Finding a reminder of unconditional love in our cat

Reflecting on how Toby embraced me for me — regardless of SMA

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by Halsey Blocher |

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Our cat, Toby, waltzed into our family over a decade ago for what was intended as a temporary arrangement. She won our affection quickly, and we decided to welcome her into our home indefinitely. Not that she needed an invitation to stay. Toby said she owned the place, and who were we to question a queen?

But, as is always the case with the animals that capture our hearts, our beloved companion couldn’t stay forever. On Aug. 7 — one day short of International Cat Day — Toby peacefully transitioned to her eternal home across the rainbow bridge, taking a piece of each of our souls with her.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how she grew during her years with us, and I don’t just mean the extra pounds she gained as she became accustomed to the comfortable and well-fed life of a house cat.

A cat reclines on a polka-dot blanket on the seat of her owner's wheelchair.

Toby finds out that Halsey Blocher’s wheelchair isn’t a throne and she can’t keep it. This perplexes her. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

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One of the biggest changes was her attitude toward my medical equipment. Toby never cared that I have SMA, but she originally wanted nothing to do with these machines. And I can’t blame her. Most are noisy, and the Vest Airway Clearance System makes the whole bed shake as it knocks stubborn mucus from my lungs. This can be a lot for people to take in, let alone a cat that doesn’t understand the purpose of it all.

But eventually, Toby’s hesitancy to be anywhere near my room during breathing treatment routines began subsiding, and she bravely started coming closer. And closer. And closer still. Just when you thought she couldn’t possibly get any closer, she found a way.

Toby ended up developing her own routine that coincided with mine. Like clockwork, she appeared on my bed in the morning, afternoon, and night — the times when my breathing treatments are administered — for sessions of snuggling, napping, and intense purring. The medical equipment no longer deterred her. As it turned out, the Vest actually doubled as a cat massager.

My disability even became something that Toby learned to use to her own advantage. She figured out that I don’t have the strength to push her away, which made it easy to demand my attention. If I tried to ignore her, she’d just lie across my whole arm and purr in satisfaction while I scratched her chin with the few fingers she left exposed.

A young woman lies on her bed before a breathing treatment with her right arm outstretched. Her cat rests its head on her wrist, in the perfect position to receive some chin scratches.

Toby settles in to love on Halsey Blocher and receives some chin scratches before a breathing treatment. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

Lessons on love and acceptance

One amazing thing about pets is that they aren’t really bothered by our limitations. They’ll seek to have their basic needs met and hope for some affection, too, but once an animal finds someone they want to love, nothing will interfere with that mission. Yes, cats can be a bit bossy, but maybe they’re just expressing their love and other emotions passionately.

When my friend and fellow SMA News Today columnist Katie Napiwocki said goodbye to her beagle, Eva, in 2021, she penned a beautiful tribute called “Broken Hearts, Bird Nests, and Beagle Fur: A Legacy of Love.” Katie wrote, “Whether I was enduring my darkest days with SMA or basking in triumph over it, Eva offered a level of support that was both unconditional and unmatched by any human.”

In a world that often has conditions for assistance, acceptance, accessibility, inclusion, and more, precious creatures like Toby and Eva serve as reminders of what unconditional love means. We should still have boundaries — Toby made sure everyone understood hers — but what would happen if we took their lessons on love to heart and practiced them daily? What would that even look like?

Unconditional love is both fierce and gentle. Sometimes, it gets in our faces, and other times, it curls up at our feet. It accepts us just as we are and desires our wellness. It might call us out of our comfort zones to lead us somewhere new and magical. Unconditional love is a choice that binds us together and holds us close, even when we’re apart.

A gray basket lies on its side, with an array of colorful socks spilled across the hardwood floor. In the middle of the chaos is the author's cat — the culprit behind the mess.

Toby is caught in the act of knocking over Halsey Blocher’s sock basket where she decided to burrow for nap time. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

With Mom lovingly stroking her fur and my fingers resting on the tail that she’d offered to me to hold so many times before, Toby closed her eyes and laid down her head one last time. She passed away quietly with people she loved beside her, just as she had stayed faithfully beside us for all these years.

Although my mind knows Toby isn’t here, my heart still sees her lounging in the shadows at the edge of my vision. The dogs are trying their hardest to fill the empty space on my bed. We all miss her, but we are so blessed that she bestowed her love on us and chose us to be her family. I will forever be grateful that she could be my cat, and I know I will always be her girl. Because once upon a time, a queen declared it would be so.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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