Dear future pet owner,
Congratulations on your decision to add a member to your family. Because you did actually think through the pros and cons and unexpected expenses that define pet ownership, right? And you do realize you’re assuming responsibility for a living, breathing, heartbeat with a will to live and a boundless capacity to love, right? And you know that when properly cared for (and barring any fatal illnesses) they live for a really long time, right? So if you’re in your twenties and you plan on having children in the next decade and you think that tiny kitten in the palm of your hand is cute right now, just know she’s going to be your future child’s first pet.
No? Didn’t think about that? Please click here to purchase a pet appropriate for you and do not step foot in a shelter, pet store, breeder’s home or anywhere else that sells animals.
You see, I never should have had my cats. I wasn’t in the market for a pet (let alone six). In fact, I was fresh out of college in a house bigger than my budget waitressing to pay the bills and waiting until “real life” would start. (Spoiler alert: It already had.) It was 2008 and the country was in the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. While I certainly saw its effects all I around me–no jobs for bright-eyed graduates, foreclosed homes lining the streets, families forced to move when budgets and jobs were cut–I didn’t quite feel it. I wasn’t in my dream job, but I was getting by fine and didn’t know anything different. Waitressing can be as noble and as lucrative a job as you make it, and I really enjoyed it.
My disconnect from the crash was naive and no doubt spoiled and I wouldn’t realize until years later that it worked its way into my life in the form of a fat, friendly, persistent black cat.
Ralphie started hanging around my neighborhood that summer. She was wearing a frayed yellow collar and was streaked with yellow paint. I assumed she belonged to someone nearby because she was beautiful and affectionate and not at all shy. I wasn’t sure I wanted her all the way in my life (or house)–because after all, adopting a pet is a big, life-long decision, remember?–so I hadn’t even gone so far as to commit to cat food. I was feeding her my sister’s chicken nuggets on the back porch.
Since she had a collar, I asked around the hood if anyone recognized her or knew the owner. The security guard at the teen pregnancy center across the street filled me in. The fat black cat (just like Marley, a yellow lab mix I’d taken in and adopted out earlier that year) had been left behind after families in foreclosed homes around the block had moved out.
You see, an often overlooked casualty of the crash were the countless pets left behind at foreclosed homes or dumped in shelters when their families downsized–shrinking their homes and cutting the number of mouths to feed to match a shrinking cash flow.
I didn’t want to keep her but Ralphie had other plans. Had I known at the time that she needed more help than I realized or that six years later she would be the most consistently loving and loyal force in my life, I would have invited her in much sooner. She knew what she was doing though and waited until just the right moment to slip in through the front door and under my sister’s dresser. She was in labor.
If you’ve been reading Caturday for a while, you know the rest is history. Ralph gave birth to five babies in a laundry basket in my lap that night. One of them was Weaz (the runt) and the other four were quickly adopted by my friends and co-workers. Ralph and Weaz were forever mine and the Caturday empire was born. I would not have had it any other way.
But here’s the thing: Ralph and Weaz were lucky. There were lots of factors on their side, most significant that Ralph was operating under a maternal force to find shelter more powerful than my weak attempts to avoid a pet. (It also didn’t hurt that cat lady is in my blood and that I have a hard time saying no to small furry things.) A lot of other animals are not so lucky.
Yesterday I spent an hour looking through the kill list for a local animal shelter. They post photos and tag numbers of animals whose time has expired. Yesterday 35 cats and a dozen dogs were put down. Some are strays picked up on the street, others are abandoned as owner surrenders. All are marked as “shy” in the handler comments. Wouldn’t you be?
I’ll be the first to admit I am guilty of anthropomorphizing animals until they are almost-human and that my assumptions about their awareness may not be backed scientifically. But this I know for a fact: That any animal with a heartbeat and a will to live knows when they’ve landed on death row. The look in the eyes of those animals will rip your heart out. Of course they’re shy; they’re in an overcrowded, loud, unfamiliar place that reeks of fear and death, smells our less sensitive human noses and hearts can’t detect.
So before you take that sweet puppy or kitten home, remember this: That animal is alive. That animal is expensive and time-consuming. That animal will poop on things and wake you up early in the morning. That animal will eat expensive food and require expensive shots. That animal will shed everywhere. That animal will be your therapist. That animal will never judge you. That animal will be the most constant thing in your life–through moves and breakups and job loss. That animal will love you until the day it dies, which–if you drop it at the shelter because you didn’t consider all of these things before you made a commitment you couldn’t handle–will come too soon.