"Let's Talk About Cats" Podcast Shines Light On Mental Support From Feline Friends

By Paul Gaita 10/07/19

The show uses people's often hilarious shared experience as cat owners as a way to help them talk about "the toughest and darkest parts of our lives."

Image: 
Mary Phillips-Sandy host of "Let's Talk About Cats"
photo credit: Jonsar studios 2019

With recent studies showing that cats do form connections with humans, a new podcast aims to highlight how cats can help us bond with not only others, but with ourselves, and help us tap into those personal and even painful places that need support and self-care.

Let's Talk About Cats, which recently launched its second season, features conversations between its host, writer/producer and "noted cat lady" Mary Phillips-Sandy, and a diverse array of cat owners, including The Daily Show correspondent Dulcé Sloan and actor/author Alexandra Silber, about how their cats have impacted their lives and emotional well-being. 

It's a subject that Phillips-Sandy knows intimately: she weathered debilitating postpartum depression with the help of her own cat, Grendel, who is often the subject of conversation on the podcast.

Phillips-Sandy, who grew up living with both cats and dogs, initially conceived the idea for the podcast in 2014 after finding that talking about cats could be a "great equalizer" when meeting people for the first time.

"Anyone who has a cat knows that moment when you're at a party, and someone says, 'My cat did the most hilarious thing,' and then everyone has their phones out and showing pictures of their cats," she tells The Fix. "You feel this sense of camaraderie with people you've never met before, and more importantly, that you might have nothing else in common with."

"I Was Hanging On By A Thread"

That phenomenon led her to consider the idea of a program in which cats might serve as a means to "get to know someone in a very gentle, personal way that could then open the door to all sorts of things." But then, as Phillips-Sandy puts it, "I lost my mind."

Phillips-Sandy suffered from a debilitating case of depression, both before and after the birth of her son, that left her (on some days) unable to get out of bed, which in turn led to her leaving her job and cutting herself off from friends, while also caring for her son.

Adding further injury to the experience was the death of a cat that she had owned for many years. Its passing was traumatic, but also allowed her a moment to reflect on their shared experiences and emotions. "There was a chance to feel connected to and loved by him," she recalls.

Grendel Comes Home

In the midst of this personal chaos, Phillips-Sandy rescued a feral kitten that she named Grendel. The cat provided her with support and companionship at a crucial time. "I was hanging on by a thread," she says.

So when Phillips-Sandy returned to the idea of the podcast in 2018, she and producing partner Lizzie Jacobs began to revise the podcast from a "straight-up comedy sort of thing," as she called it, to using the shared experience of cat ownership to talk about "the toughest and darkest parts of our lives, whether that's grief or loss or addiction or mental illness, and how we get through them and keep living through them. I don’t know if I'd wanted to do that had I not been through that time."

Phillips-Sandy knows that for some people, the idea of receiving emotional support from a cat flies in the face of accepted notions about the animals as aloof and distant. But, she notes, cats do provide unconditional love, just as dogs are often credited as doing, although in a different way.

"There is something about the love you get from a cat because of the sense of having earned it," she explains. "I know my cat loves me unconditionally, and I know I've earned it, but I also know she accepts me for who I am [because] they accept who they are so unconditionally." 

Equally important are the moments of mindfulness that a cat can provide simply through its physical presence.

"Every morning, she'll come and sit by me, and it's a little moment for me to start my day by petting her and thinking about nothing at all," she says. "It's probably one of the only moments in the day in which my mind is not racing in some way or nothing is happening. And that makes it easier when I don't want to get out of bed. It gives you that little boost to say, 'You know what? I can deal with it.'"

Positive Response

Response to Cats has been positive, and some listeners have reached out to Phillips-Sandy to let her know how it's impacted their lives.

"What people tell us is that we are talking about a relationship with a cat in a way that they've always felt," she says. "It's a comedy, and there's a lot that's funny, but being able to talk about heavy stuff, people have said that it helps them feel understood."

The second season of Let's Talk About Cats can be heard via Apple, Stitcher, Google, Spotify, and streamed via the show's website.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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