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He was long and gray and sleek, I met him in his middle years.  I was learning to communicate with animals and every situation was an experiment.

An only child at the start, eventually Leo was blessed with two cat siblings and that was where the trouble came in.  Not that he disliked them, mostly they got along fine.  But he’d fallen into a troubling depression and his person was at a loss.  Everything checked out–I liked knowing that the vet had recently and thoroughly vetted–and nothing was physically amiss, but Leo just wasn’t his cat self and meanwhile the weeks had stretched into months.

I visited him in a sun-drenched office space, languishing on a faux sheepskin atop the filing cabinet.  An individual of some dignity, he wasn’t going to be the life of the party or press himself upon you but clearly he had a good strong presence.  I could see that he was suppressing something and it was causing his trouble.

Now, when you entered the house the two younger siblings would come to the door for the purposes of greeting and admiration.   A certain amount of time and attention was given to toy demonstrations and youthful tricks.  If you walked from the front door back to the family room, you passed a mantle decorated with pictures of the two and while you walked, you might be regaled with one story or another of the youngsters’ exploits.

So truthfully if you hadn’t known they had three cats .  .  .

By the time I met Leo I knew that he had wound up on the back burner, but not because his people were neglectful or unloving.  Quite the opposite.  So what was happening?

It came to me in impressions.  As the first “child” he had been the crown prince, the focal point.  Because of his dignified manner and natural sense of responsibility he had put himself in charge of his people and their space, and he took tremendous pride in caring for them.  Along came the youngsters; everyone became taken up with them, and as time went on he wondered if anyone even noticed anymore, how hardworking and responsible he was.

“Leo’s the patriarch,” I told his person.  “He’s like a king, really, and the two of you were his loyal subjects.  Then the siblings came along, and not only are they taking all the attention just because they’re young and cute and silly, but to make matters worse, there are photographs of them in prominent places in the house but none of Leo!”   Now she started looking around and I could see she was actually sort of surprised.

“Well,” she began–

“It’s okay!” I said.  “It’s not that he wants to be immortalized on film, or have some big shrine.  He just needs to know that you recognize all his hard work and that you still see him as the patriarch.  He gave himself that job and he’s very proud of it.”

That was a good day.  While we talked he relaxed right in front of us.  By the time I left the room he was sprawled out with various parts dangling off the cabinet and a peaceful expression.  All Leo needed was to tell his story.

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