Claire Gawne is a Melbournite and fellow Dysautonomia sufferer. Active online in various volunteer roles as well as her biggest role, promoter and cat-mum; Claire is a positive, upbeat, funny girl. She wrote this piece for the Meet my Peeps series, all about the benefits of pet ownership.
Meet my friend Claire and her friend, the Gremlin….
My housemates stand in the door to my room. The don’t even have to speak for me to know what they’re going to say. The old arguments tumble out, and my wearied responses are rattled off. The debate over whether or not to get a cat has raged for months, the pro team enthusiastic and numerous, the anti team steadfast but alone. They showed me pictures of adorable cats (as if I didn’t already see enough on the internet anyway!) and waxed lyrical about kitten toes and purry snuggles, while I extolled the virtues of fur free home and worried about the effect a ball of fur would have on my asthma.
I could sympathise with my housemates’ position. I was a cat person who had suffered growing up in dog person household. I loved how cute and snuggly they were. I looked at pictures of other peoples’ cats on the internet, but I was uneasy about owning one. I struggled enough to take care of myself, how could I take care of another living creature? And what if all that delightfully soft fur was too much for my embattled lungs to handle? What if the cat had to be returned?
Still, I found myself more and more fixated on the idea of a cat. I had become obsessed with a particular breed – the Exotic Shorthair. Combining the adorable squished face of a Persian with the practical short fur of a British Shorthair, it looked like a teddy bear. An adorable, living teddy bear that would provide hugs on tap.
In a complete about face, it was me that ended up buying the cat. His name is Gremlin, and he’s a ginger and white male Exotic Shorthair. He is undoubtedly the best cat ever. I was instantly in love. My ability to breathe be damned, he was staying!
Pets in general, and cats in particular, have been shown to have huge health benefits for their owners. Improved cardiovascular health, lower rates of depression, and one I was particularly hoping to capitalise on – fewer visits to the doctor. While I didn’t expect my new furry companion to cure me, it became abundantly clear the benefits of having a pet were varied and abundant for people with chronic illnesses.
Despite having four housemates, I often found myself home alone, or awake at absurd hours of the night; having Gremlin meant that I always had someone to talk to. I was also surprised how much I relished having someone to think about and care about beyond myself. Gremlin was a welcome distraction from my own problems. It gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel needed in a way I hadn’t for a long time, yet without any intolerable expectations on my time and health.
Gremlin was also an amazing listener. I would come home from an appointment to find him dozing in the exact same spot I had left him in two hours ago, and he would purr away while I told him about my uselessly vague test results, or the scary potential side effects of a new medication. And then at night, when the house was quiet and the last tram rumbled by, he would curl up against my legs, all snores and purrs and soft fur, and I’d sleep better with the weight of him against me.
More peer pressure, this time from a close friend, led to me starting an Instagram account for Gremlin (maybe in the hopes that I wouldn’t flood my friends Facebook newsfeed with picture of his antics!?) For those of you unfamiliar with Instagram, it’s a social media platform focused on sharing photos. I thought that at most I might garner 200 or so followers (a respectable amount for your average user) upon whom I would foist endless photos of my cat. My expectations were low, which might explain why I was so overwhelmed by the incredible experience that followed. Thorough judicious use of hashtags (the best and most direct way to engage with IG), and an investment of way more of my time than I will ever admit, I quickly amassed followers.
Two years later and I have just hit the 15, 000 mark. More incredible than that is the wonderful, genuine friendships that I have made. It’s an amazing community of people, bonded through our mutual love of cats. Everyday I get to laugh at the absurdity and charm of cats, imbued with their own personalities by their humans. I’ve seen people help each other, offering advice on pet care, digging deep to raise funds for medical treatment, and offering love and support at the devastating loss of beloved pets. It’s a weird and wonderful world, where yesterday I was admiring the bowtie collection of one account, while discussing starting a cat commune with several others.
You can find Gremlin on instagram here.
The instagram cat community has grown, spread and evolved since I joined. I have become Facebook friends with the people behind several of my favourite accounts, and got to know them as humans in real life, too. I have seen art projects and pay-it-forward initiatives flourish. This year the first cat convention (CatCon) will be held in LA, and I’ve seen people excitedly planning meet ups of both humans and cats!
For me it has been an incredible experience that has allowed me an identity and a focus beyond my illness. Friends of friends know me as ‘Gremlin’s mum’, and people gush with excitement about meeting him. Tonight before bed, I’ll swallow a handful of pills, and then I curl up and scroll through hundreds of pictures of cats, each one a friendly, familiar face. I’ll look down the bed at the friendliest and most familiar face of all, curled up against my leg, snoring louder than should be possible for something so small.
And I’ll be grateful for everything he has given me.
Do you have chronic illness and a pet?
Tell us about how your pet helps you…