Mrs. Straywell and the Straylettes: Cats, Cats and More Cats
Mrs. Stray loves cats. All cats. She’s what we would call (in our most uncharitable moments) a Crazy Cat Lady. At the hospital, we think of her as somewhat disturbed—rightfully, I think. But we also adore her—and not just because she brings in bizarre cases and often single-handedly seems to pay our bills.
I have (non-professionally) diagnosed Mrs. Stray as having what is known in psychiatric circles as Collector’s Syndrome. Mrs. Stray is essentially addicted to her cat population. If she finds a sick kitten—as many of hers are when she takes them on—she suffers with them, as if the world has conspired in its cruelty towards all kittens, as if nothing will ever be well again with this world if this particular kitten is not saved from all potential danger.
I hope all this talk of psychiatric illness doesn’t make me appear uncaring towards my clients. After all, I worry about her. Moreover, I discuss every case in minute detail with a level of seriousness contrived not to minimize her feelings in any way—even if it seems to me that I’m enabling her condition in doing so.
I don’t believe she smokes, drinks, or in any other ways displays obsessive or addictive tendencies. However, in her regard for the multitude of cats in this world, she is unparalleled (among my clients) in her extremes.
Perhaps incorrectly, as I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, I consider her behavior pathological. The depression that accompanies her compulsion to pick up cats has been, in her own words, responsible for a decline in her quality of life. Her husband left, her home smells like rancid cat urine, and she has no visitors to her house outside of prospective cat adopters and her occasional assistants—which brings me to the Straylettes.
The Straylettes are witnesses to her misery. Like me, they enable and profit from her sickness. They often accompany her to these veterinary visits, allow her to fund their own strays, and pay silent tribute to the queen of the cat underworld, a subculture whose collective sanity I have increasing cause to suspect.
I do have hope for Mrs. Straywell. I have seen others (although none so afflicted) make significant strides in this stray-addiction after finding God, forging a new romance, moving to another community, or acquiring a rewarding job. I have even taken the most unprecedented (and probably unprofessional) step of discussing the Collector’s Syndrome with her. She is not in denial. But she’s not ready to stop or seek [non-veterinary] professional help. "Not yet," she says, "as there are too many little lives still left to save."
Perhaps she’ll be ready when there’s no more misery in this world. Nope. Not yet.