My Four-Legged Heart Specialists

Although I didn't know how deathly ill I was, my two cats did--and became my 'pacemakers.'

One foggy, rainy October day in 1992, I was walking along a beach road near my house and enjoying the crisp autumn air. Many of the summer vacation homes were closed for the season. With no other activity to draw my attention, I began to watch a black cat who seemed to be trying to keep her baby from running into the road. While she was herding her kitten, the mother cat was also chasing a bird. I chuckled at what this mother cat had in common with all human mothers I know. It is quite a task to protect your young while carrying out family responsibilities.

When I came closer to the cats, I realized by seeing their scruffy coats and thin bodies that they were in trouble. I asked neighbors about them. People told me these cats had been in the vicinity for a few days. All the while, the nursing mother cat had been desperately attempting to provide food for her baby.


I looked for more of this mother’s kittens, but I didn’t see any. Sensing that the creatures wouldn’t survive much longer under these conditions, I scooped up the two orphans and brought them home with me. Little did I know that they would someday return the favor and contribute a crucial element to my health and well-being.

I named the cats Molly and Miss Minnie. After I fed Mother Molly, who was only about six months old, she was able to better care for both her daughter and herself. This mother and daughter had a special relationship, yet they also had distinct personalities. From the moment when I first picked her up, Molly started to purr. Miss Minnie, tiny enough to fit into my shoe, didn’t learn to purr for several months. The two cats seemed happy to be together. They played together often, and Molly washed Miss Minnie and herself for a good part of the day.

A few years after Molly and Miss Minnie had come to live with me, Molly started a strange new routine: Each night, she awakened me from a sound sleep. When I awoke, I’d notice that my heart was racing and my blood pressure and pulse were soaring.

I decided to see a doctor about my health, but even with prescribed medication I continued to feel poorly. On a few occasions, I passed out during the day; upon returning to consciousness, I found Molly licking my nose to awaken me. Molly continued to nurse me in this way as I went on with my busy life.

At one point, I noticed that Molly began to sleep closer to my head at night. I was sometimes awakened by her whiskers tickling my face as she brushed my cheeks and listened to my breathing. I’d roll over and go back to sleep, only to have Molly awaken me with her whiskers again. Around then, I began to take a new medication. When it began to help with my heart condition, Molly stopped waking me up at night, and I slept peacefully for many years.

Miss Minnie grew into a lovely, bushy-tailed, gray-and-black-striped coon cat with big paws. She looked much like her mother, although Molly was mostly black with a little white. Miss Minnie was not the kind of cat who would cuddle with me. In fact, after she was spayed she became aloof and self-centered.

I was surprised, then, when Miss Minnie started to change her standoffish ways. In the fall of 1997, when she was about five years old, Miss Minnie started to awaken me during the night. Just as the naturally loving and caring Molly had done years before, Miss Minnie began the strange ritual of walking up and down on top of my body to wake me up. At first I would check to see if she needed anything. It was perplexing to me that she never left my bed all night. If she woke me with her body walk and I didn’t get up, Miss Minnie would sit on my chest and lick my face. It was as if Molly had taught her this routine.

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Carol Smith
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