LONGVIEW — Maybe it’s the way they look at you, or maybe it’s the support they can provide. It comes in many forms: purring, hugging, tail wagging.
It is difficult to find words to describe the love for a pet. But for Castle Rock-based writer Angela S. Atkinson, finding the right words is part of what she does.
Atkinson’s personal essay was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Lessons Learned from My Cat in February. Fees from the collection go to the animal welfare charity American Humane.
“I have been writing since childhood. I have been making up stories for as long as I can remember. I didn’t really get into it until the last few years,” Atkinson said.
During an online meeting of a Portland-based writing group, another writer recommended that she serve Chicken Soup for the Soul. Atkinson had never presented works before; she didn’t think she would hear back.
But she did.
Atkinson’s essay CAThartic Therapy highlights the support that domestic cats can provide. For Atkinson, the pet in question was her cat Xena, a “little gray fluffball” who sat by her side and supported her during her difficult medical diagnosis, she said. Atkinson suffered from an AVM, a rare condition that required her to undergo brain surgery, which left her with seizures and chronic migraines.
Xena has transformed from a beloved pet into something more.
“She was my constant, my rock and my self-willed therapist; she never waved a moustache,” Atkinson writes in her essay.
Atkinson hopes her story will resonate with readers who have also found comfort in the love of their furry friends and animal companions.
“If I can tell anybody anything, it’s to be their own advocate and find your support wherever you can,” Atkinson said. “If I didn’t have my family and Xena and the doctors and everything, I probably wouldn’t be here today. It was a very difficult time.”
Atkinson wrote the original version of the essay while in creative writing school and revised the story for Chicken Soup for the Soul, a collection of inspirational essays published monthly since 1993.
“I delayed. I removed a lot of details because I didn’t want to make people cry,” Atkinson said, smiling. “I wanted to tug at the heartstrings, but I didn’t want people to bawl when they read it.”
Atkinson said she is working on another pet essay for another Chicken Soup for the Soul collection, as well as a paranormal/romance series. She recommended that new and emerging writers find communities on-site or online to collaborate and get feedback. She said she also worked with a group of writers at The Vault Books and Brew in Castle Rock before the pandemic.
She added that putting yourself out there can be difficult, but the best thing to do is to trust yourself and trust that other people will be interested in the same things you are.
Although Xena died in 2013 at the age of 14, Atkinson enjoys writing sessions in her office with her three cats, Anya, Patch and Bones, who have a special cardboard box next to her computer keyboard . She also trained her German shepherd, Bella, as a service animal herself, something she hopes to highlight in future writing projects.
“They’re a lot smarter than us, and we take them for granted,” Atkinson said. “We really do. We just see them as “just a pet”. Yes, you have to take care of them, but sometimes they take care of us.”