One endearing thing about pets is that they are not judgmental. They don’t care what you look like, how much you weigh or the size of your bank account. If you give them loving attention, they think you are simply wonderful.

A small, malnourished cat showed up at our house seven years ago. She hid by day under our shed, and came out only after dark. She shied away if I got too close, but hunger repeatedly drew her onto the deck, where she bolted down the food I left for her. It was winter. I had to get her inside.

The first time I brought her in, she threw herself against the door in a frenzied panic. I feared she would injure herself, so I let her back out. She ran off. The next night, to my great relief, she was back. This time I brought her in out of the cold for good.

I wrapped her in my bathrobe and hugged her to me. “It’s OK, I won’t hurt you. You’re safe now.”

She stared up at me. After a few minutes, she stopped struggling, and kept her gaze fixed on my face as I continued to talk to her. “This is your forever home, kitten, and I’m your new mom.”

We named her Penny. She became my “project cat.” I set to work to help her overcome her extreme fear and distrust of people. It took years, and boatloads of patience. What I didn’t know was that she would also become therapy for me.

I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder, a serious, painful and complicated mental illness characterized by intense emotions that are difficult to control. Suicidal thoughts and self-injury are a frequent part of my experience, and every day I fight hard not to self-destruct. I am more fortunate than many. I have my faith, my loving husband, close friends and my three cats. One of them is my former stray, Penny, now a housecat with lingering anxiety issues, but with a tremendous attachment to me (and my fuzzy bathrobe). To her, I am the best thing since catnip.

Penny loves to join me when I take a nap. I lift the covers and she crawls under, turns around and flops against my stomach like a furry hot-water bottle.

She props her chin on my elbow, curls her paws around my arm and gives me slow squints of her eyes, a cat’s version of a kiss.

Penny is blissfully unaware that I have a mental illness. All she knows is that she is warm and safe, her tummy is full and her favorite human is gentle and kind to her. I fall asleep to the rhythm of her soft breathing and her contented purr, and for a while, at least, my world also feels safe.

I saved her from a sad life, and she helps ease my sadness with her affection and her comforting presence.

She thinks I am simply wonderful.

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