Live Life to the Fullest: Learning the Lessons Our Pets Have to Teach Us

Purdue University Press spoke with author Kathy M. Finley about her new book My One-Eyed, Three-Legged Therapist: How My Cat Clio Saved Me, a story about bullying and domestic violence, self-esteem, and the special bond between humans and their animals.

Q: Could you give a brief description of your book?

A: My book is the inspirational story of a spunky, one-eyed, three-legged cat who helped me overcome my life’s challenges. Clio was the runt of the litter, a two-time cancer survivor, and a special needs cat who despite her disabilities had the will to live life to the fullest. When I received Clio as a fortieth birthday present, my abusive marriage had ended, and I was in the midst of a contentious divorce. My self-esteem was at an all-time low – even lower than when I was a child who had lost my father at age seven and was bullied in school. Through Clio’s unconditional love and unending self-confidence, I was able to put my past life in perspective, regain my self-esteem, and look forward to the future. In short, the book is a testament to the strength of the human-animal bond and how we are often the ones who are rescued when we rescue an animal.

Q: What motivated you to write your book—why did you feel so compelled to tell Clio’s story?

A: Clio and I had gone through so much together, and she meant the world to my husband and me. When she passed, I was overcome with grief and didn’t want to forget her and her antics. To allay my grief, I began writing down stories about Clio that had comforted me, and that exercise made me realize how unique she was and how much my life and attitude toward life had changed because of her. Clio helped me through a difficult divorce, restored my self-esteem, picked out my current husband for me, and restored my belief that we are not alone in the world. The more I thought about what positive impact she had on my life, I was struck with how other animals in my life, too, had helped me overcome life’s many challenges. At that point, I realized that my story might inspire others who are facing challenges and encourage more people to rescue animals.

Q: Are there unique ways in which a handicapped or older pet can be beneficial to a pet parent?

Older and disabled animals are the ones who need our help the most and the ones that have to the most to give us. The most obvious benefits of adopting a handicapped or an elderly cat or dog is that these special needs pets show us that disabilities can be overcome, and age is just a number. Unlike a human who might lose an eye, Clio didn’t dwell on her looks when she lost an eye to cancer. After she had her leg amputated, she didn’t stop doing what cats do – playing, running, and jumping. Age may have slowed her down a bit (as it does for humans), but she didn’t focus on it and went about living her life as she always had.

Unfortunately, most people don’t want older cats or dogs, and they don’t get adopted. When we adopted Benny (our oldest cat), he was three years old, and no one wanted a cat that old. Nor did anyone want to adopt Trixie who was seven. However, as you will read in my book, Benny is a true delight, has made our lives so much richer, and we continue to learn from him. Trixie is eccentric but keeps us entertained with her antics. As all three of my cats grow older, I feel they are teaching me how to grow old gracefully and accept limitations without hindering what I want to do. Elderly or disabled cats (and dogs) can inspire you to live life at full tilt no matter your disability or age.

Q: Do you have any advice to share with people who might be interested in adopting a cat for the first time?

Adopting any pet is a huge responsibility. You can’t just adopt a pet and only provide food and shelter for the cat or dog. Even cats (who are more independent than dogs) need love and attention. Animals get sick and need veterinary care which can be expensive. By adding a pet to your family, you are adopting another member of the family, and you have the responsibility of caring, keeping, and loving that pet.

The one misconception about cats is that they all have the same personalities. Every cat I’ve had has been unique. I think sometimes people have a preconceived notion of how a cat is supposed to act and then become angry when the cat doesn’t act like other cats. They all have their own personalities, and as with humans, we need to accept them for who they are and not who we want them to be. If we understand that responsibility and understand how each cat is different and what responsibility we have to them, adopting a cat can change your life for the better.

Q: What is (are) the most important thing(s) you want to say to someone who may be experiencing domestic violence?

A: The most important thing I would tell a domestic abuse victim is don’t believe the abuser’s lies. Abusers will blame you for “setting them off,” and then they will apologize for their behavior, tell you they are sorry, and promise that it will never happen again. But it always does. I’m all for forgiving people for their transgressions, but believe me, abusers never change. My best advice is leave. I know that is difficult. In my case, I was too embarrassed to leave, but fortunately, my abuser left when he could no longer control me. However, I wish I would have left the marriage as soon as I realized that my ex-husband was abusive. If you don’t leave, they will continue to abuse you and chip away at your self-esteem. They will isolate you from your family and friends, and they will take away your independence. When my abusive marriage ended, I was fortunate to have Clio who helped me overcome my issues of low self-esteem so I wouldn’t enter into another abusive relationship. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from a domestic violence shelter. Again, remember, it’s not your fault and the abuser will never change.

You can get 30% off My One-Eyed, Three-Legged Therapist: How My Cat Clio Saved Me and any other Purdue University Press book by ordering from our website and using the code PURDUE30 at checkout.