Long before Robert Redford played horse whisperer Tom Booker and Cesar Milan and Jackson Galaxy had television programs, there was Carole Wilbourn, a cat therapist who has treated more than 15,000 felines across the globe. Along with her veterinarian ex-husband, Wilbourn co-founded in 1973 New York City’s first hospital devoted exclusively to cats—still in operation today. When she’s not writing books (she’s authored six books on cat psychology), Wilbourn takes appointments in Manhattan and has founded The Wilbourn Way, a therapeutic technique used on unsettled, traumatized cats that encourages a family approach to solving the behavioral issues. We caught up with Wilbourn to discuss her career and why she went vegan.
VegNews: What made you decide to go into cat therapy?
Carole Wilbourn: Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there were dog trainers and people behaviorists, but there were no practitioners dedicated to helping cats. I earned a degree in psychology from New York University and applied what I learned there about human emotions and behaviors to what I knew, and was continually learning, about felines.
VN: How did The Wilbourn Way begin?
CW: Years ago I incorporated reiki (a healing technique in which a therapist can channel energy into a being by touch) into my practice to achieve even better results. When touch isn’t possible, distant reiki is used.
VN: Describe a typical appointment with your cat clients.
CW: To prepare for the appointment, I contact the guardian and learn about the problem or complaint and get basic information. I communicate with the guardian via phone, text, or email—whatever their preference is. I encourage guardians to feed the cat before the appointment. On the day of the appointment, I enter the home in a calm, relaxed manner (this is where my Reiki training is useful). I then play a special type of music that is very appealing and calming to the cat. I bring toys and a special catnip that I have carefully selected for the cat. The idea is to appeal to all of the senses: hearing, touch, taste, sight, and scent. This is a brief overview of a typical appointment—each appointment varies.
VN: Why did you decide to become vegan?
CW: It didn’t happen in one day—it’s been a gradual journey. In the 1960s I volunteered for Friends of Animals. I vividly remember a campaign they did around that time that depicted how animals were inhumanely slaughtered for food. That campaign was the catalyst.
VN: Is there a connection between your diet and work?
CW: Years ago, around the time I first changed my diet, my thought process was so naïve. I thought that if animals were killed for food in a humane fashion, it was okay to eat them. The more I worked with animals the more I realized that way of thinking was way off—they shouldn’t be killed for food, period. Felines, and all animals, are such highly intelligent beings, and it pains me that they’re still killed for human consumption.
VN: What do you like to eat?
CW: I love a simple bowl of steel cut oatmeal topped with fresh, seasonal fruit, but my favorite is a delicious entrée of mushrooms, figs, and basil.
VN: Any upcoming projects?
CW: I am working on my seventh book, which will be more of a narrative. My other books are about cat psychology. I am also planning several cat wellness sessions on board cruise ships to Key West, FL. The sessions will be for cat lovers and for those interested in learning about the history of cats, the role they once played on-board shipping vessels that sailed back and forth between America and Europe, and the famous Ernest Hemingway cats that live in Key West, the cruise ship’s final destination.
VN: Why cats?
CW: I’ve been fortunate to do exactly what I love doing, which is to help cats live better lives and educate people about the psychology of cats. A happy cat makes me a very happy person. I help people help cats, and the cats in turn help the people.
Erin Goldmeier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Radar Online, PETA Prime, and The Virgin Atlantic Airways blog.