Written with Paul T. Kraly
“Crazy Cat Lady”. It’s a pejorative mocking term, usually indicating a single female who substitutes cats for personal relationships. Or it’s the character on The Simpsons that babbles incoherently, scrubbing her myriad cats on a washboard. It’s tales of old women hoarders with their infinite number of cats. It’s the ‘witchcraze’ that equated old women and cats as being synonymous with witchcraft and demons. It’s, in essence, another way to denigrate and devalue women because of their love and compassion for their companion animals.
The term crazy cat-lady syndrome draws on both stereotype and popular cultural references to indicate that caring for and loving cats is somehow equivalent to mental illness. Even such a popular show as The Big Bang Theory continues the stereotyping with the character of Sheldon compensating for his ‘break-up’ with Amy by getting multiple cats. Only when the situation is resolved, he divests himself of the animals, not needing them anymore.
“This stereotyping has to stop!” Dr. Stephanie Koempel exclaimed. Her website, Honoring the Human-Animal Bond , and Facebook pages , not only offers places to discuss the loss of a beloved pet, but is a gathering place for like-minded animal lovers to share their stories. “I’m on a mission to change the perception of someone who loves cats and cares for them is “crazy”. I am hoping that “Compassionate Cat Lady” — or “Cool Cat Man”, for that matter — becomes the new paradigm. It not only changes negative stereotype to a positive, but it changes attitudes as well.”
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, migratory workers who rode the rails seeking work (also known as hobos) would leave pictographs for their fellow migrants at various stops along their routes symbolizing hazards and other conditions. One of the most important was a small cat. This stylized drawing indicated that a kind woman lived at this home, and would offer comfort and a meal to a weary traveler. Cats were symbolic of kindness, caring and comfort, and their owners were considered compassionate and caring.
Dr. Koempel exemplifies this attitude, and continues to promote the shift from “Crazy” to “Compassionate”, through her own words and actions. “Life is all about balance and in attempt to maintain this balance I became involved with helping animals the same time I got involved with helping people. The year that I enrolled in a graduate Masters of Counseling program I moved into a new town. I quickly discovered that this town had many feral and stray cats outside unlike the previous town I had been living in. I can still remember hearing that distinctive sound of cats screeching out in heat during the long summer nights. ”
After valiantly attempting to discourage male cats by clapping and making noise, she educated herself on the best practices for improving the lives of community cats and that is through spaying or neutering using Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). She never understood the reference of “crazy cat lady” as implying having a mental disorder which, as she is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), she can assure you no such reference exists in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). “Interesting that there is no gender equivalent for men who live with several cats but if one existed, it would have a positive connotation such as “cool cat man”. I mean, just look at Jackson Galaxy who reminds us that strong men are not afraid to love cats and advocate for them.”
“I would like to change the stereotype that an individual regardless of gender has emotional or social issues just because they live with more cats than society deems “normal”. I am by no means a crazy cat lady but I am by all means a compassionate cat lady. It breaks my heart that any cat which inherently is a domestic animal has to live out on the streets and not in a home with shelter, food, and water. Desiring to open my heart, my home, and let’s not forget my wallet, and welcome in multiple homeless cats to live with me, is indicative of compassion. So yes, I am a compassionate cat person who is in tune not only with the pain and sorrow of the human race but of the plight of animals as well.”
Stephanie practices what she espouses. “I’ve taken in several feral cats over time. My most memorable, Baby Edmund, who has passed over the rainbow bridge, was a loving cat that compassionately welcomed eight other cats into my home. Baby Edmund lived on the streets until I took him in. He knew great suffering, having lived with the pain of hunger and having been attacked by another cat. Baby Edmund patiently sat next to each new cat I brought home. His calm presence, void of any aggression, resulted in each new cat feeling welcomed. He taught me that if even companion animals can exhibit such compassion and care, why can’t humans?”
Another paradigm shift is that animals aid in eliminating burnout since its antithesis is joy. “Joy is an emotion that has rejuvenating qualities.” Dr. Koempel suggests, “I have so many stories from my clients of the joy they experience when after a long day they come home and are greeted at their doors by their companion dogs and cats. The happiness that these companions exhibit at the mere sight of their human begins to chip away from the stressful residue that we internally carry around with us.”
Dr. Koempel is such a strong advocate for the Compassionate Cat Lady and Cool Cat Man as the new names replacing crazy cat lady, she is inviting anyone with other suggestions to visit her forum on her website and through her Facebook pages and join the discussion.
Her pages are Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HonoringtheHumanAnimalBond/
Share stories on her website http://honoringthehumananimalbond.com/
See photos of her cats and dog on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dr.stephaniekoempel/
Originally published at medium.com