A two weeks ago I stood for the first time in the pet aisle of the grocery store, critically weighing the options in kitten chow, blundering exactly how I had gotten to that point. Up until an hour before, I had never before considered all the many options in kitten chow: wet, dry, bag size, flavors, and brands; let alone having a cat to feed it to.

That morning we had gone as a family to the farmer’s market and the library, and came home with two kittens.  Going out I anticipated picking up some tomatoes, okra and a few books; new pets, not so much. Yet, somehow passing by the shelter, turned into “well, let’s just go look at them.” It was a perfect storm, right inside the door was a fuzzy eight week old orange kitten, litter box trained: my son’s birthday wish made flesh. Oh, and on sale. Today only, all cat adoptions half price. That’s how we got talked into the other cat, another eight week old orphan with black and white markings. It was a very happy early birthday present to my son.

We collected the pets my son would name Calvin and Hobbes, and headed out the door with our previously empty arms now full. I dropped off my husband, kids, and kittens packed into a vented cardboard tomato box, and headed out for supplies. When I came home, the kids were swooning over the new furballs. Three weeks in now, they still are. Every morning is like Christmas, the kids rush out of bed to go find the cats. When they get home from school, it’s a cat hunt.  They’ve built the cats forts, feed them hourly, and sung them songs. Bedtime means snuggle time with the cats. I can’t recall any favorite present ever having this sort of effect or become the target of so much attention before.

The cats have brought out a new, affectionate, obsessive side in my children. My husband fears they are channeling Of Mice and Men’s Lenny. I pray it’s not going that far. But there are times I worry. My four year old carries the ever patient Calvin around like a baby on her hip. Stroking his head, whispering sweet nothings in his ear and the poor caps whimpers for release. My son plays vigilant shepherd, always looking for Hobbes when he hides for a break from the shepherd. I’ve been made to explain that our cats are not laser cats, or that stuffing them into your zipper pajamas is not a good idea. They just love those cats that boundaries, guidelines and rationale carry little weight. They get enough cat goodness in the short hours of each day, but they continue to try, rubbing their faces against the soft fur with not just their hands, but their faces as well.

What is it about those kids and their pets?

I almost always had a cat growing up, and liked them, but never considered myself enough of a “cat person” to merit getting one of my own. The hassle of a litter box, food to buy, and getting someone feed then when I was gone, seemed like enough of a nusiance to seal me to a pet-free adulthood. Then years later, puky and pregnant I was visiting my parents, while I had a conference in my hometown. One night as I sat in the bathroom, quietly moaning as my stomach rejected dinner, and realized I was not alone. The family cat came to join me in my low moment. She mewed, rubbed against my leg and curled up next to me in my sick, lonely misery. Looking back to that moment and across the room to my kids with their cats, I get it. My son who is outgrowing his bear is transferring his affections to something that reciprocates. When he’s sad, he has a cat to purr contentedly next to him, and he’s reassured.  When Hobbes developed some kind of a cat cold, my son held, and held, and loved that cat, gently wiping the cat’s eyes with a tissue and watched with concern as I struggled to syringe amoxicillin  down the cat’s throat. And then held, snuggled and cared for that cat even more. The tenderness pets have brought out in the kids is so good and so surprising; a rare sweetness I want to encourage and celebrate and wishfully, mentally store up for moments when he isn’t.

And while the smell of the litter box has me vowing to toilet train the cats, and I am spending money on litter and food and inevitable trips to the vet that I would rather spend on other things, I’m okay with it. Because as much as those kids love the cats, I think my husband and I might just like them too,  but most especially what they are doing for our children.

Are you a pet person? Do you do it for yourself or kids?  And do you know the zen art of mastering the funk litter box? I’d really like the solution to that one.

September 16, 2012


  1. Kristin

    September 11, 2012

    I identify. I was the little girl who ALWAYS wanted a dog, but lived with a mother who just doesn’t like animals.

    Then I became an adult who didn’t really want the work of pets, but was blessed with one particular daughter who identifies better with animals than people.

    So now we have two dogs. A family dog, and the little dog of this daughter, a little dog that makes me CRAZY. Most frustrating potty training experience ever. Still in it and we have had her for a year now, having taken her into our home when she was 4 months old. (Should have researched Yorkies before agreeing to a half-Yorkie.)

    Now that I am pregnant and grumpy and the big kids are in school all day I am not relishing my time to be responsible for their pets, but when I see that annoying little dog, I can’t help but think that she is a manifestation of my deep love for this daughter, who needs to feel deep love.

    And sometimes I remind her to see her dog in the same way…as a reminder of just how much I love her.

  2. m2theh

    September 11, 2012

    My kid always wants a pet. I am allergic to most pets, and I’ve let her bring the class pet home several times, even though it requires me being dazed on benadryl the whole weekend. And who ends up cleaning the class pets cage? Mom.

    So we have settled on invisible pets, currently we have an invisible dog and owl. We had an invisible cat who was eaten by the invisible rattlesnake, who was then eaten by the invisible dog.

