Confessions of a Cat Therapist
Wilbourn, sees cats who are lonely, depressed or angry about new household members or suffering from post-traumatic stress. Cats can express any of these with destructive or bizarre behavior–refusing food or the litter box, attacking people, pets or furniture.
"They'll act out because if they can't act out, how are they going to let the person know?" she asks.
Over the years she's seen Warren Beatty's Cake, Gretchen Mol's Monkey, Beau Bridge's Emerson (and his brother Jeff's dog) and Joel Grey's Rufas. Wilbourn got her start working with her then-husband, a veterinarian. She'd notice certain cats were desperate for cat company–what she now calls Single Cat Syndrome.
After decades writing columns and books on cats, Wilbourn goes on house calls and sees clients at a Manhattan vet, Westside Veterinary Center.
She tries easy fixes first–changing the litter box more often or changing the brand. But then she'll delve into the cat's personality, history and living situation.
In one of her more unusual cases, a cat started having crying fits after her owner married. The cat, Wilbourn realized, felt abandoned. Wilbourn recommended getting a snuggly, so the woman could carry the cat, but still do other things. The cat loved the new security and stopped crying.
In another situation, a cat started attacking a woman's sister when she moved into the apartment. Wilbourn recommended getting another cat, one disinterested in people. The sister worried she'd have two feline attackers, but Wilbourn was right. The first cat started playing with the new cat and left the sister alone.
"Everyone got what they wanted," Wilbourn says.
Her current cat, Orion, has been one of her most difficult patients–which is why she adopted him. Orion wouldn't eat without her and would suddenly cry and hiss–as if reliving a trauma. He could have been having a flashback to early life or the 35 baths he endured at a shelter, where Orion arrived smelling like a tomcat, though seemingly neutered.
Surgery for undescended testicles helped his physical situation, but Wilbourn spent two years repairing his psyche.
"Who is the best boy in the world?" she sings to Orion, who she often walks on a leash in her Greenwich Village neighborhood. Orion, who has stopped having panic attacks, soaks up the attention as if he is sure he would get it all along.