Monday, October 22, 2012
I adopted my third cat in 2005. Having once owned Marty, then Jade – both of who I had to relinquish due to circumstances beyond my control, I was in a place to offer a kitten a forever home.
After a careful search to find the best match for my seven year daughter, we found an eight week old, adorable fluff of white with a haphazardly placed orange splotch on head. We changed his name to Zach and left with a tiny mewing baby in a box.
After a bit of adjustment, Zach became the favored toy of my daughter, who’d tuck him under her arm and take him from place to place, his little legs dangling. Sometimes, he’d go for rides in her little carriage or wagon covered with a blanket. His demeanor appeared to be, “Well, I guess this is what I’m supposed to do.” No one told him that acting aloof was part of his feline birthright.
Zach’s un-catlike behavior was endearing, and affections were well reciprocated. When he was 10 months old, we moved to a larger apartment on the third floor of an older Victorian house. We were settled just in time for spring, enjoying the cool evening breezes that wafted through the apartment. Zach would usually sleep with my daughter, at the foot of her bed. My nightly ritual was kissing her sleeping cheek and giving Zach a pat before I retired.
One evening, Zach was not at the foot of her bed. I assumed he was in my room, but he wasn’t there either. That was odd because Zach liked being with people. I searched the large apartment and didn’t find him. Going back into my room, I noticed my drapes were positioned strangely. Were they hanging out of my window? If so, where was the screen? I rushed to the empty window. Oh no! I looked out and saw the screen, three floors down on the grass. With mind shattering clarity, I knew how it got there.
I raced downstairs and opened the door. I called out tentatively, “Zach? Zachy? Zach?” I listened carefully...until I heard a tiny “meow.” Part of Zach’s adorableness was the way he’d respond to his name, even through the dark night. I was afraid I’d find him lying in a pile of broken bones and blood, so I asked the girl who lived on the first floor for help. An Asian college student with a no fuss attitude, she marched outside, found Zach and brought him inside. He was unscathed. Jubilantly, we proclaimed his adventure to be both a miracle and probably a donation of one of his 9 lives.
Later that evening, Zach and I finally rested easily. The following day the window was fixed just in case Zach became over zealous by something flying by again. My daughter enjoyed the way I related Zach’s reaction to his evening flight, as I’d tell her, “Zach was looking out my window, saw an insect whizzing by and tried to grab it and pushed the screen out. He went flying, and started screaming….. “Wait! I really didn’t want that bug!” Or, “I don’t think I’m supposed to fly!” Or maybe, “Stop! Put me back inside!” Can you imagine people going by and seeing a little white cat flying through the air?” She’d laugh as she imagined the comical spin I put on what could have been a tragic outcome.
Zach is now seven, and my daughter is fourteen. They fiercely love each other. Zach hasn’t had another escapade that equaled his night of flight. He is settling into his middle aged years, now in a house and with a dog who shares his space, yet Zach has made it clear who rules the roost.
I reflect on the lessons I’ve been able to teach my daughter through the acquisition of her first pet. She’s learned unconditional love, tolerance, caring, and the ability to find the humor in difficult situations instead of dwelling on a less positive outcome.
I can’t help but compare this to the lessons my other children received from my ex. He destroyed their maternal love as retaliation for the divorce. Tolerance was unacceptable if it interfered with his needs. Caring was not bestowed on anyone else, as compassion was solely for his benefit. Humor was utilized as a way to mock someone, or at someone else’s expense. His lacking of parenting skills did not warrant the liability for a pet.
Taking on the responsibility of parenting is similar to the accountability of owning a pet. As children become independent, the lessons taught guide them and gives them the tools to face the world as kind and considerate adults. Children reap what they sow. Demonstrating self-serving behavior and displaced anger, can only garner acerbic attitudes and poisonous characters. Owning a pet is a huge responsibility as they never become independent and never understand reason. But they love unconditionally, and for most people, that is enough.
To digress for a moment: Years ago, my ex owned two cats, one black and one white, who behaved as the proverbial good and evil. With my continued efforts, the black cat became as docile as the white cat, even bestowing affection, only to me. Without provocation, my ex made them outdoor cats. The gentle white cat disappeared immediately. My ex watched me put up posters, and make calls in an attempt to find him, cruelly encouraging hopes of his return, instead of sharing the fact the cat had been fatally struck by a car. Unconcerned, he allowed the black cat to remain outside, until he too was hit by a car. If one can place defenseless animals in potentially dangerous situations, how can that person be trusted to make the right decisions for his children?
My daughter talks about going to college in four years and insists she will be taking Zach with her. If that happens, I will not have to worry about either of them. She already understands his needs, and shares that responsibility readily. He will be there to give her the love she’s earned, by implementing the lessons she’s learned from me. Her younger years with Zach have already provided her with tolerance, caring and humor. Those attributes will take her fearlessly into the future, with her fluffy white friend at her side.