When I was almost 6, my family found a young cat behind my great-grandmother’s nursing home. Her home was a good distance away from other neighborhoods so we knew this kitty was lost. My mother explained to me how we needed to put up signs “just in case” someone was looking for him. But I knew as soon as I spotted the small black cat we were meant to be together.
I don’t remember there being a moment where I had to ask or plead to have a pet. My entire family simply loved pets, and my having a cat seemed like a natural progression in the family line. I named him Jessie. While I do think I was a kind and thoughtful kid before knowing him, I think Jessie made me a more loving and compassionate person. His well-being and comfort were my responsibility and taking good care of him was very important to me.
“Children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.”
Thirty-five years later and I am now the mother to an almost 6-year-old who desperately wants a cat. More specifically he wants a cat for his birthday. My son, W, has been asking for a cat for over a year now, and I have been able to tune him out until recently. Now that W is just a month away from turning 6, I have started to give serious consideration to his continuous pleas.
What changed? For starters we moved into a larger home with an area where I can foresee a “pet station” conveniently being located. I have also had “the litter box” conversation with friends who have children W’s age. While I imagine a good percentage of pet care will fall on me, I do want to make sure that W knows he will be expected to scoop out the litter box and make sure food and clean water is always available.
The other change is an awareness that my son is ready. He may still need lots of prompting to put a dirty dish in the dishwasher or make his bed, but he amazes me by being one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. I’m not worried that he will not be loving or gentle to an animal he is responsible for. A year ago W would have not been ready, but now? Now I know he is.
The more I think about W getting to experience the joy of pet companionship, the more excited I get for him.
The last cat I had was a lovely, fluffy, black kitty named Beatrice Grace Tallulah, BG for short. BG saw me through a cross-country move, years of taking care of my grandmother, and many years of infertility. She also sat on my belly for my entire pregnancy with W. Unfortunately I never got to experience motherhood with her as the day I arrived home from the hospital with W she got out of a door that had been accidentally left open, and we never saw her again.
I was so heartbroken over the loss of BG that I didn’t believe I could welcome another kitty into the family ever again. Thinking about and planning for a new cat for W has helped me do some mourning and healing that I didn’t realize was left to do.
Last year, our local Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) placed 3,583 homeless pets into forever homes. I was trying to think of a fun way of bringing W into the process of pet adoption. This is his birthday gift, but I certainly did NOT want to put a pet in gift wrap and deny him the opportunity to meet and connect with the animals on his own.
As part of their humane education program, our SPCA hosts a daily program just for cats. The Smarty Paws Reading Program is for children in the area ages 5 to 13:
“The sound and interaction of children reading to cats is both soothing and stress-relieving for our homeless cats awaiting homes. Studies have shown that children reading to pets helps with learning disabilities because it provides them with a relaxing, stress and judgment-free outlet for them to practice their reading. In addition to providing an enriching environment for our cats, this program helps promote adoption, encourage treating animals with kindness and the importance of spaying/neutering.”
My surprise plan is to tell W about the reading program at the shelter. I know he’ll love to get a chance to see so many pets. He can spend an afternoon practicing his reading with a purring audience and we can learn about adoption. When the time is right, I’ll let him know that he has my permission to adopt a cat for his birthday.
I knew the kitty I met when I was nearly six was going to be a part of our forever family. I have a feeling W will have his own fantastic cat connection, too.More On