Friday, August 10, 2007

Life Lessons From My Cat

Our loved ones provide some of life's best lessons. I've written about wife Margie and what makes a trader's marriage work. I've also written about daughter Devon and what she taught me about finding one's niche in life. Then there's son Macrae, who showed me the communications that are possible across cultures.

So now it's Mali's turn.

Mali is our calico cat.

Mali was neglected at birth by a Syracuse, NY shop owner and kept in a cage in a storefront. She received little attention or care. When she developed feline herpes, it went untreated and spread to her eyes. She was blinded as a result.

I heard about Mali from an angel of a woman in Syracuse who went out of her way to rescue animals in need. She saw Mali in the store and insisted that the owner surrender the cat. The little calico was taken to a vet and there she stayed in a larger cage, awaiting adoption.

But there were no takers for a blind cat. Truth to tell, Mali was not a great candidate for adoption. Her fur was not kept especially clean and her eyes had frequent discharges. There was concern that, because of these discharges, she could infect other cats with the herpes virus.

So when we were called about Mali--we had already rescued two cats from this woman--our leaning was to take a pass. We didn't want Gina and Ginger to possibly contract the virus.

But, I decided on my own--without telling anyone in the family--to visit Mali.

She was very small, and she had kitty litter in her fur. Her eyes were visibly damaged, and she sniffed loudly to check out her environment. When I held her, she purred louder than any cat I'd ever heard.

Here was a cat that wanted love.

We adopted Mali and she's done very well. The other cats have stayed healthy, and we added quite a friend to the household. Every night Mali tucks herself under the covers between Margie and me and sleeps with us. Her purring at night reminds me of that day I first visited her.

Mali's taught us several important lessons:

1) Make the Most of What You Have - Mali had very little stimulation early in her life. She was an active, curious kitten locked in a small cage. A big part of the reason she didn't keep herself clean was that she learned to use her kitty litter as a toy. She would scoop it in her paws and toss it around. Not exactly the most sanitary activity, but it was the only game available to her. She kept herself stimulated until a family came around for her. How many of us would have the presence of mind to avoid self-pity and create stimulation out of an otherwise barren environment? Mali demonstrated that it *is* possible to make the most of even the most limited situations.

2) Love Comes From Love - What convinced me to adopt Mali was not only her loud purr, but her sudden cleaning of herself when I held her. In her cage, she rarely washed herself. Once I held her, however, she began her ritual cleaning, furiously licking her paws and washing her face and sides. To this day, she grooms herself very well, but she most vigorously cleans herself when she's in bed with us. It is difficult to value yourself when you're neglected. But exposed to love, we feel loved, and that makes us love ourselves. Mali took care of herself once someone wanted to take care of her. How similar people are: We feel most special when we're special to others.

3) It's How You Compensate for Weaknesses That Counts - Mali is almost totally blind; she can only distinguish bright light from dark. Nevertheless, she has compensated with an excellent sense of smell and an uncanny sense of direction. When we brought Mali home, it only took her a few days to learn her way around our house. When we moved to a larger home, it similarly took her just a few days to figure out the layout. She navigates around furniture, sniffing, feeling with her whiskers and paws, and listening for sounds. Given little stimulation at an early age, she now craves stimulation and loves to have new people come to the home. As a result, she's an unusually friendly cat and receives loads of attention. By compensating for her weaknesses and limitations of upbringing, Mali has cultivated strengths.

Mali has been a true inspiration. She's a survivor--and a reminder that happy endings are always possible.

But every so often, she still tosses her kitty litter!


What Trading Teaches Us About Life

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I.L. said...

Thanks for this entry, Brett. It's even better than the market-centric ones, if that's possible.
I also adopted a discarded cat when it was but a couple of inches big and it grew to be a loving member of the family.
On a different note, today could be one for the history books.
Isam (musingsofatrader)

Cucca said...

Actually Doc, that story tells me way more about you than the kitty, you softie you. Being a widower, and living in the middle of no where, my life was blessed two years ago when my kitty walked into my life, appearing at my back door, and after a little soft talk and an invitation to check the house out, he said every thing looked fine to him, sat on his haunches and said in a loud voice, "So where's the stinkin food", hahaha. It has worked out for both of us, as I get to take care of him, and he reminds me to do so.
I would probably agree with i.L., the markets are probably going to be throwing some more of it's kitty litter around.
Good Luck.

Way said...

Interesting post.

We have been looking into adopting an older cat rather than buying a new kitten.

My plan is to name any pets Spi and Dax, though Footsie has a ring to it as well :)


Scott G said...

Great cat lessons Brett. Mine have also taught some good lessons.

