My Iraqi Cat

Our chief conservator, Terry Drayman-Weisser, has returned from Iraq. She is the director of conservation and technical research, at the Walters Art Museum, and travels to Iraq to assist with conservation efforts there.

Anyone who knows me well will immediately suspect something amiss with this blog title. I am allergic to the touch of cats, and they usually don’t show any interest in me anyway, unless they are up-to-no-good. But not in Iraq.

Here is a love story: In the summer of 2011 I made my third trip to Erbil, Iraq to teach ivory preservation at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage. As usual, I arrived exhausted after a 13 hour overnight journey. As I entered Jessie’s (the academic director’s) house where I always stay, I discovered to my horror that a cat had taken up residence. Even though cats and I have never gotten along, I have always admired their mesmerizing beauty. But this cat was painfully thin except for its belly that was swollen with a protruding angry red seam laced with large dark stitches. I was determined to stay as far away as possible. And I did. But the next day Jessie asked if I would accompany her to the vet so the cat could get its stitches removed. What could I say? The cat was boxed up, we climbed into a taxi and headed for the vet.

This was an experience I will never forget! The vet’s “office” was a tiny, narrow garage open to the dusty street. When we arrived, the vet, wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts stood up and put on a white coat—a sort of conversion from mild-mannered Kurd to “SuperVet”. Jessie and I both became vet assistants, securing the wildly protesting cat during the procedure (I, of course wearing protective gloves). The cat received a nice water bowl from the vet for being such a good patient. I really think Jessie and I deserved a prize too. I was frazzled and unnerved by this experience, but much to my surprise, I also discovered that through our mutual adversity, Bree (pronounced like the soft white cheese) and I had bonded. For the rest of my stay, Bree watched over me, lying next to the computer on the table where I worked every evening.

I have just now returned from my fifth visit to Erbil. Bree has recovered remarkably through Jessie’s nurturing and is now as beautiful as a cat should be (I think more beautiful). I still can’t touch her, but Bree seems to understand that we have a special relationship. She will always be my first cat.