Pet Therapy with
In her book In "Search of Cleo", the actress describes the months-long search
for her missing cat in which she found adventure and a bit of herself.
by Allan Richter
About 10 years ago, the actress Gina Gershon left her beloved cat Cleo in the care of her assistant. In Gershon’s absence, the assistant brought Cleo to a dog groomer. To no one’s surprise, Cleo fled at the first sign of barking dogs, putting Gershon on a months-long search for her cat in the Los Angeles streets around where Cleo was last seen.
Gershon took pen to paper and put the escapade in writing. The result is her new book The Search for Cleo (Gotham), a tale that is part Wizard of Oz for the colorful cast of characters Gershon meets along the way and part shamanic anthropologist Carlos Castaneda for the mystical turns Gershon’s journey took. Most of all, it is a wholehearted endorsement of pet therapy.
The loss of Gershon’s cat came after a string of tragedies in the actress’ life. Gershon, a versatile performer known in Hollywood for her sexy portrayals in the movies “Bound” and “Showgirls,” and for her comic appearance in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was still deeply pained by the death of her father years earlier when her uncle Jack died unexpectedly. That loss was quickly followed by the death of Gershon’s dear friend Ted Demme of a heart attack.
“I literally, at times, was having a hard time breathing,” Gershon writes in The Search for Cleo. “I spent long, endless nights with only Cleo and the darkness, trying to fend off the unbearable, terrible anguish. Cleo would lay on my chest, over my heart, and lick my wounds, and oddly enough, it helped. And now Cleo was gone, too. Cleo, the only remaining piece of my heart that was still intact, was wandering somewhere, lost in the streets of L.A. I had no choice but to find him.”
Gershon spoke with us in New York, where she lives, about the search for Cleo and the life lessons she learned in the process.
Energy Times: In your book, you seem to indicate that exercise and diet are a chore. Reflecting on your childhood, you write, “It was an innocent time. A time when I used to swim or ride my bike simply because it was fun, not because it was exercise. When I ate a banana because I liked the
taste and texture, not because it was ‘potassium.’”
Gina Gershon: I was a very active kid, and I wish I was still that active. I hate exercise to be honest, but I like yoga. It’s not really about the kind of yoga I do, it’s really the teacher. There are certain teachers I really love, and I’ll do all kinds of yoga, but more vinyasa, or flow, yoga. I’ve been doing it for many years. I don’t like the hot yoga. I tried it but it always smells in the room. I also like riding my bike and skiing. I like active things, but going to a gym is not really my thing. It’s forced.
You’re not really aware of exercise and diet when you’re young. I just liked bananas. I didn’t know what potassium was. I liked them frozen with chocolate on them, and I still do.
But I’m trying to be healthier. I’m a little bit of a sugar junkie so I’m trying to wean myself off of that. I eat a lot of protein and I’m trying to eat more vegetables. I’m trying to juice more and to drink less coffee. I eat a lot of meat and salads and way too many chocolate chip cookies. I’m a dark chocolate fanatic, but that’s good for you. I love it.
ET: We’re running a story package on salt in this issue. Do you try to keep an eye on how much salt you eat?
GG: I’m not a big salt person. I’m more of a sweet person. I don’t use a lot of salt. If I do I try to use the big chunky kind, although I do love salt on dark chocolate.
ET: At one point during your search for Cleo, you used a more natural approach—creative visualization—than taking a sleeping pill to help calm your nerves and get yourself to sleep. Have you employed creative visualization—for sleep or for general relaxation—since then?
GG: I sometimes try it. It’s a very relaxing technique. It’s good to think positively, especially if your brain is involved in creative chatter. Why not slip it in and think positive thoughts and about what you want to make happen instead of letting the demons take over your brain, which just brings anxiety and, who knows, maybe makes the negative happen. I’m a big believer in positive thinking.
ET: You really show the strong connection between people and animals. It’s a powerful testament to pet therapy.
