Rx: 1 small cat, w/purr, apply as needed

Of all the cats who’ve deigned to live with me over the years, Pib was the best. He showed up in our garden one lazy summer evening, a scraggly-but-striking, black-and-white kitten with a rat tail, big golden eyes, and an attitude. He was scrawny and flea-infested, but dressed his best in his only tuxedo, and when he started begging for food, we were so impressed with his dignity, charm, and decibels that we opened a can of tuna for him and named him after that old-time swashbuckler, Puss in Boots.

At the time, my RA was mostly in remission. I’d have an occasional mild flare in an ankle or shoulder, but these were rare and never lasted long. And we were an active family. We spent most of our weekends hiking, canoeing, and fishing, and I worked full time as a feature reporter for the local newspaper. One of my most memorable assignments took me whitewater rafting; another sent me backpacking with llamas in the Sierras.

ColorCat_by_Leslie_Wren_VandeverBelieve me, after living with severe, painful, and disabling RA for 10 years, I was deeply grateful for the remission that allowed me to participate in things like that. I never forgot, for a moment, how lucky I was.

PiB lost his place as No. 1 Lothario to the local lady-cats when we had him neutered, so he took to spending his evenings and nights indoors with us. That cat truly appreciated soft sofas, chairs, and beds. I believe he was secretly relieved, too, that he no longer ran the gauntlet of nighttime coyotes, bobcats, and occasional cougars that roamed our mountain neighborhood. When he reached his late-middle-age, PiB retired and went inside for good, enjoying a pampered life of leisure.

And it’s here, finally, that the title of this story comes into play.

By the time I lost my job in late 2006, my RA had once again become a frequent visitor. So as Pib and I became full-time housemates, he stepped up and took on the job of being my personal RA Warming System.

As soon as my hands would start to hurt, Pib would show up to strop my legs, purring quietly. When I sat down he’d be in my lap, rubbing his soft cheeks along my fingers and wrists as I stroked him. When I put my hands down, he’d circle a few times, and, with exquisite gentleness, settle his body down over them like a papa penguin on his egg. If it was just one hand that was hurting me, he’d focus all his considerable attention on it alone.

RA hands are tender, sensitive hands. Sometimes even the smallest touch or nudge feels more like a blow and can set up eddies of after-pain. But when Pib was busy soothing my hands, he weighed less than sunlight—and he was just as warm.

But the best part was still to come. As his furry heat began sinking into my sore hands, his purr would grow deeper until it felt like he was rumbling. The gentle vibration delivered yet more soothing warmth into my aching joints with every breath that little cat took. It was the most comforting thing I’ve experienced for my RA. Ever.

Scientific studies have shown that stroking and petting companion animals can lift the spirits of ill adults and children. Animals can bring smiles to the faces of the most unresponsive nursing home inmates, evoking words—even whole sentences—where there had been none for years. Surely, in my own life, my companion animals—my furry brothers and sisters, dogs and cats, large and small—have given me endless joy, laughter, and comfort since I was a knee-high to a grasshopper. They’ve stuck close through thick and thin, and I can’t even imagine life without having my furry friends around me. Two cats share my home today, and while they haven’t shown Pibber’s amazing powers, they’re dear, loving companions who make me smile and laugh even when I don’t much feel like doing either.

My sweet old Pib passed on to the stars a few years ago at the dignified, very old age of 16. He was still dressed in his neat, dapper, black-and-white tuxedo, and he was my RA Warming System almost to the very last day. I miss my old friend.

If you don’t have a pet, I’d like to encourage you to consider getting one. There are thousands of homeless dogs and cats who are just bursting with love, companionship, and warmth. They just need someone to give them to. They may not always be able to soothe physical pain like my dear, magical ol’ Piblet could, but all of them are first rate at helping to soothe emotional pain—even the pain of depression.

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