The other night on my way home, I heard an interview on BBC Radio with author Louise Booth about her new book, When Fraser Met Billy. Fraser is a young boy who was diagnosed with Autism when he was only 18 months old; he is also Louise’s son. Billy is the family pet, and the book is the age old story of a boy and his… cat.
As I listened to the program, I was definitely surprised to learn that Billy is of the feline persuasion. Typically when I think of therapy animals, the first thing that comes to my mind is a dog. Human-canine bonding is its own field of study, whereas human-feline bonding is sort of lumped in with general animal therapy.
Booth explained that she knew Fraser was having problems very early on; the emotional meltdowns and the tantrums she described would make any parent desperate for a solution. When Booth got the diagnosis, she was relieved because, as she explains in this video from her publisher, she knew finally understood the cause of Fraser's behaviors and could seek help.
When the family decided that Fraser might benefit from a companion of the four-legged variety, they went to their local shelter. The staff at the cat protection shelter knew Billy would be a good fit. The rescue cat was bold and didn't scare easily, so it was unlikely that Fraser’s tantrums would upset him—and they didn't. From that first encounter, the two were inseparable. In the interview Booth mentioned two major obstacles that Billy helped Fraser overcome: his strong dislike of bath time (Fraser hated water on his face and everything else associated with it—he would throw such a tantrum that he would turn beet red) and his difficulty with stairs (Fraser also had some physical disabilities and stairs were difficult for him, but Billy helped him tackle them one at a time). Just the vibration of Billy’s breathing can apparently calm Fraser.
Booth is not under the impression that Billy is a magical cat; while Billy is special, he’s “not a one-off,” and that’s one of the reasons she wrote the book. She acknowledged that dogs are normally cast in this roll, but she wants readers to be aware that cats are more than capable as well. She also wants other mothers like her to know that there is someone who has already gone through this and that there is help to be had—perhaps it even purrs.