The Cat Lady's Tale
Posted on: Friday, January 22, 2010I received a referral to visit an older woman who had been affectionately called "Cat Lady" by my co-workers. Cat Lady was given this name because of the many cats that lived in her home. She received supportive services, but there was growing concern that her house was contaminated with cat feces. It also appeared that her basement was a breeding ground for malformed cats.
Cat Lady lived alone in her own home in a small town. She was widowed and had only one relative, a nephew.
When I first met Cat Lady, I was struck by how she acted like a cat. She had graceful, subtle movements and tucked her legs under herself while sitting at the kitchen table. It was almost as if she was becoming part cat herself.
At first I increased services to help with cleaning her home. I also counseled her about the need to limit the number of cats she took into her home. Within a short time I realized I was losing the battle. The stench in the house increased, I was seeing sick and malformed cats, and the neighbors continued to complain.
It was my job at that point to tell Cat Lady that her home was not habitable and that the city could not afford to have all those sick cats on the loose. In spite of her fierce independence, and to my surprise, she agreed to what came next.
I worked closely with the zoning department, a local veterinarian, and the city police and fire departments. We set up a day to capture as many cats as we could. In the meantime, I worked with senior services to get Cat Lady a new place to live. On a spring day the plan went into action. We donned our hazmat suits. The veterinarian had cages and lassos and we proceeded to catch cats. We lost count of how many cats we caught or which ones got away. Throughout the bedlam, Cat Lady sat at her kitchen table with her legs tucked under her, smoking a cigarette and watching. She did not cry or say anything.
After the cats were rounded up we all drifted to the fire truck in the alley, drank sodas and exchanged stories of what had just happened. Neighbors came to offer kind words and support to Cat Lady. They acknowledged her loss, but also had a sense of great relief.
I visited Cat Lady after she was in her new apartment. I expected her to be feeling sad about her home and the loss of her cats. However, when I talked with her she said, "I am relieved. I didn't even like cats that much. My nephew brought some over; I don't know how it got so bad. Someone had to feed them."