Tigger a.k.a The Kitten
Fine Attributes include:
Eating food off the dining room table, particularly in the 60 second time window it takes to get from the table to the kitchen for the baby’s drink and back. He will time you.
Running underfoot while you carry the baby downstairs. Usually proceeded by a bonsai war cry to give you a sporting chance.
Crying until you personally escort him to his dinner. And then crying until you pet him as he eats. It’s kind of like breastfeeding, except with zero benefits.
The Donkey a.k.a Murphy
Loves to bark while your child attempts to nap.
Loves to bark while you attempt to nap.
“Accidentally” runs over the baby while she’s on the floor.
Despite hundreds of dollars and countless hours spent on training, responds to commands only if he feels like it.
The Elder Statesman a.k.a Andy
Craps on the floor of your house, sometimes behind a potted plant. Sometimes in it. Usually just in plain view.
This is the ad that I compose in my head, usually around three a.m., when The Kitten scratches and yowls at our daughter’s nursery door. The ad gets decidedly more violent around 5:30, when both cats try to break down our door. In a blind rage, one of us stumbles over to the door and flings it open. The Kitten promptly knocks over the bedside water glass and the heavy book we use to block it from him. Crotchety, burly Andy (think Jack Palance with fur) picks a fight with the border collie, he of the nervous skin condition. Andy hisses. Murphy scratches his belly, vibrating the entire bed frame. My husband growls at the pets to cut it out.
From across the hall, the baby starts to wail. My husband threatens to kill them all. I tell him to back off, because I want to do the deed myself.
This used to be a love story. Through some combination of luck, good looks and old-fashioned moxie, two cats and a puppy found their way into my home and my heart. I grew up with pets, so it was a fait accompli that I would cobble together a furry menagerie of my own. As annoying as they could be at times, they were mine. I had rescued each of them from an uncertain future in a shelter. There were the emergency operations for Andy, the labyrinth-like maze we set up so the Kitten could be outside, and for a brief, misguided period, the commercial agent for the devastatingly handsome Murphy. I had groomed them, fed them, cuddled with them and kept them alive for most of my adult life. Naturally, I felt like this qualified me for parenthood. I could just see my child curling up with the kitty for an afternoon nap. She would ride around the living room astride the goofy, loyal collie. It would be a sweet, peaceful animal-baby kingdom.
And then the kid came.
We had been warned that the pets would get the shaft once the baby became the focal point of our existence. What I was not prepared for was the depth of my hatred for beings I once claimed to love, and how quickly the switch happened.
The dog, our former “baby,” was simply an inconvenient mass of baby-slicing claws and potential allergens. The cats left hairballs like a breadcrumb trail for the baby to follow. When not literally underfoot, they lay about on the baby’s things. They yowled outside every closed door. The hair. The everpresent hair that no amount of vacuuming could banish. When we had a precious, spare moment to ourselves, elderly Andy would defecate on the carpet or someone would eat said feces and lick the baby.
And the kicker? They loved the baby. We couldn’t use pet jealousy or aggression toward her to justify our feelings, and that just made us hate them even more.
But for the sake of the family, we tried to make it work. My husband the hero (already laboring under massive sleep deprivation while we co-slept) rose extra early to take the dog on the long walks to which he was accustomed. We stepped up doggie “day care” to twice a week to help him burn off all that pent-up energy. The cats were nuzzled and lavished with treats when not trying to trip me on the way down the stairs with the baby.
“Why don’t you just get rid of them?” a friend asked after listening to my rant. She matter-of-factly announced that she’d given away her cats shortly after having her baby. She placed an ad in Craigslist, interviewed a few candidates, and poof! No more cat hair to fish out of the baby’s mouth. I left in a funk of confusion and jealousy. That was actually an option?
Getting rid of them was what those other people did. Before we found Murphy, I spent hours volunteering at animal rescue groups and trolling online shelter sites in my search for The One, shaking my head at those lazy, callous people who had dumped their pets because they no longer had time. They had made a commitment to these animals, and surely a little sleep deprivation and maddening annoyance couldn’t justify breaking such a promise, right?
“Why don’t you just get rid of them?” a friend asked after listening to my rant. That was actually an option? Still, the hatred gnawed a hole in me. I was heartened to hear from my friend Lisa, who confessed to lying awake at night, imagining braining her incessantly barking dogs. She admitted that she was horrified by the disturbing, violent images, insisting that she used to not be “that kind of person.” And then she realized, she wasn’t that person. She was just someone trying to get sleep.
Sleep deprivation was definitely taking its toll: on me, my husband, our family. If the family unit wasn’t functioning, it was our obligation to fix it. But did this mean cutting out a portion to restore some sanity? Signs pointed to yes.
Then there was the Colorado incident.
We left town for Christmas vacation, leaving the pets in the care of our beloved sitter. I called on New Year’s Eve, letting her know we would be extending our trip an extra day. She called back, frantic. She didn’t have our trip on the books. In a perfect storm of misunderstanding and double bookings, she hadn’t been to the house. For an entire week.
We waited in tense, agonizing silence for her to report back as she raced to the house. Dread knotted up my stomach. Please, please be okay, I prayed. Amazingly, they were. They drank out of the toilet and noshed on the giant bag of cat food one of them managed to tip over. They even had the courtesy to pick one carpet to use as their restroom. Not another piece of furniture was touched. They happily received the petsitter when she arrived to check on them, accepting walks and love and belly rubs, and then resumed lounging around the house like nothing had happened.
I hung up with the sitter, and my husband and I sat down on the floor and sobbed. When we got home, we raced each other inside the house, scooping up our pets and whispering our gratitude into their fur. We had hated them, but as it turned out, not enough.
I now understand and respect the decision any parent makes to relocate their pets. No amount of bellowing from animal advocacy groups can convince me that an animal should take precedence over a child – or a parent’s ability to take care of that child. But we will be keeping ours – the feces eater, the ambusher and the bully. It turns out the baby loves them, and sometimes we do too.