by Susan Omoto
Halloween in Minnesota is usually cold, rainy, and miserable. But Halloween 1991 turned out to be snowsuit weather — a night not fit for man or beast.
In the early afternoon, the wind began whipping the dry leaves into small cyclones. By 4:00, little costumed devils were dragging their pointed tails in a foot of snow. By 5:00, neighbors abandoned their candy stations to shovel their walks. Six o’clock brought two more feet of snow and the temperature plummeted. Ghosts and goblins looked more like mummies in scarves and snowsuits. Cars were stuck in the street. Jack-o-lanterns had icicle smiles.
By 7:00, the streets were empty. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the doorbell ring. It was one of my neighbors, with a dazed cat in her arms. She had found him in a snow bank and wanted to know if we could take him in.
This cat was literally at death’s door. As a person who has been owned by several cats, I know a sick cat when I see one. I was certain he wouldn’t make it through the night. Even worse, we couldn’t get out of the house to take the poor guy to a veterinarian. The storm had virtually shut down the city. Even the buses had stopped running.
I took the cold, wet, sickly cat and swaddled him with warmed towels. He refused all food and water and began to seize up almost immediately. His eyes were rheumy, he had fleas, he dragged his hind leg, and he had a high fever. I quarantined him and spent the night watching him die. I held his skinny little body as he breathed his last breath.
At dawn I left the cat, wrapped in a blanket, in the spare room, and went off to bed. When I woke up at noon, I thought I heard a faint meow from down the hall. I opened my bedroom door and much to my surprise found the very weak but purring cat curled up next to an empty cat food bowl and an empty water dish!
After three days of nursing “Boo-kitty,” we finally got him to the vet, who gave us the bad news that the year-old stray had a heart murmur, infected lungs, parasites, a previously broken hip, and he was still running a temperature. The vet recommended we put him down. Instead, we decided to treat him with antibiotics and lots of attention. It worked like a charm. Boo-kitty is happy and healthy today with no residual signs of heart problems and he has lost his limp.
A Glimpse of Kitty Heaven
This story may not be the first you’ve read about sick or injured cats returning from death’s door. And it is quite possible that the cat, like others, had a genuine near-death experience.
Animal communicator and spiritual healer Julie Snouffer says her conversations with animals have shown that cats, like humans, can experience the other side. “I know cats have near-death experiences much the same way humans do,” says Snouffer. “Cats are very spiritual animals; they are hooked into a universal force which makes it more probable that they have many more lives than other animals. Cats are spiritually dealing with more and are doing a tremendous amount of work on their soul journeys.”
Snouffer says she communicates with her cat subjects through sensing or “seeing” images the animals project to her. I asked Snouffer to spend a few moments communicating with Boo-kitty. She said that he had indeed died, and she explained that in death, the soul takes over. Mind and body can barter with the soul to stay. Snouffer explains that it takes an average of three hours for the soul to leave an animal’s body, so there is time for bartering to take place.
Channeling Boo-kitty’s thoughts, Snouffer said: “He wanted to die. He knew his body was in bad shape and he had been abandoned by his people. His spirit hovered for a while but his cat-devas [Earthguides] told him to look at what he finally had. They told him more needed to be done and that he should stay. He even tapped into the other household cats and asked them what it was like to live in the house. Once he had chosen to stay, the will was there to heal.”
I asked Snouffer if Boo-kitty saw a white light. At first, she answered that she doubted it, because animals accept death, while humans create the scenario of a peaceful place as a way of coping.
Suddenly she stopped in mid-sentence. “Whoops! I was wrong about that. Boo-kitty just told me that I was wrong and that what he experienced was very peaceful and comforting, like a warm, sunny place…but he didn’t go through a tunnel. There was no transition like a tunnel, as humans describe. His soul was where it would be.” She added that cats, like humans, have free will and can choose to come back.
Why not? Human near-death survivors report leaving the physical body or going to an unearthly world where they may meet deceased relatives or family pets. Therefore, animals also seem to be involved in the experience.
In her book Beyond the Light, P. M. H. Atwater writes, “I found that both adults and children are greeted on the other side by animals, especially if favored pets died. But it is the children who describe the animal heaven, some even insisting that they must go through it before they can reach the heaven where people are.” Bryce Bond, a parapsychologist, shared with Atwater his story of when he suffered a collapse after a violent allergic reaction. During his NDE, Bond was greeted by all the pets he had once owned. “I hear a bark, and racing toward me is a dog I once had, named Pepe….” Bond remembered.
The Births of Nine Lives
Does all this mean that there’s a basis for the old superstition that cats have nine lives? Robert De Laroche and Jean-Michel Labat, authors of The Secret Life of Cats, argue that the idea that the cat can reincarnate itself makes sense to those who believe it to be a creature possessed of supernatural powers. “Everyone knows a cat has nine lives,” they write. “At least this is a country belief that still persists and contributes to the aura surrounding the cat. It’s also possible that the cat’s hardy resistance to pain and illness give rise to its reputation for having nine lives.”
The authors go on to explain that the key to this belief is to be found much further back in history, in Ancient Egypt. In many societies the number nine is of paramount importance. Whether it is attached to celestial spheres or infernal circles, muses or angelic hierarchies, nine, the square of three, has a ritual value. It is the number that represents the sum total, universality, and achievement. Pharaonic religion was no exception to this “rule of nine.”
De Laroche and Labat’s research led them to a religious text from Deir el-Bahari dating from the twenty-second dynasty, which proclaims: “I am the one who becomes two; I am two who become four; I am four who become eight; I am one more after that.” The primordial nine thus represented a unity.
A hymn from the fourth century B.C. addressed to Ra, the son of Heliopolis, offers a key to this puzzle. It runs: “O sacred cat! Your mouth is the mouth of the god Atum, the lord of life who has saved you from all taint.” Thus the cat is invested with the creative power of Atum-Ra, the unique, who is nine even as he is one. “Doubtless it was for this reason that the Egyptian priests, and thenceforth popular superstition, began to credit the cat with the privilege of nine successive lives,” write De Laroche and Labat.
Cats’ remarkable durability may be another reason they have the reputation. To some, however, perpetuating that idea seems dangerous. Mordecai Siegal, author of Understanding the Cat You Love, says “a cat times nine” is simply a myth. “Our feline friends are not now, nor have they ever been, furry gods or magical beings with supernatural powers,” he writes. “They are not all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Rather, cats are living, breathing creatures like us and as such are subject to the many spins of life’s wheel of fortune.” Siegal makes the point that cats can and do get sick, and to think they can die and come back may endanger the cat’s life.
Veterinarian William Kusak agrees. “I don’t like to hear people talk about cats’ nine lives,” he says. “Cats are not cartoon characters that can take a beating, be blown up, abused and killed, only to come back to life magically. Granted, they are resilient animals, but to say they have nine lives would be irresponsible on my part. I go along with it being symbolic but I won’t endorse it as fact.”
Nine lives or not, one thing is for certain: Cats are exceptional creatures that almost always land on their feet.
Susan Omoto wrote about “ghost pets” in the December 1997 issue of FATE.