On becoming a Cat Lady
I grew up with dogs and cats in my parents’ home. The standard recipe for us was one beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback and a very cute and clever Miniature French Poodle. How’s that for a combination of Africa and Europe’s finest?
My parents seemed less concerned about ‘thoroughbred this’ and ‘pedigree that’ when it came to cats, so I enjoyed the company of two wonderful cats in my childhood, both of “unknown origin”. The most we knew about “Whiskey” was that he was born in a random farm bar.
I learnt my first lessons about life and death from our first kitty, Tippy (named for the white tip at the end of her pitch black tail). I recall our family getting ready for a dinner at my sister’s godparents’ house, prior to which my parents sat my sister and I down to “discuss something very serious”. The house was almost in darkness, as most of the lights had been turned off before locking up the house, and they sat us down in the dim lounge. I thought we were in trouble, and were about to have a disciplinary session about appropriate behaviour as guests in other people’s homes.
They then tried to explain to two young pre-teens the concept of ‘putting down’ an animal. Little Tippy had a kidney problem and was so ill that regardless of treatment and tests that would “aid veterinary science” there was nothing they could do to really alleviate her pain, or keep her alive. And us two little girls had to suddenly grow up pretty quickly and contribute to the decision of whether to allow her to go through all the painful tests, or rather put her down.
Tippy was conveniently sitting under the coffee table in between us all, as if she knew this was the conversation which would determine her fate. We both climbed under the table in tears and tried our hardest to express the enormity of love we had for her in a few affectionate gestures.
Trying to understand her pain, and make a decision to alleviate her pain was possibly the first really tough decision I had to make as a young girl, and was it tough. But we were sufficiently mature enough to accept the reality of the decision, and in the coming weeks found our own ways of bidding her farewell.
The loss of subsequent feline and canine pets were equally as tough, some less anticipated, but perhaps better understood. And perhaps it was learning to handle the loss of much-cared for pet friends that enabled us to better understand the concept of death and better handle the loss of our dear granny when I was 14. In fact at fourteen and twelve, with a maturity and sensitivity I didn’t know we could posess, we two girls actively assisted in nursing our gran during our very last Christmas and holiday with her, and felt all the more closer to her when we did suffer her loss.
Having not lived permanently in my parents’ home for the last ten years (phew that is a long time) I have had less and less opportunity to spend time loving our pet friends. The stock standard recipe has changed somewhat. First my dad bought a Toy French Poodle instead of a Miniature one as a gift for my mother. By Toy read “when wet shrivels to the size of a rodent”. Then “someone” let said Toy Poodle out while on heat, and a couple of months later the little rodent body gave birth to three “Jackapoos” – an annoying Jack Russel had batted way above his average!
Being responsible for the interbreeding, and having the pups born the very same evening as we played host to 80 plus friends and family for my 21st in our family home, I felt as though they were mine to take care of. Here more lessons were learnt about the natural world and those things beyond our control. When they were born, the little runt was immediately shunned by its mother. Upon deciding it needed to be hand reared we visited an emergency vet, and headed home to feed the poor thing every hour through the night. The hard lesson here was that the poor thing was never going to survive, as much love and care and formula I could give it, his mom knew instinctively not to share the milk with the underdeveloped pup. It died in my hands, the next morning. I was heartbroken, but nature was indeed teaching me that there are just some things we can’t attempt to change.
As compensation my parents allowed us to keep one of the Jackapoo pups – who has since become my very firm favourite. Scamp as he was very affectionately named, is a gorgeous looking dog with the most wonderful and warm nature – it seems the overwhelming high-energy nature of his birth parent breeds cancelled each other out. Heaven forbid it was accumulative.
But I don’t live there anymore. And I only get to see the four mini dogs about thrice a year (the pack grew when my folks adopted my older sister’s dachshund when she moved to Aus for a while). I slowly began to realise every time I visited home, just what gap existed in my day to day life, and the enormous pleasure and joy pets give. That gap grew every time I visited other homes with pets. Until it was just too large not to be filled with my very own.
And so, after much deliberation about when would be the right time, especially after several discussions about moving to Johannesburg, the f-bomb and I decided 2014 was it. And because cats are a lot more independent, and let’s face it, don’t really need humans in their lives, we chose the feline type over dogs. So began our journey towards cat-ladyism.
Firstly Mr Sensible decided we should have two kitties, as they could keep each other happy, and according to Google would guide each other in socialisation and daily habits. So two kitties we got. Hoping for two girls we ended up with a brother and sister. So if we don’t responsibly ensure that at least one of them is ‘taken care of’ we will take another step towards this cat-ladyism.
Secondly, I have realised, much to my (pretend) dismay, I photograph them a lot. A significant lot. And so does the f-bomb. And we post them to social media. #catsofinstagram frequently appears.
But it must be said:
There is cat-ladyism and all its sexist connotations of single un-marry-able women, and there is acceptable doting on little creatures that do in fact bring bucket loads of happiness into my every day. Somewhere in between that there is the tendency to talk about your cats as if they are your children, inundate friends and followers with cat pics, or dress your cat in matching outfits with yourself, behaviours which may be more or less acceptable depending on the context. Finding that balance is hellish important if you wish to still be invited to dinner parties (or dress up parties).
Sometimes I have a mini internal panic that these kitties are for life. Kittens are cute. Cats not nearly as adorable, but wonderful companions (on the most part). But they do live a fairly long time, and if no evil intervenes, they will be our pets for at least the next decade. A decade in which we may buy our first home, have our first child, or move to another city or country. They are a very big commitment, but, one which I am absolutely delighted to have made.
As a post script, a dear friend bought herself a pet at about the same time as Mekong and Piccolo joined our household. One that lives far longer than cats, and is possibly more rodent-like than a Toy French Poodle (sometimes hard to believe). He is Henry the Chinchilla. I have yet to meet the fine fellow in person but I believe he brings just as much joy to her heart as our kitties do to ours. #petsforever #petsofinstagram