The cat’s out of the bag

February 21, 2007

Straits Times Interactive, Mind Your Body, 21 February 2007

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Six cats under the same roof have provided a family with companionship and brought relief to a sick man. By Shelagh Mahbubani

Most people would think that six cats taken in by a loving family to be getting the better end of the deal.In fact, the Lu family feels that it’s the other way round.

The six cats that live with them have blessed them in more ways than they imaginable, said the Lus.

They are especially thankful of any blessings they have received since Mr Edgar Lu was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1993.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes the death of nerve cells and hence the paralysis of voluntary muscles.

In 2000, Mr Lu, 54 and a former IT consultant, became completely bed ridden.

Three years later, Mr Lu and his wife Gina got their first cat, Gandalf.

Though they bought Gandalf to help their son Kevin, who was going through depression, they found that having a cat helped everybody.

The cats also help Mr Lu deal with his condition.

He is unable to move, except to smile and speak in a voice incomprehensible to everyone but those who know him. He has to be constantly under watch, as there’s a risk of him choking on his saliva.

‘Prior to the arrival of the cats, he was more focused on his own problems,’ said his wife, Mrs Lu, 47, a systems analyst.

Now, Mr Lu can watch the cats while he lies on the bed placed in the living room.

It’s very comforting to have them lie on the bed, he said through his wife’s translation.

Aside from providing emotional comfort, they even help to reduce his physical pain.

A cat lying on his hip can be more effective at relieving the pain than a hot water bottle, said the Lus.

The cats have also helped the whole family bond in a way that they couldn’t previously.

Mrs Lu said that because of her husband’s illness the family wasn’t able to spend as much time together as they wanted.

As the two sons grew older, they had less in common to talk about.

‘The cats indirectly serve as a link for the family,’ said Kevin, 20, a student at LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts.

Perhaps most important of all, the cats have helped the rest of the family get through hard times.

They really are, in their own way, members of the family.

Having Gandalf around helped Kevin get out of his depression, which hit him just around his O levels.

Gandalf is like a pal to her son, said Mrs Lu.

Kevin prefers to call Gandalf ‘an animal version of a soulmate’.

‘We understand each other,’ he added.

Both mother and son say the cats understand orders.

‘It’s uncanny,’ said Mrs Lu. For example, they will go into a room if she asks them to.

And whenever they are asked to do something they don’t like, the cats will respond with an indignant look.

And while one would think that keeping six cats in the house would create a mess, Mrs Lu said the opposite is true.

‘They’re very clean and well behaved,’ she added.

All they need is for fresh water and food to be left around the house and their litter boxes cleaned. That’s not much to ask.

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