Creature comforts

WAY members Olivia and Melanie talk about how their cats have provided comfort when their partners were ill and beyond...

Purrfect companion

Self-confessed ‘crazy cat lady’ Olivia was only 26 when she lost her partner Dave to a rare form of bone cancer in 2019. Joining WAY has helped her by talking to people who have been through similar experiences - and her four-legged friend Monty the cat, 13, has been her constant companion. This is Olivia's story:

"I first met Dave when we were 18 and both working at a local supermarket. We didn’t really talk until one evening months later when we bumped into each other on a night out. Making the most of the evening’s Dutch courage, we had a dance and a kiss, and swapped numbers.

As I got to know Dave, I became attracted to his wit, intelligence, and love of Friends and Harry Potter. We became an official couple in January 2012. After a wonderful four-and-a-half years together, in June 2016 Dave was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, an extremely rare bone cancer with just a 50 per cent survival rate. I quit my job to accompany him to Florida for proton beam therapy, which he tolerated well, and we were feeling optimistic upon returning home.

Sadly, his first scans post-proton therapy showed that the treatment had been unsuccessful. A few months after this we were dealt another blow when it transpired the cancer had spread, with a second tumour appearing on his spine. The second tumour ended up compressing his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed from the chest down and having to adapt to life with a physical disability.

Due to Dave’s disability, we had to move out of our first home together and apply for social housing. In October 2018 we accepted an offer on a ground floor flat with a garden, and although the overall situation was horrible, there was one silver lining – having a garden (our previous property hadn’t) meant we could get a cat! I’ve always been a self-confessed crazy cat lady so I knew owning a cat together would make me happy, but I also believed a cat would provide emotional support to Dave.

As soon as we met Monty at the Cats Protection rescue shelter, he was completely at ease with Dave’s power chair, jumping up on to Dave’s lap for a cuddle. Later that day Dave told me “he looked up at me and I thought, ‘yeah, he’s the one’.” Monty was an amazing companion for Dave, and they really loved each other. But sadly, Dave’s condition began to deteriorate only a couple of months after getting Monty.

When Dave was taken to the hospice in March 2019, it was so important to me that they saw each other one last time. On the morning Dave died, my mum went to pick up Monty from our flat and he arrived just in time for Dave’s final moments.

Since Dave’s death, Monty has had such a positive impact on my mental health. He has helped me adapt to living ‘alone’ – for I’m not truly alone with Monty there. Being widowed at 26 can feel isolating but Monty is a constant companion. He is a shoulder to cry on, and he is someone to cuddle at night. I talk to him about how much I’m missing Dave, I show him things that remind me of Dave, and I tell him how much Dave loved him. I know he doesn’t really understand, but that doesn’t matter – he cheers me up and helps me cope.

Pets can make such a difference and whilst they can never replace the love you have lost, they provide amazing emotional support and a focus, too. In recognition of how he helped me and Dave cope during Dave’s final months, Monty was nominated as a finalist in the Outstanding Rescue Cat category of the Cats Protection National Cat of the Year awards. I attended the awards ceremony at London’s Savoy Hotel in August 2019, heard the other cats’ stories and met fellow crazy cat people! Although Monty didn’t win, he’ll always be a hero in my eyes, and I know Dave would be so proud of him too."

You can hear Olivia's interview on WAY's Instagram TV Channel here...

Melanie's story

"My beautiful soulmate and husband, Richard, died on 10 March 2020. He was a real cat person. Last December we lost our cat, Pops. By this time Richard was really poorly and within a week of Pops' death he said, 'We really need a cat in this house'. 

Richard knew he was dying. He had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in July 2019 and this was progressing, rapidly. I really do think he didn't want me to be alone after he died and so the hurry to get another cat was on.

Reggie came to us two days before Christmas. A 14 weeks old, chocolate, British Shorthair, so full of life, confidence and a kitten-like swagger that said 'I'm here now. It's all OK!'. He loved all the visitors and carers we had coming in and was so good with Richard, who was now on a ventilator and could only move his head. 

When Richard died, Reggie was there, always knowing when I needed a cuddle and listening to me when I spoke to him. However, Reggie doesn't meow, ever, so never answers back! In June, I got Ronnie (pictured above), a friend for Reggie and for me. They get on like brothers and Ronnie meows! He talks back to me and we have full on conversations - although I'm not sure what about!

Grief takes so much away from you but the love of a cat does help a little with the isolation and loneliness that it brings. Lockdown would have been so much harder without my boys. Reggie and Ronnie have given me a reason to get up in the morning and, sometimes, the middle of the night! They come to me for snuggles when they know I'm sad, even just for the briefest of moments. Never underestimate the loving and restorative nature of a cat."