My 1st cat came from a good family and was pampered since birth. He’s very handsome, charismatic and quite regal. He’s a great example of being able to get by with good looks. However, he suffers from the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. When we adopted another stray cat, he suffered for years from the inability to accept his new circumstances (the new cat). He wallowed in hissing fits which I assume is a form kitty self-pity.

My 2nd cat was a stray kitten that we found with his guts literally hanging out of his belly. $1,000 in vet bills later he was good as new. He models a strong street-based work ethic and knows that with hard work one can accumulate. For years now, he’s looted my neighbor’s garages and brought back bags full of items: everything from an Army compass to underwear. Every evening he does his rounds and never takes a day off.

My 3rd cat models an attitude of persistence and control. He also came from a broken home, having been rescued by the local shelter. If he were human, he’d be the big bully on the playground pushing his way to success. He refuses to submit to my will and, frankly, is always push-push-push. He lives life by his own agenda (food mostly) and will persist in his dysfunctional ways despite many forms of discipline. He also displays all sorts of neurotic repetitive behaviors and routines. Maybe he’s kitty bi-polar.

But we are a happy, if not a very neurotic family!

Palimpsester said...

Printed off a copy of your cat story to share with my wife and daughter. They went behind my back to add a buzz-saw purring bundle of super-soft Maine Coon cat to our lives. She was three months old and the pet store was ready to dump her on the pound. Our daughter twisted her every which way to put her into doll clothes, and she just kept on purring. Fourteen years later the volume of her purring has subsided, but she's still the nicest member of our family.

Krasimir said...

Very touching life lesson, Brett!

You are a great man. Your life stories always have deep meaning for me.

When I was a kid our family adopted a kitten. We called her Matsa. When we adopted her we didn't know that she was epileptic. When she was small she had epileptic crises from time to time. This even though tighten our family bond with her. With the time the epileptic crises stopped and she had a very good and loving life. She lived with my parents for 17 years. She was like a member of the family.

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Isam,

Thanks for the note; I'll be linking to your blog shortly and appreciate your interest. I think you're right: what we adopt becomes part of us--and often enriches us considerably--


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Cucca,

You definitely have me pegged correctly as a softie! It's amazing how life's blessings often come unannounced through the back door. Thanks for writing--


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hey Andrew,

Yes, so many cats are put down; it's a good deed to adopt one. We've adopted five cats over the 23 years of our marriage and every one has been a wonderful addition to the household. And that's coming from someone who grew up as a dog person!


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Scott,

Cats do indeed have their personalities and hangups. Many times their strange ways reflect territoriality, reactions to past mistreatment, etc. I could probably open a private practice as a psychologist to cats!


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hello Palimpsester,

That's a great story. Our daughters used to try to dress up the cats, much to their chagrin. As a young girl, Devon started referring to our cat Ginger as "Pizza" and Gina as "Beer". To this day, I don't get it. But such are the ways of getting close to animals!


Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Kras,

Thanks so much for the kind note. I didn't mention it, but Mali has seizures occasionally also. We take extra care of her during those times. You're right: they become a part of our families--and a part of us.


Stacey Renee said...

I am Brandon Wilhite's wife. Last night Brandon read to me your post about Mali (Molly? or Mally?.. That's my linguistic OCD. I have to know the correct pronunciation.) We were both very touched. We have two rescued cats. (Actually three, but LiLa ((lee-lah)) was hit by a car in May, then Mareth found us, joining our prima-princess Tilly). We found a Maine Coon, polydactyl or Hemingway, kitten; she was only about 2 months old at the most. We paid her adoption fee at the local shelter to speed up her adoption. She found a home that very week. We then realized that the shelter here needs help, so we started volunteering. It was then I was asked by the shelter's executive director if I knew anything about writing grants. Long story short, I plan to help the shelter by grant writing, hoping to bring monies in to truly make it a SHELTER with a 100% adoption rate, as opposed to it's mere 10% right now. **says a prayer and crosses her fingers**

If you would like to see pictures of our cats and read about their silly goings-on, you are welcome to check out our family website:

We have been considering adopting a third cat, and once we have more space, maybe even a couple more. We enjoy their silly antics, they are calming, and they have a way of teaching us so much about life and about ourselves.

Thank you for this heart-warming, inspiring, and touching post. And, Dr. Brett, Brandon is a softy too, which is one of his best qualities... Second only to his bulldog tenacity when it comes to the market!! =]

Stacey Wilhite

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Hi Stacey,

It sounds as though you have a good heart; thanks so much for writing. I look forward to meeting you and Brandon!


Caravaggio said...

Beautiful story, with great insights. Thanks for sharing Brett.