats into the furniture. Boo is a wonderful and affectionate cat. She reveals herself to us because we have created a safe environment and we respect her boundaries.

Trauma needs to be understood and embraced from the victim’s perspective; not from ours. It is a daily exercise. Boo taught me that. When we provide a safe environment, offer perspective, not advice, and recognize the world as seen through a victim's eyes, we will experience the joy of seeing them realize their fullest potential.

Perhaps we should all bring a feral cat into our lives. Thanks Boo!