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Caturday 9.28.13

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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.

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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.

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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.


  1. This post breaks my heart, but I’m so glad you wrote it because it’s something more people need to consider. When I was volunteering with the cats at the MSPCA near me a few years ago (a no kill shelter, for the most part), I read so many stories of pets being surrendered because the owners either couldn’t afford them or lost their homes. Or worse, as you mentioned, they had to move and just left their pets to fend for themselves. And now, the stories are more like the owners moved and the landlord won’t allow pets (um, I wouldn’t even consider an apartment that didn’t take my dogs – that’s a non-negotiable) or they had a baby and don’t want them anymore (are pets not your first children?!). Anyway, thank you for writing such a thoughtful post. <3

  2. BugsMom BugsMom

    Right on – well-written and so true. Thanks for writing.

  3. A A

    My German shepherd was on death row at a shelter when I adopted him (he was 4 years old, recovering from severe heartworms, had been beaten and starved, had never walked on a leash, was unhousebroken and had severe anxiety issues).

    I had to have him put down a couple of months ago, almost 8 years to the day after I first brought him home. That ratty mess of an animal became the best friend I have Ever Had. He helped me ride out my lowest lows and enjoyed the highest highs with me. He was smarter than I was sometimes, always forgave me for bad moods and was always there to help goof off in good ones. He was the only thing that could make me laugh out loud no matter how bad/stressful a day had been.

    At least once a day I stopped to think with utter bafflement that the only reason I had him was because someone else threw him away, and what a weird world it is where the best thing friend I ever had represented a huge apathy for companionship by someone else.

    Anyway. Reading this post left my bawling. I want my friend back and am glad when someone else “gets” how strong that bond with a pet can be.

  4. A A

    Left *me* bawling. In no condition to proofread right now, sorry.

  5. When my mom, sister and I moved from Charlotte to Gastonia to move out of her boyfriends house, I later learned that her boyfriend was moving too. And that he left his cat behind. I saw it at the apartments when we came back to get some things. I was only nine but it broke my heart. I’ve had to drop dogs off in the woods too, only to look back and see them chasing the car. It. SUCKS. And I will never put my kids through something like that, ever.
    I have such a soft spot for animals too (because of my childhood) and I whole-heartedly agree with this post. Animals are not disposable, they are FAMILY when you adopt them. You can’t just take them to the pound. Gaston County has a kill shelter, they put down animals Mon-Fri at 9:30 in the morning. I’ve walked some of the dogs, but going back and seeing those dogs gone is heart-breaking.
    Thank you for posting this <3
    It seems like our pets pick US rather us picking THEM.

  6. Jon Jon

    Our cadre of rescues is the most chaotic, frustrating, and wild aspect of my life and I’d have it no other way! No matter how rough finances or life obligations get, they will always be looked after. When funds get low, we ensure that they eat before we do. They are family and it’s our duty to take care of them. The responsibility should be shouldered with the same regard given to human children. Their dependence on us is a choice made outside of their own realm of influence, so it is up to us to live up to that commitment. In short, while my dogs and cats are incredible, they are also a massive investment, but doesn’t that obligation only further our love for them? (+Bonus points for a Tamagotchi reference)

    • Good for you for taking care of your herd.

      What I wouldn’t give for my old Tamagotchi…

  7. Thank you for calling attention to the responsibility of pet owners for the pet overpopulation problem. I work for a private open admission shelter (aka a “kill” shelter) and know this feeling all too well. Many want to shift the blame to the shelters for the high number of animals killed in our shelters every damn day, but the reality is the shelters do not want your pets. We do not want to exist. Your local animal control will pick up strays but otherwise we are not the ones bringing animals to the shelters, the public is. Until the public takes responsibility for the committment they have made to be a permanent home for their animals and until people stop buying pets from stores and breeders and start sterlizing them, animals will continue to die in shelters. The shelters can only do so much in trying to find loving homes for every adoptable animal that comes through our doors but when that heartless person brings us their “wonderful” 10 year old lab with hip dysplasia or cataracts or tumors, or the “sweet” dog that is so terrified from being separated from it’s family it’s become aggressive, or the 7 year old cat you loved so much but all the sudden you can’t find a place to live that will allow cats (don’t even get me started on live outcome rates for cats in shelters!!!), we cannot be miracle workers and be expected to take on the burden that you should have shouldered as the pet’s owner.

    • Thanks so much, Rachel

  8. Catherine Catherine

    The worst to me is after people have children and decide they no longer have the energy to take care of their pets and decide to “find them a new home.” So, basically they decided to have a pet until it was no longer convenient for them. C’mon peeps! Pets are family members too!!!

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