Ecumen Le Center’s “Sweet Pea”—The Caring Cat Who Marks Time

 Sweet Pea knows when you need her, even if you don’t know.  Even if you don’t like cats, she will be there for you, letting you know she cares, as if it is her duty.

Sweet Pea knows things that people don’t know.   This is just a fact.

Sweet Pea lives at Ecumen Le Center in Le Center, Minn.  She is smart, warm, caring, energetic and persistent.  She will come to you when the time is right.  If you want her close to you, she will cuddle.  If you don’t, she will find some place to hold her vigil where she can be with you, but not in your way.  She will know what to do and when.

Sweet Pea has no pedigree.  She was a feral cat until she was taken in by Dr. Jean Craig, a family medicine physician in New Prague.  Dr. Craig helps both people and cats.

Dr. Craig has patients at Ecumen Le Center.  One day this past summer, she prescribed a cat.

Dr. Craig has no solid medical evidence but believes cats can make some people feel better.  They can have a soothing, palliative effect.  She had written a paper about it in medical school.  Anyway, she told Chris Carter, the Ecumen Le Center housing director, you can always bring Sweet Pea back if she doesn’t work out.

Chris is not a cat person but said, okay, she would try it.  So she got all the cat accessories to make a home for Sweet Pea—a bed, a litter box, some cat toys.  For the first two or three weeks, Sweet Pea was shy and reserved.  She hung out in Chris’s office, sitting on the desk, walking on the keyboard, doing cat things.  Then she slowly ventured out, sizing up the residents, figuring out who liked her and who didn’t.

LaVonne was a resident in her eighties.  She stayed in her room much of the time. Sweet Pea started coming to visit, and LaVonne loved having her.  Then LaVonne started coming out of her room for meals, until she began feeling weak.  That’s when Sweet Pea started sleeping on the bed with LaVonne and refusing to leave the room.  Just leave her with me, LaVonne said.  I love having her. 

Addie was 98.  She didn’t like cats.  So Sweet Pea respectfully didn’t climb on her bed.  She just stayed on the chair in Addie’s room.

Ruth didn’t much like Sweet Pea either.  But tolerated her.  Sweet Pea would lie in the hallway outside Ruth’s room, or sit under the table when Ruth was reading.

Pearl adored Sweet Pea. So, when the time came, the cat slept on her bed.

And just last week, Sweet Pea came to see Barbara, the lady who gently teased her with a stuffed dog named “Pup.”  Barbara would make barking sounds and wave Pup around to get Sweet Pea’s attention. About a week ago, Barbara, 95, became ill.  Sweet Pea crawled on Barbara’s bed when the time seemed right, and Barbara put her hand on Sweet Pea.  And that was the last thing she did.

With all five women, Sweet Pea knew what was about to happen and exactly when she needed to be there.  First LaVonne died, and Sweet Pea was there on the bed with her when she took her last breath, after holding vigil for several days.  Then Addie died, and Sweet Pea was there in the room on the chair.  Then Ruth died, and Sweet Pea was right outside the door in the hallway.  And when Pearl’s family gathered at her bedside for the last time, Sweet Pea was there with them.  And with Barbara, Sweet Pea started visiting regularly about a week before the night Barbara petted her for the last time.

It’s hard to explain, but after five times, it’s not a coincidence.  Sweet Pea knew.