Boston, the Therapy Cat

Boston, the Therapy Cat

How a stray cat wandered into my special-needs daughter’s heart

September 10, 2019

We were ushered through the back door of the closed vet clinic, special treatment for a special cat—no cramped waiting room like the emergency vet’s 40 minutes away. I lifted the wheezing cat onto the examination table. My 12-year-old daughter, Liv, kissed the grey spot on top of Boston’s head while the vet listened through his stethoscope.

“He’s not getting air,” he sighed.

There was nothing more to be done.

Boston had turned up on our farm 4 years ago, a few days after Liv’s cat, Jubilee, died. Liv was adopted from foster care, and numerous moves before the age of 4 had left her with a deep fear of abandonment. She’d been inconsolable over the loss of Jubilee. One day a large, white tomcat appeared behind the barn. He was timid, but Liv brought him a tin of food, then another, and by the end of the day she touched him. Their bond was immediate.

Boston morphed from a nervous cat into a stoic one.

Because of exposure to alcohol in utero, Liv had sensory-processing issues similar to a child with autism and she was easily undone. If something set her off, an hour-long tantrum followed. Any time her piercing screams began, dogs, cats, brothers and sisters darted away to hide. Except Boston. He’d waddle over to the writhing, crying girl and sit on her lap! At first I wondered if he couldn’t hear—no one could handle the screaming—but his hearing was fine; his little girl was just more important than his own comfort. In those times of turmoil Liv would wail into his fur and rub her face against him until she calmed down. Boston would close his eyes and purr loudly. If Liv couldn’t calm down, something she was always ashamed of later, she still had a friend who didn’t judge.

Some days there were no tantrums, and they’d just lie happily together on bales of hay, their bond growing. Over the course of the next four years Liv’s tantrums subsided and Boston enjoyed his retirement from therapy duties. I still valued Boston as a member of Liv’s care team—as important to her well-being as doctors and therapists—so when he began losing weight I had him examined. Tests revealed nothing.

One day Boston went in for dental surgery but the vet grew concerned, and a chest x-ray showed severely narrowed bronchial passageways. A series of medications followed and Boston improved for a number of months, although he still lost weight. And then a heat wave struck and Boston’s lungs gave out.

We rushed him to the vet.

“I can’t lose him!” Liv cried. “I need him!”

Despite treatment, a day later Boston had worsened. I found him heaving and drooling, the floor wet beneath him. He looked me in the eye, and there was no mistaking his fear. He was drowning.

I called the vet and although the clinic was closed, 10 minutes later we found ourselves inside the darkened back room.

“He can’t breathe,” the vet said. “You’ve done everything you could.”

“I think he wants to go,” Liv squeaked, wiping her eyes. The vet nodded, gave the injection, and Boston’s struggle for air ended. “Thank you,” I whispered to our cat. Liv kissed him.

She sobbed as soon as we reached the car, and I followed suit, both of us sitting with tissues pressed to our faces. Eventually we took deep breaths.

“Well he did okay for a stray,” I smiled. “He knew the exact right girl to make friends with. He ended up with a home, sleeping on a heating blanket all winter, and getting lots of love—and he ended up fat!”

We both laughed.

“We made his life better,” I mused.

“And he made my life better,” Liv whispered, tears sliding down her cheeks.

And he did. A homeless cat had wandered onto our farm and into Liv’s heart and offered her a friendship that changed her, one she’ll never forget.

Photo credits: Christen Shepherd

Photo 1: Boston enjoys a sunny day in the yard.

Photo 2: Liv and her cat quickly became inseparable.

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