GG: I would have looked for the cat probably no matter what, but I was in such a vulnerable and fragile state that Cleo was basically my heart. He was everything to me at that moment. I think I probably went even further than I normally would because I was sad, deeply sad. He was my anchor. He was keeping me grounded and giving me love. He was my crying pillow.
ET: How is Cleo doing now?
GG: He’s good. He’s spoiled. He’s getting older, but he’s running the house. He’s going to be 15. We just moved so now he’s making sure he’s the head of everything and in charge.
ET: What do you do to take care of Cleo regarding his diet, besides the tuna mentioned in the book?
GG: I don’t give him the tuna anymore. Cats, especially males, when they get older you can’t because of their kidneys. It’s not something they can process when they’re older. He would love it, but he just can’t handle it.
I give him organic food—salmon and chicken. I try to give him fresh food whenever I can. For some reason, whenever I eat Chinese food he’s obsessed with it. Whatever I’m eating he wants to eat. Usually, if the food I give him is canned, it’s very clean, organic food. And he eats a lot.
ET: What did you learn from this experience of losing Cleo?
GG: I learned about compassion, about not being judgmental. I met so many interesting people that I don’t think I would have spoken to otherwise. You know, “Oh, that guy’s really weird. Stay away from him.” But those people ended up being the greatest people you could meet. It surprised me how nice people were.
You just never know what people are about until you speak to them and experience them for yourself. There were definitely a lot of people who were trying to make a buck and who were charlatans, but there was also a lot of humanity that I found that surprised me.
I also really learned to trust. I do think there is an order to the universe that we don’t quite understand sometimes. Sometimes weird things happen. “Why am I going through a bad spell?” Things happen and you’re not sure why. And maybe you don’t know until later on, but hopefully they make sense at some point. You could see what you learn from it, when good or bad things happen.
You just have to take whatever good you can out of a bad situation or learn from it. Hopefully it all makes sense and adds to the texture of your soul and who you are. You have to embrace and learn from a painful experience instead of shutting your eyes to it.
ET: Do you think this experience taught you more about self-reliance? Did you surprise yourself at how strong you were in terms of how you persevered?
GG: At the time it didn’t seem that way. But looking back it was kind of nuts, getting up at 4:30 every morning, going to strange people’s houses. If you’re trying to save someone you love or searching for love or something that’s bigger than you, you can do things that surprise yourself. I think people rise to the occasion, depending on their emotional attachment.
ET: You’ve succeeded as an actress, a musician and now as an author. Which is the most therapeutic?
GG: All of them. I always get something out of my work. They’re all different sides of the same coin. It’s all therapeutic and healthy. I really enjoy mixing it up, and I think one thing informs the other. Playing music made me a better actress. I’m not sure yet what writing has done. Maybe it’s more introspective.
Any artist is lucky because when bad things happen at least you can write a song about the experience or put it in a book or you can use it in your acting. It’s important to do something with it so it doesn’t eat away at you. Hopefully you learn and can help others with it.
ET: What do you suggest for people who don’t have those artistic outlets to fall back on?
GG: Reading a book by someone who has gone through similar experiences always helps. I love the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness [published by Riverhead Books/Penguin]. There’s this story in the book that talks about a woman who lost someone very close to her. She says, “How can I get over this? I can’t get over this.” And the Dalai Lama told her, “Speak to everyone in your village. Then you’ll get the answer.” So she would talk to the neighbor, and the neighbor would say, “Oh, don’t talk to me about that. I just lost my son and I’m miserable.” The next person she talks to says, “My sister is so sick and she’s dying.”
The woman realized that everyone she spoke to is going through what she was going through on some level. It’s a help to know that you’re not alone and to talk with people who are going through similar situations. It’s important to not keep things bottled up.
ET: Diehard cat people typically have no room for dogs in their lives and vice versa. Yet you owned at least one dog along with a duck named Harry the Third.
GG: I love all animals. I even love snakes. I don’t love possums. They freak me out. They seem like the animal from hell. Maybe they’re really nice, I don’t know, they just scare me. Other than that I love all animals.