Somehow my family has acquired four cats in the space of a month or so. Just so you know: I’m less than 70 (thereby avoiding the “old cat lady” label), my husband is allergic to cats, and I have 4 kids and am NOT needing something more to pour love on or care for. We’re also eminently practical – pets are too much work, require money in the form of vets & food, need shelter in our Canadian winters, and also should be licensed and spayed/neutered (expensive vet bill again…).
Our neighbor across our back yard is another matter entirely. He’s over 70, widowed, has no relationship with his kids, has shady friends, and owns at least 7 cats. Perhaps more. I believe he used to have 9 cats, until two wild kittens that someone dumped by his yard made their way here and were overcome with love. It’s more likely that they were lured here by the free food while the neighbor was away. I have no illusions about cats. I don’t think the depths of a cat’s heart are very deep. But our two kittens, Spots and Pansy, have given my children hours of fun and something to love. They purr. I’ve been reminded that treating God’s creatures with respect and gentleness isn’t something that comes naturally for children, and there have been many lessons, particularly for my younger two, that we are responsible to care for animals and that means picking up and holding properly, feeding and watering, and allowing the cats to live unmolested or abused. (I am somewhat sorry that these two kittens have had to put up with C. & D. learning all this on them, but being cats, they could quite easily decide to avoid the kids if they wanted to.)
The third cat made his way here for the same reason as Spots and Pansy – access to food while the neighbor was gone for a couple days. Bob doesn’t make arrangements for his outdoor cats to get fed while he’s gone, and Fluffy decided the adoring throng at our house was worth the easy food, besides being entirely his due. He’s not been a bad cat to have around, somewhat uppity, but he’ll purr like crazy if I catch him feeling mellow in a patch of sun. He’s caught us at least two gophers (pesky prairie critters that like to dig in our front lawn) and many mice. He’s also got the most fantastic tail I’ve ever seen – at least as long as his body and more hair on it than anywhere else. I suspect he’s sinfully proud of it.
And cat #4. My husband came home today after spending time out in a farmer’s field and asked us to come out to the vehicle – he had something to show us. I thought maybe he’d caught a frog. At our house we like frogs. 🙂 He lifted an overturned bucket, and out shot a small ball of tan-and-smoke-colored fluff: another kitten. He’d heard it mewing in the field, a mile from any home, caught it, and brought it home. It was terrified and half-starved, but once I held it for a bit it calmed down, licked my fingers, and purred like a Cummins diesel engine. We watched her gulp down food until her stomach was literally bulging, and my children are currently lovin’ on that cat. She’s acquired a name – Penny, due to the penny-shaped copper-colored mark on the back of her neck.
Thankfully, all cats at our house have to be outdoors (due to said husband’s allergy), so I’m not stepping on the creatures or cleaning up cat hairs or litter box mess (horrors!). But part of me wonders if this pet business isn’t a bad idea. Cats are notorious for wandering off. It’s hard to conscience investing money in a cat that will likely not live out his days to a ripe old age at our house. My children are wrapped up, innocent hearts and all, in the lives of these four strays. What happens when one dies or runs away? And, cats sometimes leave a mess – Pansy puked on the front lawn yesterday. Gross.
But I have to admit – I’m probably as much in love with those cats (all four!) as my children. I held that poor starving, frightened kitten until she stopped shaking and started purring, I’ve fed them every day, and am now girding up my loins to call a vet about Reproductive Procedures. Why is it I’ve fallen for pets as hard as my children?
I think it’s because, in our pets, I see myself. I don’t have much to offer God that he “needs”. I can think of all the reasons why God shouldn’t even want me. And yet he does. He puts up with his children’s wandering hearts, roving eyes, and mustard-seed faith. God even came to live as one of us, right here in all our messes. Being merciful to one (or four) of God’s creatures is a way for me to say Thanks, God. Thanks for all the loving and the suffering you’ve gone through for us all.