Thursday, June 12, 2014

No Cats Were Harmed in the Posting of This Post

In Tuesday's blog post, I blogged about how my father in law died suddenly, in his sleep, on Christmas night, 1998. 

"B", my 50 something brother in law who has autism, blamed the family cat, Pepe Le Pew.

Pepe - who looked something like the cartoon cat many of us remember from our childhoods, if you are of a "certain age"- never really interacted with "B". Nor did "B" interact with Pepe, at least at anytime I ever remember seeing. My spouse doesn't remember any interactions, either.

In fact, while my spouse (who is several years older than "B") was growing up, he owned several cats.  "B" never showed any interest in those cats, either.  His mother and father did not keep other pets, so we'll never know if "B" would have made a dog his own, or a bird, or any other animal.

Is this usual for someone with autism?

The short answer is "there is an entire spectrum of differences between people with autism".  But one thing is for certain, in my experience:  the myth that a person with autism can not love, is just that - a myth.  (Something else to blog about, one day.)  They just find it difficult to show it in ways we without autism understand.

The longer answer is:  Some people with autism love animals and interact with them more easily than with people.

This could be for a number of reasons.  Animals do not judge our social behavior.  For a person with autism, the social behavior of other humans is a mystery, many times a painful mystery as he or she is rejected by others for reasons not easily understood.  The love of an animal is unconditional.

And, perhaps, the social behavior of a solitary cat or dog is something that a person with autism can pick up on.

The relationship between certain individuals and people with autism can be legendary, such as the famous professor of animal science who has autism, Temple Grandin.  Ms. Grandin, in fact, is an advocate for humane animal slaughter for those animals who are raised for food.  She even addresses the issue of humane animal slaughter in the context of two major world religions.

She writes extensively on animal welfare. 

And, those are not the writing of someone who does not care and can not love.

But, let us return to the situation, after my father in law died, where "B" blamed the family cat, Pepe.

We still don't know why "B" blamed Pepe.  I don't think we'll ever know. Perhaps this was his way of communicating something he saw that night.  An unusual behavior my spouse remembers from his childhood, watching "B" develop in a way unlike his other brother, was that "B" would blame his hand for misbehavior.  "The hand did it", he would insist.

Perhaps "B" saw Pepe trying to enter the bedroom the night my father in law died. (they probably had the door closed that night as we were there.)  Perhaps "B" (who loves to read about scientific topics) had read about folk beliefs that cats could smother young babies.  Perhaps he thought the cat had smothered his father. I can only speculate. 

It's important to note that whatever "B" was trying to communicate, he wasn't violent.  In fact, I have never, ever, seen "B" engage in violent behavior towards others.

He never tried to harm the cat.  And, I am touched by my readers who worried for the cat's fate. 

So, dear readers, let me assure you the cat in question lived to a ripe old age, unharmed (and probably unloved) by "B". Pepe died of natural causes when he was around 16 years old. In his older years, Pepe didn't stay at home much.  He took up with another neighborhood cat, and (with the owner's blessings) spent most of his indoor time with the other cat's owner.

I'm happy Pepe found happiness.  Sometimes, I wonder if "B" is happy with his present life.

And, one more thing to close this story.

My mother in law never replaced Pepe with another cat. To this day, they remain without a pet.


  1. Great discussion about the wide spectrum of autism

  2. Glad Pepe found someone to pal around with.....

  3. Great post about autism. To be honest I did not know much about autism bar Rain Man and that there was a wide spectrum. Great blog here, keep the good work ;)

  4. Nice blog! Great subject matter!

  5. It's amazing how intensely attached we can get to our pets, isn't it?

  6. I had to return to your blog to find out what happened in this situation! I'm glad nothing happened to the cat, but still feel sad that "B" really never bonded with the cat. I do hope he is doing better.

    I have worked as a speech and developmental therapist with autistic children and teens, so I'm familiar with what you described, and with Temple Grandin. Some of "B's" behavior makes me wonder if he's more on the Asperger's side of the spectrum.

  7. I have been a one-on-one para for an autistic teenage boy. I don't know if he had pets. Our middle son seems autistic but was not diagnosed when we got him checked out. He has a disconnected relationship with our three dogs. He doesn't understand that they don't have common sense. He does not care if they don't want to do what he wants, he tries to force them. I think he does have good feelings toward animals. Plants, are pretty safe though- no ethical worries there. And he wants to have a business where the whole store is a garden... even the floor. =)

  8. I found this post fascinating, Alana!
    Poor cat getting all the blame. It's really interesting hearing about the different coping mechanism.

  9. My nephew has autism. He is a blessing, but does have a hard garden to hoe. Great blog!


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