“Guess what, Louise? I think I’m going to get a cat!”
That’s what a friend of mine told me the other day. I know I was supposed to get all excited and chatty, the way I’ve observed human beings do when they talk, for example, about baby clothes and the like, but I felt my whole being clench a little.
“Oh.” Long pause. “Are you?” Another long pause. “Why?”
My pal, an otherwise sweet if not daffy woman, with a solid but very busy career and good intentions, launched into a scattered diatribe about being lonely, wanting a pet “but a dog is too high maintenance” (cue eye-roll, fist pounding, hair pulling, etc.), and something about seeing a flier for “Kittens for Sale” up at work.
As cat people, I’m sure we’ve all heard this before, and bristled accordingly.
“I love the idea of a sweet little kitty to snuggle up with at night. I need something low maintenance. And I’m so lonely since [boyfriend] moved out, it would be my little baby!” She went on to drop, “Until I have a real baby, I’ll have a fur baby!”
I listened to this part of the conversation with a mixture of anger and judgement. Not for the loneliness, not for the lack of boyfriend, but the “thing” and “it” and “real baby” remarks. I really try not to be a judgmental friend, but my sense of “THIS IS EFFED UP” was all but popping out my eyeballs.
How many times has this happened to you? You have the reputation as “the cat person” and everyone expects you to be all catnip and kibble when someone decides to get a cat. Sometimes that person is a worthy pet parent, and there have been many people I’ve happily helped adopt a cat who needs a good home. If my kitty-senses are tingling, and I know this person is willing to put in the work and care needed to give a cat a good home, I’ll do anything I can do to make sure kitty and kitty-parent are well-equipped.
But. Very often a person watches enough “cats squeezing into boxes” videos on YouTube, and they think, “Well, that looks like fun!” and before you know it they are up to their scratched up ears in hairballs and vet bills — if the cat is lucky. In such a case I have zero sympathy for the unwitting “owner,” but instead start formulating an escape plan for the unfortunate feline.
No matter how many times I run into this I just don’t get it. While working in a pet store, I met quite a few new cat parents who would come into the store completely ill-prepared.
“How old is your new cat?”
“Uh, two months? Five months? It’s really small.”
“Okay … where did you get the cat?”
“This guy, his cat had kittens. I got one.”
“What’s the cat eating right now?”
“I gave it some kibble from the store and some table scraps. But it won’t eat now.”
I’d show the person some cat food and supplements for their kitten, but often they’d balk at the price. “Do you have something that costs less? I mean, it’s a CAT.”
And on and on it would go. Don’t get me wrong, countless caring cat parents walked into the store, but I couldn’t help but notice the growing number of unfit parents who get a pet — cat or dog — and think the poor creature will be a fun diversion for either them or their child. Don’t even get me started on cats as gifts.
“I mean, it’s a CAT.” That’s the root of the problem, isn’t it? Yes, “it” is a cat. A cat who needs at the very least food and water, but so much more. Socialization, stimulation, love, comfort, vet care — I don’t need to go on and on for you. As much as a person may think it’s fun to have a cat for company and comfort, I am appalled by how easy it is for people to forget that a cat — a living, breathing being with character and needs all her own — requires company and comfort as well.
When I make comparisons to people, like friends and customers, asking how they would like it if they were left alone all the time, if they were fed the same crappy food every day, if they lived in a home merely to be “used” until they became too much of an inconvenience, sometimes I make a dent, but far too often I’m met with the same, sometimes condescendingly amused reaction of, “It’s just a CAT.”
And quite frankly, in reference to my friend’s comment about not having a “real baby” but a “fur baby,” I can’t help but wonder what she thinks a cat does when she’s not “snuggling” with her at night. Cats poop. Cats pee. Cats, as any cat parent can attest to, vomit — often strategically right where you step when you spring out of bed in the morning. Cat parenthood, in many ways much like human parenthood, gets messy sometimes.
All the cute and fluffy YouTube videos and adorable pictures printed on “Kittens For Sale” signs can’t prepare you for a cat with an upset stomach scooting a poop trail across your rug.
I’ve seen the fallout of “I didn’t know what I was getting into” far too many times. Best-case scenario, they find their cat a new, happier home, but worst-case scenario? The poor kitty is left neglected and simply kept alive until his unfulfilling life comes to an end.
So in response to my friend, and all the “friends” out there who are thinking of buying or adopting a cat, I ask you to think about yourself. Yes, yourself. Do you have room in your life to selflessly care for a cat who, in exchange for a safe and healthy home, wants nothing more than to connect with you and care for you? Are you ready to be inconvenienced when you have to make a point to come home for your cat, not just to feed them, but also to spend quality time playing or socializing with them? Do you have it in you to care for a cat when her life gets complicated or messy, and she needs your time, energy, and money to nurse her to health?
More than anything, are you in it for the long haul? Because I can promise you that no cat goes into a home thinking, “Until something better comes along, or things get too hard.” If these thoughts ever even cross your mind, I beg you: Do not get a cat.
How about you? Have you ever had to temper a friend’s enthusiasm for getting a cat? How did it go? Tell us in the comments!
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