Before I had my two kids, I had my two cats. Just like the kids, our girl showed up first and the boy followed closely after.
They were “rescue” cats, which means we got them from a shelter. We didn’t rescue them in the Superman sense, but that’s the terminology that the shaky woman used when we picked them up. Whether or not she was using inflated words to boost our self-esteem didn’t matter. We found these cats. We loved these cats. We brought these cats home.
When Tipsy first came out of her carrier, she was unsure of what to do next. Stepping very carefully on the rug of our then-tiny basement apartment, she basically named herself. Watching her stumble around in circles like an adorable little drunk made the decision easy. I remember my wife, who had just become my wife, remarking, “I can’t believe something so cute is in my house!”
A few months later, Buddy joined us and was named that because he was basically there so she would have, well, a buddy. Equally adorable, he would roll into a ball on his side and lay behind our long lost futon. Tipsy, rather than being happy that this frightened cat wasn’t battling her for territory, would go and sit with him. I still remember looking over the ledge at our little Buddy ball and seeing his new sister glance up at me with a “meow.” The whole scene was right out of a cat calendar. I too couldn’t believe something so cute was in my house.
Over the course of the last 12 years, these two cats have been a part of every major moment in our lives. They witnessed a big move, the births of both my children, deaths of loved ones, and everything else a beloved family member takes part in. If I’m being honest, I never expected it when we first got them.
You see, growing up, I had a dog but never appreciated the fact that I did. I just knew I had a dog. She was part of the house like the cassette player or the Atari 2600. While we played and did all the things that kids and pets do, there was no sense of how special she was when she was still alive. It wasn’t until I grew up and had pets that I was solely responsible for that I understood what makes the entire process so meaningful.
A lot has changed for my cats since 2005 and, as the years ticked by, they have gotten progressively grosser. A few years back, Buddy decided that he was going to mark the back of our living curtains as his downstairs litter box, rather than going upstairs to the real one. Since then, we’ve replaced the curtains and welcomed our furry friends to the world of being “upstairs pets”.
I still love them, though.
Every night, when I go up to bed, they’re waiting for me. Taking turns, they’ll come lay on me and purr while I pet them and go on and on about how they were my first babies. I’m aware of how doofy it sounds as it’s coming out of my mouth, but I really don’t care. Although I do sometimes worry that if my house is ever bugged by the CIA, they’d be like, “Yo. Mahoney. Come listen to this jackass. He’s calling the cats his babies again.”
Before I got them, I never thought pets could be all that important, but they are. They teach us compassion, love, and acceptance during times in our lives when we might not otherwise experience it. Long before I had Olivia and Lucas to love unconditionally, I had Tipsy and Buddy.
I’m not saying that I dress them up in little outfits and take them for walks; but if you’re the type of person who does that, I’m saying I can understand. It’s a truly great feeling to know that another creature looks to you for care and loves you for doing it. A lot of the most rewarding parts of parenthood involve that.
My kids don’t appreciate the cats the way I do. I’m aware of that. Olivia will often ask me if we can get a puppy “when the cats die.” Inevitably, my face will drop and she’ll add in, “I’m not saying I want them to die. I’m just saying when they die.” I nod and give the ol’ dad reply of, “Let’s see what happens.”
The truth is, I’m going to be very sad on the days my cats are gone. I don’t care how gross they get or how much they throw up on our formerly beige carpet. They are the first beings that ever truly relied on me alone to care for them. They made me learn about responsibility and patience. Now they help me teach the same qualities to my children. For that reason, they’ll always be my babies.