A Cat Confession

Last week I was ranting to my husband about needing to know the statistics on death by cat tripping at the top of the stairs.

This morning I got fired up again when one of the cats left a poop beside the litter box, because apparently the first of their twice-daily litter box scoopings was a touch too late for their liking.

Fellow pet lovers, rest assured: I still love my cats, care for them, and they are not going anywhere. I certainly don’t hate them, but I have to confess that post-baby, I’m not always feeling the crazy cat lady affection like I used to.

Taking care of a baby is a giant, time-consuming, energy-funneling undertaking. And some days, the cats seem like pushy, needy, messy things on my to-do list, instead of the joyful companions they have always been. I know it sounds horrible. But an outside-the-litter-box poop when you’ve just gotten the baby fed, changed, burped, and down to nap is spirit crushing. A cat incessantly head-butting you when you sit down to shove 5 bites of food in your mouth before the baby’s “mom is trying to eat” radar goes off can feel like an unwelcome interruption of the highest order. When a cat swerves under your feet for the 70th time that day, causing you to stumble and startle the baby you are clutching, I dare you not to feel at least a fleeting moment of rage. And the cat hair. My god, the cat hair! It’s one thing to lint roller yourself 5 times a day, but a whole other thing when you are rolling the baby, blankets, beds, carpets etc.

A quick Google search (and lots of personal anecdotes) suggest that these ugly feelings of post-parental pet annoyance are shockingly common. There are literally dozens of articles with titles like, “I used to love my cat and dog, then I had a baby”, “I had a baby and now my dog is driving me nuts” or, “My Cats Were My World Before I Had Kids, Now I Forget They Exist”. A common thread running  through each one, is some variation on the assertion that – at one time – the author’s pet was their baby. Not even like their baby. Their actual baby.

Lately, I can’t push away the uneasy feeling that maybe this is part of the problem. Pets are an amazing part of the home and of a family, but they are not children – nor, I reckon, should they be. But when we welcome pets into our home years (or decades) before kids enter the picture, we throw ourselves into caring for them, and about them, with a zealous passion. We do this because we can – because we have the time, money, energy and space to do so. In and of itself, it isn’t a problem. If you have the skill and the inclination, knock yourself out knitting your cat booties and cooking for your dog. Hell, set him a place setting at the dining room table. But if and when things need to change – whether because of a human addition to the family, financial hardship, or maybe an illness or injury – it’s okay to take them off the pedestal they probably didn’t need to be on in the first place.

The thing is, it’s going to feel like it’s not okay, because it’s such a downshift in the dynamic. When your pet gets demoted from beloved “fur baby” (honestly, is there a worse term?) to barely tolerated bum, you’re gonna feel guilty – and we all know moms specialize in guilt. A big problem for shelters and animal welfare organizations is that at this point, some people begin to feel like they are better to give up their animal than to provide it with what they perceive as second-rate care. Rescue organizations point out that in most cases, this is misguided and the animal is just fine in its current home. We don’t need to surrender our pets just because we can’t keep them in the (spoiled?) lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. We might if there is an allergy or aggression issue, but that is an entirely different scenario.

Now….I began writing this 2 months ago (so when I said “last night” and “this morning” at the top of the post, it was a bit of a fib). Sidebar: Did you know that Stephen King wrote all 200,000 or so words of The Shining in around 4 weeks? Yes, I feel sufficiently inadequate. WHATEVER, he also did a ton of cocaine at the time. ANYWAYS, the interesting thing is that my attitude has already started to come around. I feel less overwhelmed and irritated by them now and Sloane is starting to enjoy them as well, which totally helps. So if you’re in the thick of this situation now, I’d say give it some time. Like most things with a newborn, it won’t be this crazy forever.

We have to get some perspective and realize that it’s okay to let some things slide without feeling too bad about it. Especially when you have a helpless little human and your own mental health to worry about first and foremost. At the worst of it, our cats were still getting great food, good care, warm shelter, brushing and had treats and toys. They just weren’t getting unlimited attention and their picture uploaded daily to instagram. This is unquestionably better than the life they would have had on the street or in a shelter.

One day when your baby can’t stop giggling at your cat, you just might start to feel it again too, and the cat will have a whole new servant to recruit onto its staff.

PS – Kim, if you’re reading this, I’m not gonna keep posting in time for your morning coffee if you don’t text me gushing compliments every time. Just FYI.

