Mommy, can we have a pet?
When my twin daughters, Sophie and Alex, were 3 years old, they asked if we could get a cat and a dog. Both my husband and I had grown up with a variety of house pets and we shared a casual, but never fully explored, assumption that we would some day add furry friends to our family.
So without realizing the far-reaching impact of my words, I apparently told them that we could get a cat when they turned 5 or 6 years old, and a dog when they turned 7 or 8 (it seemed like a long way off at the time). I never imagined that they would take me seriously or hold me to “my promise.”
Clearly, I had underestimated their determination to be pet owners. From that day forward, my daughters became animal obsessed. Never ones for baby dolls, they became avid collectors of stuffed animals, fashioning collars and leashes for these pet stand-ins, dragging them down the street and creating elaborate pet ownership scenarios. Every library book they took out had a picture of a cat or dog on it, and virtually every drawing and story they created featured one or the other.
At first it was cute, but after two years of unyielding enthusiasm, it started to become a little sad and worrying for us. We now had another baby, two full-time jobs, and an increasingly hectic life. How on earth could we add a pet to the mix? I couldn’t imagine taking on the responsibility for the care, feeding and upkeep of another demanding little being.
Our patient explanations about responsibility fell on deaf ears. In their minds, we had promised, and that was all that mattered. The year they turned 5, the lobbying intensified. We bought them a succession of battery-operated stuffed dogs for their birthdays, but they weren’t deterred by this growing pack of mechanical animals.
“Things that run on batteries can’t love you,” Sophie told me solemnly, her sister nodding in sage agreement. The summer they turned 6, we relented and adopted an orange-coloured kitten they named Caramel. I was a little hesitant about our decision as I suffer from mild cat allergies. However, we chose a shorthaired breed that was less likely to cause problems. In fact, Caramel’s presence rarely causes me to sneeze.
A cat proved to be a wise choice in terms of time involved in care. Cats can be left alone (with plenty of food and water) for the odd weekend away, and quickly learn to use their litter box.
Rewarded by uncomplicated love
But most importantly, Caramel soon became a beloved member of our family. Our daughter Maya, just 2 years old at the time, took to carrying him around like a purse. With a little gentle correction from her sisters, she learned not to hold him by the neck. Caramel turned out to be a docile, patient cat with our children, despite the indignity of being stuffed into dress-up clothes and taught circus tricks.
In fact, Caramel has taught them a few things himself. For one thing, they have learned that he most loves those who feed him regularly, and so his food bowl is always filled. They know he needs fresh water every day, or else he will drink from the toilet bowl. They haven’t been asked to clean his litter box yet, but that’s a chore the older ones are probably ready to take on at this point. They let him in and out of the house, as he requires, and console him on trips to the vet for vaccinations and checkups.
A year ago on Christmas Eve, Caramel was bitten by another animal outside our house, and quickly developed a serious infection. The girls were quite upset to see how sick he got, and they learned a hard lesson about responsibility and the fragility of life. Their grandfather became a family hero for driving our sick pet to the only emergency vet open on the holidays and waiting for many hours to get the medicine Caramel needed to get better.
Whenever we see Caramel curled up on their laps, purring, it becomes clear to us how our girls have been rewarded by his simple, uncomplicated love. Now, however, I’m faced with the dog dilemma since my girls — as they repeatedly point out — have reached the age when I “promised” they could have one.
I’m not foolish enough to think that any of my children will, day in and day out, tend to this dog. No, I’m clear in my own mind that either my husband or I will be the one trudging through a howling blizzard at 11 o’clock at night, clutching a plastic grocery bag full of poo and wondering why we ever said yes to a puppy. But if Caramel has taught us anything, it’s this: the love of a furry family friend enriches us all, making even the added work and responsibility worth it.