Living with autism has real challenges for six-year-old Marnie, but the arrival of a feline friend has made the world of difference.
Five-year-old Marnie Quince was having a tough time at school. Her autism meant that she was finding it difficult to make friends so she was becoming more and more isolated. Her mainstream school was struggling to meet her needs and she would often be sent home early, unhappy or in tears.
“Marnie was having such a hard time,” says mum, Nissa, of King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. “It was really upsetting. We had had cats previously and I thought getting a new furry friend might help lift Marnie’s spirits, but I didn’t for one second think it would transform our lives.”
Domino the cat is now Marnie’s constant companion. She follows her from room to room, cuddles up to her, knows how to cheer her up when she’s down — and has put a smile back on Marnie’s face.
Nissa and Marnie had gone to Cats Protection’s Downham Market Adoption Centre in April 2019 with an open mind about what sort of cat they would like. They asked staff for advice about which of the animals that needed rehoming would fit in with their lifestyle and would be happy to get cuddles from Marnie.
It was love at first sight when Marnie saw black-and-white Domino. “I think Domino fell in love with Marnie immediately too, as she came running out meowing and looking for fusses,” said Nissa. “She wasn’t scared of Marnie at all and kept coming back to her. Marnie loved her markings that looked like a little white moustache.
“There was no contest that we’d found the perfect addition to our little family.”
Since that day, the pair’s bond has grown deeper and deeper and Domino has transformed Marnie’s life. Nissa says that Domino seems to instinctively know how to help Marnie, whose autism can mean that she can get upset easily. “Sometimes things can turn into meltdowns — where she’s very upset or angry — but Domino is by her side every time, wanting to offer comfort or just a friendly face nearby. Stroking Domino really comforts Marnie in times like this, they really are best friends.”
A CONSTANT COMFORT
Nissa said that recently Marnie had had a headache and was very upset about it. Domino stayed next to her the whole time and when Marnie had fallen asleep, the cat sat above Marnie’s head and licked her forehead. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Nissa. “Domino seemed to understand her pain and wanted to help.”
School continued to be hard for Marnie and she relied on Domino more and more for companionship and cuddles. “Marnie’s confidence dropped so low that she would not want to leave the house. She used to love to go to parks or soft play or swimming but she was too unhappy. All she wanted to do was be with Domino.”
Without any funding for one-to-one teaching, the decision was made to look for a new school that could fully cater to Marnie’s emotional and academic needs. Unfortunately, after finding the perfect place, Nissa was told the school was full and had to spend months appealing in the hope of getting a place.
“During this time, it was always Domino there with Marnie; they played together; read stories together. Wherever one was, you’d find the other. Whenever Marnie left school her first question was always was Domino at home or had she gone out.
“Even if Domino was out, she’d always be at the door waiting for us to get home.
“I am genuinely not sure if Marnie would’ve got through that time if it wasn’t for Domino.”
Marnie’s autism means that as well as struggling with social interaction and making friends, she is prone to anxiety and worries about everything. She has many sensory issues and struggles with loud noises and crowded places, often wearing her ear defenders when out and about.
Marnie, now six, also had problems with sleep and hadn’t slept through the night until Domino came along and helped with Marnie’s bedtime routine. Nissa says:
“Part of Marnie’s autism means she doesn’t sleep very well and struggles to get to sleep and get up for school in the morning. At night time, Domino comes into Marnie’s bedroom to sleep and this helps Marnie understand that it is bedtime.”
Despite Marnie’s struggles, her philosophy is to be kind to everyone. She is very caring and particularly loves all animals. Like other little girls, she loves to play with her toys, especially making things and loves to read and learn anything new. Nissa said: “She is truly beautiful inside and out, despite some of the struggles she has faced.”