‘My cats have done wonders for my mental health in lockdown’

By Alistair Mason, PA
·3-min read

A wheelchair user who lives on her own has praised the effect her cats have on her mental health, saying she does not know how she would have made it through lockdown without them.

Fuchsia Carter, from Lewes in Sussex, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and has been particularly hard hit by restrictions introduced during the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only has she been unable to go out and see friends, her carers have also stopped coming to her home, meaning her two cats – Lucretia and Aurelia – have been her main source of companionship.

“Having cats during such a difficult period of my life as I’ve been in lockdown since January has done wonders for my mental health,” said Ms Carter, who works in HR for a bank.

“I don’t know how I would have coped if I didn’t have them, quite frankly.”

A large-scale study released on Wednesday by Cats Protection showed six in 10 cat owners think their pets are great companions and can relieve stress or loneliness.

And that has been invaluable for many during a year that has put particular strain on people’s mental health.

Lucretia, Fuchsia Carter's cat
Lucretia, a former street cat, has become more affectionate over the course of lockdown (Fuchsia Carter)

Ms Carter, 35, has seen that effect work in both directions between herself and her cats, especially Lucretia, a blind rescue cat who she adopted two years ago, and showed little or no affection to her owner in the first year.

She said: “During lockdown it has been incredibly stressful for me and isolating and then there have been moments where my mental health has been rock bottom, completely rock bottom, as in I would sit and stare at the wall for a really long time just lost in my thoughts.

“And I noticed when that happened that she would come up and she’d just keep nudging me and nudging me and I would get out of my wheelchair sit on the floor, Aurelia would come in and we would just sit on the floor, have a purr, stroke, nudging, chin-scratch session, and it really brought me back into the room.”

She described their presence as being “like a mindfulness technique” and added: “Having two living animals around all the time is taking me out of myself and I would say not making me so selfish about my own thoughts and feelings.”

Aurelia, Fuchsia Carter's cat
Fuchsia Carter said she talks to her cats but they do not talk back (Fuchsia Carter)

The survey from Cats Protection, which polled more than 10,000 people, showed 87% of cat owners feel their pets bring joy, 91% see their cat as part of the family, while 53% said they put their cat’s needs above their own.

Some 86% of owners talk to their cats, including Ms Carter.

“Yes, I do talk to my cats,” she said. “No they don’t talk back, although they do meow at me on quite a regular basis.”

A survey from the Universities of York and Lincoln published last month showed 90% of respondents felt their pets had helped them cope emotionally with lockdown.