National Geographic : 1997 Jun
as have nightmares. In New York I make a house call with Carole Wilbourn, cat thera pist. The patient, P__ (professional confi dentiality, you understand), an eight-year-old black-and-white shorthair, has been diag nosed with aggressive cat syndrome. He has chewed the stereo, phone, and VCR wires. He will not use the litter box. He attacks his owner. Valium has been prescribed. Look at it from P 's point of view, Carole says empathically. A traumatic kittenhood. Inade quate nurturing. Little wonder P__ suffers from low self-esteem and anxiety. Cats have feelings too, she says. As she talks, Carole sprinkles catnip from a tiny velvet pouch and makes soothing sounds. This is P 's seventh session (at $95 a visit). "When someone suggested a cat ther apist, I wondered if I needed one instead," P_ 's owner confesses. "But it works." Carole clicks on a tape with New Age music. P__ rolls over on his back, thrusts his paws up in the air, and promptly closes his eyes. I am tempted to curl up myself. What is it about cats? I ask Carole, who majored in psychology, then worked with a veterinarian before starting her practice as a cat shrink 24 years ago. In reply she remi nisces about the cats she has owned. The pets who provided companionship through diffi cult times and two failed marriages. What is it about cats? "They're always there for you," Carole answers. We stare at each oth er for a moment. She looks as if she may cry. HE THINGS WE LEARN from cats . . . To nurture: "The cats help me care. In taking care of them I feel that I care more about other living things," says Eric Weaver, a convicted felon. He and six other prisoners-in for crimes rang ing from murder to robbery to rape-sat around in a circle in a room at Lorton, a peni tentiary south of Washington, D.C., and spoke about the cats they care for as part of a Forowners perplexed by furry misbehavior, cat therapist CaroleWilbourn, with calico patient Millie, offers dual-species "family therapy." Wilbourn believes pet cats act on emotions as complex as the tangle of feline fears and desires picturedin this dreamlike setting.