The Doc Project·Personal Essay

How my rescue cat, Dusty Springfield, saved me during the lockdown

The story of how one cat and her needy meows helped keep loneliness at bay for tenants of an apartment complex during a global pandemic.

Jennifer Yoon’s cat has become a sort of therapy pet for the humans around her

Jennifer Yoon's anxious rescue cat, Dusty Springfield, has given her, her partner and even her neighbours some comfort during the pandemic. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

Between the global pandemic, raging wildfires and the global economy in free fall, 2020 hasn't been a kind year for us.

With so much bad news streaming in, and as a journalist with a front-row seat, I, like many others, have been having a difficult time coping with the uncertainty of the world. 

I've been reading, exercising, and revisiting long lost hobbies to feed my soul through this time. But the one thing that's kept me grounded most of all is, paradoxically, my very anxious cat: Dusty Springfield.

Unlike us humans, Dusty has been thriving during the lockdown, mostly because she doesn't like to be left alone. Now her human roommates – my partner Colin and I – are stuck with her 24/7. No more going into the office or going out with friends, which means all the more opportunity for Dusty to demand our doting attention.

Dusty, who doesn't like to be left alone, has been thriving during the lockdown. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

Hanging out in the kitchen without her? Meow. Going to the bathroom? Meow. And if you dare to leave her all alone in the apartment for even just an hour? Hang on to your pants for a prolonged, sad shriek from the cat.

I named her Dusty Springfield, after the British soul singer. My Dusty is a vocal cat – also a singer, if you will. She was also named for her fluffy grey coat, which makes her look like a moving dust ball as she toddles around the apartment.

Dusty Springfield likes to show off her pipes. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

She's been showing off her pipes since the first time I met her, back in December 2018. Back then, I was fostering cats, giving them a temporary home until they found humans who would adopt them and give them a forever home.

She had been found by a local cat rescue, Cause for Paws, in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough of Montreal. It looked like she had been abandoned by previous owners after a move, according to the rescue.

"I remember she was friendly. She was not feral and very beautiful," said Ursula Lord, the director and founder of the rescue.

It took a bit of coaxing (and a can of tuna), but by the end of that first night, Dusty was eating out of the palm of my hands and rolling onto her back to demand I pet her belly.

For me, it was love at first sight. I ended up "foster failing" – I didn't want to say goodbye and send her off to someone else, so I adopted her myself.

Ursula told me Dusty is probably so anxious because she's already been abandoned before. "It seems to me she has a fear of being abandoned again, so when you go out, she worries." Lord said.

Lockdown comfort

The cat was one of many adjustments for me and my partner, Colin. We moved in together right before the country went into lockdown, and it was the first time either of us lived with a significant other. All of a sudden, we were trapped in the same apartment: just me, Colin, and my loud, needy cat, Dusty.

"I didn't even have plants before we moved in together," he said. "I was like, 'If I'm gone from my apartment for a week, nothing's going to die because there's nothing alive.'"

But as the lockdown stretched over days, weeks, and then months, Dusty became kind of a therapy cat for both of us. She's a little purring machine, always up for a cuddle if you're feeling worried or sad about all the bad news in the world. And her demands for affection became a reminder to take a moment to squeeze her and be thankful for the small sweet things in our lives.

Dusty is a purring machine, always up for a cuddle. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

It feels good to know that this little furball trusts us to keep her safe with all her heart.

Now I catch Colin having conversations with the cat all the time: "How's your day going?" Meow. "I know, it's a hard time for everybody!" Meow. She even steals his ergonomic office chair, and, not being able to bear kicking her out, Colin lets her stay.

As it turns out, we're not the only humans who have benefited from having Dusty Springfield around. Mimi, my downstairs neighbour, moved into her place in the summer, during the middle of the pandemic and at the end of a relationship.

Before we brought down a box of muffins to say hello, she says she thought the cat was a full blown child, because she would hear adult footsteps followed by small scurrying footsteps trailing behind.

One of Dusty's favourite lounging spots: Colin's ergonomic office chair. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

Dusty's pitter patters became a permanent fixture in Mimi's days – and one she welcomed, thankfully.

"It was just around the time I was separating and moving, you know. There were a lot of stressful things happening in my life," Mimi said. "I also didn't know what it would be like to live alone and start a new life on my own. And I was afraid of loneliness. And honestly, I haven't felt lonely, and I think your cat has a lot to do with that".

With the world opening up little by little, I've been returning to the office, a few half-days at a time. I think the fact Colin and I were constantly around during the lockdown has eased her fear of abandonment a little.

Although Jennifer has started going back into the office, the month-long lockdown helped ease Dusty's fears of abandonment. (Submitted by Jennifer Yoon)

She still yells when I get home, don't get me wrong, and Colin, who is still working from home, says Dusty curls up on my shoes or my bag while I am gone.

But I don't begrudge her neediness one bit. She comes by it honestly, and I'm her human, after all. 

Jennifer Yoon. (Tim Chin/CBC)
About the Producer

Jennifer Yoon has never met a cat she didn't like. When she's not hanging out with Dusty Springfield, she's working at CBC Montreal's morning radio show, Daybreak. You may also find her on the streets of Montreal, listening for touching, charming, and fascinating stories. You can follow her on Twitter @jenngyoon 



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