I got my first pets when I was a single working adult. Two cats, who had lived with a family, whose youngest daughter developed an allergy to them. The cats came to me when they were 10 years old, or as my husband said, when their warranty had officially run out. Six months later, I took in a Lilac Point Siamese stray.
And, just like that, I became a cat lady. I couldn’t believe it took me 30 years to discover such a deep and penetrating love for the animals. I let them sleep with me, lie on my work papers, and I boiled their water before pouring it in their water dish. Two of those cats would get seriously ill before they died, and I spent more money on them than I have on any other thing with the exception of my house. I have no regrets about this.
The stray was given six months to live and survived for almost two and a half years before the incurable cancer returned. We called him our miracle cat. He could be taken outside for walks like a dog, and we’re quite sure he thought he was human. He wasn’t a great cat as far as stealth goes – he used to fall off the window ledge about our bed in the middle of the night and give me a heart attack. Or I’d dream of suffocating and wake with his rump covering my nose. He was an insatiable snuggler, and as soon as my baby arrived, quickly took advantage of the additional warm body.
At the end, he spared me some effort by passing away in the night under the dining table, where I had put next to him some water I knew he wouldn’t drink and a blanket I knew wouldn’t comfort him. When I called the vet the next morning to cancel our appointment, I sobbed. This shocked me, but not the vet. He waited, he knew.
The tabby was a big old cat that was once the runt of the litter. I think that’s what made him so skittish, in spite of his size. But he was loving and warm to those he knew, and he also would tolerate significant provocation to get some love. My second son would ride him like a horse, and he accepted this with as much grace as a cat can muster.
When it was time for him to go, he curled up in my kids’ bottom dresser drawer one last time. And my second son, the cowboy, then two years old, ignored me and went to the cat’s body, staying with it, and stroking it ever so gently, again and again.
We are now without cats. I won’t lie to you. I’m glad I don’t have to clean up after the tabby who, in his last years, would pee on everything. I’m glad he’s not adding to the wake-up counts in the nights, when babies were doing well on that front without felime reinforcement. The truth is, I can sometimes barely take care of the children.
There’s also virtue in knowing one’s limits and in saying no. When I suggested volunteering at the Humane Society with one of the kids, my husband warned me not to come home with an animal. I considered this and, recognizing what I can and cannot do, declined to volunteer.
But in the end, yes is so much nicer than no, so much kinder, and it’s coming. There’s a part of me that can’t wait to have animals again, regardless of how complicated and painful. I’ve got one eye on the black hunter who sleeps on our front porch chairs, the neighbour’s outdoor cat. I wonder if we should build a box with a blanket so he’ll be more comfortable in the winter. It’s hard not to invite him in. I may ask the neighbour someday if we can.
Because how long can a cat lady be without a cat anyway? And for that matter, a cat lady who is almost certainly a dog lady given half the chance? I’m going to focus on raising small children while I need to, enjoy my (relative) freedom as long as it lasts, and then I’m going to invite as much animal love as I can back into my arms, which are patiently waiting.