  3. FoxyJ

    September 11, 2012

    What a coincidence–we just got two kitties about two weeks ago. I also grew up with pets but for years didn’t want to deal with them as an adult. Plus we moved a lot and spent years renting. But now we have cats, and my kids love them. It is so fun to watch the kids and their cats–it almost makes me forget that they’ve destroyed two of my house plants and that my basement smells like cat litter. I think it is good for kids to have something living to care for; it really seems to expand their lives in a unique way. And now when my kids are with their dad for the weekend I have someone to hang out with.

  4. Stephanie

    September 11, 2012

    Must be a good time of year to gets cats! One week ago I went to Animal Control and got a sweet white kitten. Less than 24 hours later, after realizing this kitty was going to need even more attention than a family of seven can give, we went back and got his brother. (Which is great, because not only are they both happy, we actually like the second cat better.)

    My life always feels more complete when we have pets. The kids are happier. The only one who doesn’t like it is my husband, who sees them as a useless inconvenience, but he’s excused from feeding/litter box duties, so it works.

    I like the unconditional acceptance furry critters offer. I like the low expectations – no worries about whether the kittens will get into advanced math, or if they do, can they handle it?

    And as for the litter box? I learned quickly to buy a good brand of kitty litter and scoop often. Makes a big difference.

  5. Michelle L.

    September 11, 2012

    Oh I agree! We love our kitty. She’s added another level of tenderness and kindness to our home. I think it’s always good to have something small to care for.

    I like dogs too, but cats are so easy!

  6. Blue

    September 11, 2012

    When my kids were little we lived in Vermont, and I pulled off the coup for several years running of convincing them that all the critters they saw outside (squirrels, raccoons, birds, etc) were actually our family’s pets. I’d have them put food scraps and compost out to “feed our pets”. It was a great gig while it lasted. They got very excited when one of our pets would show up on the deck or in the yard.

    As a flight attendant, it’s was hard enough to arrange for my children in absentia; the idea of having to worry about an animal was out of the question. I can’t handle anything that comes out of dogs (their slobber, tongues, poop, etc) and while I like them, I’m highly allergic to cats. But a year ago I finally acquiesced after much persuasion that Leopard Geckos are the worlds easiest, least-smelly, quietest, most undemanding pets, and got one for my son’s birthday.

    Once a week he crosses the street to PetSmart and buys a dozen crickets at .11 each (he’s welcome to catch bugs in the yard if he likes), which he dumps in the cage. Leo (creative name, eh?) eats them at his leisure. My kid has to make sure there is water, and the tiny little poop is dry and he throws it out once a week. No odor, noise, walking, big expenses etc. We can set up an extra water dish and be gone a week without worrying about anything. He doesn’t bite, scratch, sting, or move around fast. The kids are so in love with him and my husband talks to him in a special high-pitched voice reserved just for Leo.

    I told my kids someday they are welcome to have pets. They can even become crazy cat lady/man if they want. I will stay in a hotel when I visit 🙂 But for me at this stage, I’m content with our situation.

  7. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    September 11, 2012

    Whenever my kids ask for a dog I tell them, “That’s why I had your baby brother.” Ha ha. A few years ago we finally got a cat–under duress from some friends who needed to offload her–she had all her shots, was spayed and came with all her stuff. I wasn’t sure how I felt at first but now I’m glad we have her. She is sort of wild and does NOT like coming in the house so she sleeps in the garage but she does welcome being held and pet. Her greatest quality (in my opinion) is that she is a good mouser (we live in the country.)

  8. Lee Ann

    September 12, 2012

    This is kind of sad-sweet for me. We’re on the other end of the kitten adventure, with a 19-year-old cat who probably won’t last much longer. He has a chronic kidney infection, has to have medicine twice a day, and has rather a lot of “accidents.” But I can’t quite bring myself to euthanize him for the sake of the carpets, when he still seems so happy to cuddle up and purr on my chest.

  9. Barb

    September 12, 2012

    Sweet post! After raising lots and lots of puppies, we got our first cat when I was in high school. At the time, I was not a cat person and didn’t know how to approach them at a friend’s house when I visited or how to pet them. Being a loyal sister, I helped my sister who is about three years younger beg for one. Now I am rather fond of the feline but not to the point of the stereotypical single woman who is a cat lady. I’ve had two cats through the years that were “mine” and the others including our current cat have either belonged to another family member or the family as a whole. They do have a way of making a home cozy.

  10. Barb

    September 12, 2012

    Lee Ann, sounds like you cat has the best of care living to such an age.

  11. Cindy

    September 13, 2012

    Many years ago we gave our difficult 8 year old a kitten for Christmas. He (the child, not the kitten) was angry so much of the time and I thought that having a pet to love might help him. It was a good choice.

    We’ve recently moved across the country (job loss) and it was interesting to see how my now 17 year old (and still fairly angry) son took care of his cat throughout the process. He has been sweet and tender with the cat at every step. The cat (previously an outdoor cat because of allergies) has lived with us for 2 months in a temporary apartment and I think my husband and I are shocked at how much we really like having an indoor cat. (The litter box–not so much.) Makes me wish the allergies weren’t an issue…

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