I am over 50, and my entire life I have been surrounded by cats. I don’t question it any longer ÔÇô- I have an intuitive relationship with these creatures and somehow they seem to find me, or I them, for whatever reason. The majority of cats in my life came to me that way -ÔÇô a skin-and-bones black cat found along a rural roadside one night; a litter of weeks-old kittens found in the bottom of a dry well during a cold winter day in Connecticut, abandoned by their mother and moments away from death; and another cat who just appeared in my driveway. I have always had four to seven cats, often with an odd assortment of dogs, rabbits, fish, and guinea pigs.
One might think I was an expert in cats, and that I would be informed enough to prevent a litter of kittens from happening — especially with literally millions of cats in shelters and on the streets. But truth be told, I really knew very little about cats at all, especially when it came to the topic of feline conception. But as it turns out, an unexpected litter of kittens after a difficult time in my life in 2009 taught me numerous lessons and inspired me to write The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey ÔÇô- A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary, a book about my current gang of seven cats. My life has changed dramatically since then.
Most of my life, I was otherwise occupied -ÔÇô a marriage at an early age and children who kept me busy, numerous full-time jobs, an eventual divorce, and then struggling to raise my boys as a single parent. I had no idea how much information existed on cat care, on topics like whether to vaccinate or not, raw food diets, and the importance of raised food-dishes.
Being a devout cat lover, it seemed absurd to think I did not know everything there was to know about them. I was the resident cat expert with my family, friends, and co-workers. My dealings with cats was simple: I took the best care of them that I could and loved them with all my heart. This was based primarily on intuition, common sense, and whatever knowledge I had garnered through years of vet trips.
As far as spaying and neutering, I knew it was important, but I did not know a female cat could get pregnant before she’s a year old. Neutering was a way to avoid male cats spraying the furniture, and spaying was not only to avoid pregnancy for females, but for anyone who has witnessed a cat in heat, it was a survival mechanism to sanity.
I had no clue that a cat was healthier because of sterilization — happier yes, but healthier, I did not know. I never considered myself a bad pet owner, so it was odd to think that my book — which I wrote to share a heartfelt and inspirational story about my family of cats, which included a litter of kittens — could become fodder for some serious issues about my life that I’d never even considered, and that it left me wide open to judgment and criticism.
Here’s the short version: The two stars of the book — my male Maine Coon, Zee, and my female Bengal, Zoey — became part of my family several years ago and bonded unlike any pair of cats I had ever known. They were inseparable and fell madly in love with one another at a young age. I had every intention of spaying and neutering them, but I didn’t do it in time, and a litter of kittens resulted. Why? Because I was under the misconception that a female cat had to be at least a year old before she could become pregnant. Truth is, a female cat can become pregnant as young as four months, and Zoey was about 11 months.
Sometimes when life throws you a curve, it’s for reasons you don’t understand at the moment. I took responsibility for Zoey’s kittens and kept three of them. I gave the fourth to a dear friend. The memory of sharing the pregnancy and birth of the kittens with Zoey is one I will never forget. It was a gift beyond words. As a result of the kittens, I wrote the book, and as a result of the book, I started blogging. By blogging, I became immersed in a new circle of friends and peers through social networking — and quickly I learned that I knew very little about cats at all. And I realized that there were probably a lot of other people out there who were just as uninformed and had the same misconceptions I had.
I can’t change what happened, nor will I apologize for it. This is my life, and I am doing the best I can. My cats have brought me incredible joy, and this litter of kittens came to me for a greater purpose. I have changed as a person, and because of them I am fully committed to making the world a better place for cats. It is precisely because of my misconceptions and lack of knowledge that I feel I can help educate the people who, like me, can learn to become better-informed and more responsible pet owners.
I am now part of a nonprofit rescue organization called Pawsitively Humane, and to say that my eyes have been opened to the severe and serious plight of cat overpopulation would be an understatement. I have won awards for posts I have written on the subject and have an article coming this April in Cat Fancy magazine on spaying and neutering.
Also, I am proud to welcome the newest feline member of our family, Kizmet, who is now my little furry ambassador to help encourage others to adopt.
Deborah Barnes lives in Florida and is the author of the book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey ÔÇô- A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary. She is the creator of the award-winning blog Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection, which covers the everyday journey she shares with her cats as well as cat-related topics humorous and serious.