When Spouse and I moved into our first pet-friendly apartment, I knew it was time to settle down and adopt ourselves a family. Every evening, right after dinner, I’d check the local SPCA website and the sites for every kitten rescue within an hour of home. I would know Our Cat when I saw him, and so, when I did finally see him, we went to the SPCA at 6th and Clark and asked to meet him. His name was Toby, and he was grey. I knew Our Cat would be a grey cat.
I met him, and to my surprise we didn’t click. He wasn’t the kitten I had assumed he would be; he was aloof, and not interested in either of us. I was no longer certain that he would be Our Cat, and, disappointed, Spouse suggested we keep looking, that we’d find Our Cat eventually. And, walking out the cat room at the SPCA, I saw her. Her name was Bailey, and she was barely a kitten anymore. She didn’t fit into the SPCA’s kitten category on their site, so I’d overlooked her, set as I was on a grey little boy cat. She mewed, the softest, prettiest little mew I’d ever heard in real life, and when I slid my hand under the grate on her cage to pet her little feet, she placed her paw on my top two fingers and I knew that we would be together forever.
I changed her name to Molly, and we lived happily ever after. A little over a year later, I got knocked up.
Molly and I were together constantly. Needy and affectionate, she was always around, either on my lap or balanced on my hip as I slept on my side – unmoving, lest I disturb her – through the night. She weaved herself between my ankles and balanced on open cupboard doors as I made dinner, and slept on every guest who came over. She was, absolutely, our child.
I was insulted when people would ask me “What are you going to do about your cat? After the baby?”
What was the implication there? That animals are deadly allergy beasts? That the cat would smother the baby and/or steal its breath and absorb its life force? That I am the kind of asshole who can’t commit to caring for an animal after “real life” kicks in?
Confession: I hate-read mommy message boards on places like Babycenter.com, because I like to read about how at 14 months, my kid is lagging developmentally behind all the super advanced newborns who can already walk and the toddlers who speak four languages and wake up to bake artisanal loaves of gluten-free bread every morning for breakfast – it makes me feel like I don’t have to try so hard. But I stumbled upon a post this afternoon that riled me right up: “Is or has anyone found a new home for their pet with the baby on the way?” My first thought, obviously, was “fuck you, I hope your unborn baby has an enormous head.” And then I just felt sad.
Your fur-baby is not less important than your human baby. It just requires less maintenance.
When you adopt an animal, you take on a responsibility to give that animal a happy life. If you cannot commit to doing right by that animal for its whole life, even when your life becomes complicated, then you should not have children. (Exceptions include if your child is deathly allergic to your pet, or if your pet is violent or unstable. Then it is your responsibility to find your pet a loving home or no-kill shelter.)
Pets are huge pains in the ass sometimes. When I piss off my cat, she pees on something I love. Every night she noisily climbs our dresser drawer-by-drawer and knocks our heaviest crap onto the (laminate) floor. She steals things, primarily jewelry, and hides them where she knows they will never again be seen by human eyes.
You know who else can be assholes? Babies. Mine has a meltdown every time anyone changes his diaper, and every time he’s placed on changing table, he loses his shit. He tries to eat magnets, and refuses to eat the organic food I have lovingly made in small batches just for him. Sometimes he swats the spoon away as I’m trying to put it into his mouth and I get a face full of the sweet potatoes I peeled, roasted, and mashed but didn’t personally get to enjoy.
Just because someone or something is annoying or demanding does not mean we love it any less. We have pets and babies with people who drive us batshit with their constant stupid questions about where we keep the milk and their socks, and those nerds get to keep living with us even when we’d rather have our own apartments and our youth back. Right?
There are five large dogs at the daycare the baby goes to, mostly because the woman who runs it loves dogs, but in part because she believes it is important to expose kids to animals, and to teach them how to interact with and respect them. Kids who learn to be kind to animals don’t grow up to harm puppies for fun. Science says that living with pets may even protect babies from allergies.
But more than this, your pet is part of the family. An indispensable part.
Our baby wouldn’t breastfeed, because he was a NICU baby and he adapted to the bottle right away and never looked back. So every three hours through the night I would get up with him and give him a bottle and then put him back to bed, and then I’d sit down on the couch, flip on late-night TV and pump his next meals.
While I sat up in my chilly apartment, lonely and hormonal and exhausted, Molly was there. She would nuzzle my chin and pace across my lap until settling down between where my knees bent and my feet burrowed between the cushions. Her purr kept time with the rhythm of my pump, and her warm little body against my cold skin reminded me of a time when I felt more like myself. Sometimes I’d let her be, falling asleep with her there just so she wouldn’t wake up and leave. She was the least demanding member of the family at a time when I needed to not have everyone in the world need me, even for just a few moments.
Pets are family. And we don’t cast out members of our family just because they are suddenly in the way, or I would be a very lonely lady. Do the right thing. If you’re up the stump and not sure how to ready your pets, your vet, local SPCA or Humane Society have some great resources.