Navandrea “the nomad” Artemis Bean

I would not be the first to say that this year has been one of the hardest and most absurd I’ve experienced, but I would like to share a really great thing that came out of mine. Navy is a gray cat who has joined me on Allegheny’s campus this year, and the way she came into my life was through a series of unfortunate events.

   Navy initially lived with another family with another cat and a dog, but they had to give her away because she had difficulty getting along with the other animals. My mother heard about Navy and thought she would be a great companion for my grandpa. Grandpa had lost his wife a few years back, and he lost the dog they shared together — a miniature poodle named Misty, like the cigarettes — shortly after. He lived alone and had trouble going for walks like he used to.

   Over the summer, my grandpa was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Navy came to live with my family while he was in hospice. We had two cats and a dog, and she was too nervous to leave my parents’ room. She walked really low to the ground and rarely came out from under the bed. I wound up leaving home to work for some time, and I didn’t get much of a chance to know her well. 

  I returned home at the beginning of August, and my grandpa died two weeks later. I stopped by to see my mother that morning and happened to be in the room when he passed. The experience really broke a part of me that I have worked to repair, and it all occurred shortly before I was supposed to begin school again and move back (is it even worth adding it was in the middle of a pandemic?) and I was not sure how I was going to handle it all.

At some point, I had the brilliant idea to bring Navy with me. I adore cats, and I knew she would appreciate a more compact space without the presence of other animals, but I also knew she would be a great reason to get out of bed in the morning. I rushed the paperwork along, begged director of Disability Services John Mangine to get approval in time for move-in, and here we are. There was no way to anticipate the level to which this lovely little creature would take over my heart.

Shortly after moving in, I noticed that Navy really is just a pretty neurotic cat. She is incredibly anxious, but she adores people and attention. Her most endearing characteristic is her tendency to lick—she grooms herself often, but is always more than happy to give any volunteer a bath. For a while I thought this was her giving kisses, but I soon found out that there was something else going on.

A few weeks in, I noticed she had a scab on her tail. I inspected it as she allowed, and verified it was not a bug or a rash. I went down a Google search rabbit hole, because I was not sure I could afford a visit to the vet at that time. What I found was incredibly illuminating to her behavior. Navy seems to exhibit signs of Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Little is known about this neurological condition, but it seems to be related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety in cats with hypersensitivity of the skin.

This explained so much. Symptoms of FHS include rippling or rolling in the back, obsessive grooming and general frantic behaviors. I of course looked up treatments, and it seems she needed a more well-established routine. There were also pill cocktails and such that can treat symptoms, but I wanted to start with smaller measures and see if it helped her at all.

Understanding this about Navy has given me a different sense of purpose. I think a lot about post-human history and domesticated animals. Humans genetically engineered entire species to serve them in companionship. This little fuzzy poop machine that I feed experiences complex emotions like I do, but on her own plane of existence that happens to rely on mine in some capacity. This realization has led me to new understandings about myself and the relationships I seek out with other people. I know people aren’t like cats, unfortunately, but they aren’t that far off. I have always been a firm believer that dog people are not to be trusted, since they always hate the fact that cats want to do their own thing. As someone who has ferociously fought against being controlled, I have always identified with cats. Dog people prefer their domesticated animals to be subservient.

Regarding Navy, though, I understand that her need for independence comes more from a place of fear and self-preservation. This gets to me because I, too, isolate myself to avoid overstimulation. She often prefers to be under a blanket, and will burrow under one given the opportunity. To be a Navy burrowed in a comforter is to be completely at peace. I, too, like to burrow myself in a comforter. Sometimes it all gets to be a little too much, and that’s okay. I have learned to be kinder to myself in being understanding of her, and that is something I’m very thankful for.

I can look at this in terms of my friends and other people in my life, too, in a more general way. I think we all should, actually. We are not the dogs and cats of the world — we don’t need to ostracize one another when they have different needs. Navy, unfortunately, faced this wherever she went, but she had other people to come to and she made her way to me. People don’t really have this same luxury. I have had a difficult time this year, and so has everyone. I can’t say I know anyone who is doing well right now. I want to help everyone I love, but sometimes, their coping mechanisms clash with mine. However, when I want to give Navy a hug and she’s not feeling it, I leave her be or she’ll fight me on that. She is a cat. This is something I try to understand in my relationships, too. Sometimes I need to be left alone when someone needs a friend, and we can meet each other in the middle, but only if we see outside of ourselves. I can not expect Navy to do that, but I can expect that of myself and others.

Maybe the nitty-gritty is a lot to think about. At the very least, I hope reading about my dear troubled cat is a story of something good coming out of something bad. I’m not saying the good makes the bad worth it, but it is hard to think about how things would look without this cat, given how they look with her.