Gemma the big ol’ baby

Ours is a two cat household, but one of them is new(ish) on the scene. In the beginning, there was Twitchy and Molly–a brother and sister from the same litter way back in 2002. I met them the day they were born and knew their mommy well. They came to live with me when they were just tiny kitties (as soon as they were old enough to leave mom). As you know, Twitchy is black, white and grey and Molly was a pale ginger. They were besties who loved to snuggle each other.

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Molly & Twitchy, 2011

But in October of 2013, Molly started drinking (and peeing) a ridiculous amount (like, gallons) and I just knew it was diabetes. Unfortunately, I was right. But we learned how to give her twice-daily insulin shots and started her on a grain-free, low-carb wet food diet. She improved for a while, but then even though the diabetes was being well-controlled, one thing after another started to go wrong. She had bouts of pancreatitis, arthritis, and eventually kidney problems. Towards the end, she was becoming so bedraggled, she didn’t even look like herself and she was clearly not enjoying herself either. She started to have trouble jumping up on the couch, she peed in my bed a couple of times and she was living with her head in her water bowl. It was heartbreaking.

In late June, 2014, we booked a Vets To Go appointment to have a vet come to our house and put her to sleep. We made salmon, fettucine alfredo and shrimp cocktail for her last supper. We watched The Aristocats and I slept downstairs on the couch with both cats, because I am crazy and oh my god, this is turning into a long, sad tale. The next day at noon I held her while the vet gave her two shots and she drifted off with Twitchy and Andrew next to her. Okay there, the worst part is over.

I didn’t lose my cool until afterwards when the vet gave us some time alone with her before the “Pet Heaven” person came to take her away. In all seriousness, I count this among my proudest accomplishments. I didn’t want to let her go, but I really didn’t want her in any more pain. And then I read something a vet had written about deciding when it’s time to let go that really hit home, it was something like, “even weeks too early is far better than an hour too late.” I really didn’t want to leave it so long that she’d suffer and I’d be cornered into a panicky decision and horrible final memories…so I made the decision to put her down. I wanted to be there for her when she went…but I knew I couldn’t do that if I was upset and, in turn, making her upset, so I stayed strong for her. And if you stay with me, I promise I’m getting to the point of this post…

It was hard on all of us, including Twitchy who was especially sad and lost without his lifelong buddy. We all needed time to get used to life without Molly, but Twitchy never really seemed to adjust to being a single cat. He sad-meowed us to death and was really insecure. So in March, 2015, we decided to adopt him a new friend. We wanted to give a good home to a slightly older cat who was probably less desirable on the adoption scale, but still young enough to bring some friskiness to the household. We went in to look at a cat who was supposed to be a good match, but ended up not being terribly interested in us, and then they mentioned a new arrival that we could also meet. A little orange girl they called Gems. They had me at orange. She was super sweet and very nicely asked to come home with us.

She was very nervous at first and hid under the couch a lot. She was hesitant to explore her surroundings and there was a bit of hissing and swatting on both parts, but nothing major. Mostly, she was just timid and reserved. She liked attention, but on her own terms, in small doses and with no sudden movements or loud noises. She’d been through the system..and she was jaded.

8 months later, she’s gone totally soft. Constant head-butts, climbing all over us, glued to my side, flopping onto her back demanding unending belly rubs. Sometimes she flops so hard you can hear it: floomp, LOVE ME! And in the last couple of months especially, it’s been absolutely unreal what a big sucky baby she has turned into.

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Love me.

I wonder if it’s just that she’s finally totally comfortable and secure in her new forever home, or if the pregnancy hormones have anything to do with it. Maybe all that extra estrogen is permeating our whole home ? Lucky Andrew.

After all, the shit monsters’ behaviour was actually one of the reasons I peed on a stick in the first place. Twitchy, in particular, became infatuated with my belly very early on. I hope they’ll forgive me for saying this, but it wouldn’t have surprised me from a dog, but I wasn’t sure cats would sense anything. Yet, there was Mr. T, lying horizontally across my stomach and kneading…and licking…and kneading…and rubbing his face on it like I was filled with catnip. Gemma wasn’t quite as enthusiastic early on, but now I wonder…has she realized she’s about to be a middle child and is milking her last days as the baby of the house for all they’re worth?