It was the summer of 2000; Jamie and I had been married for about eighteen months. We were living in a cheap (under $500/month, utilities included) and mostly-safe apartment complex in Houston. Life was going great. I was doing part-time consulting after graduating from business school (the job market wasn't solid for 22-year-old MBAs right after the NASDAQ crash) and Jamie was working almost full-time as an office assistant to a startup company.
I started the discussion and just came right out with it: "I want a pet."
I'd had pets almost constantly throughout my childhood, mostly dogs but two cats as well. Unfortunately our apartment complex didn't allow dogs, but cats were perfectly fine. What I was basically telling Jamie was that I wanted to add a cat to our family.
Less than a week later, after finding a classifieds section on Yahoo's website, we were at a man's house watching his seven new kittens romping through the den. "Pick whichever one you want", he said. Most of the kittens were black and white, and one of them was silverish. One was solid black and seemed to have the most energy. "We'll take the black one." We named her Kara (pronounced car-uh) and she spent the ride home standing on Jamie's shoulders, repeatedly opening her mouth in what we called her "silent cry". She wasn't mute. Just weird.
Caught by nightvision camera on the top shelf of the closet
After a good brushing
A few months later I was back at school and Jamie's job turned into a full-time gig. Kara was getting bitter at being left alone all day, so we decided to give her a daytime play buddy. The next Saturday at a pet store adoption day, we found Gabriel. All two pounds of him. The foster family said he'd been found as a baby in the parking lot of a convenience store, starving and lonely. A week later he was healthy and extremely affectionate to anyone near him. He fell asleep on my arm while Jamie and I discussed whether or not to adopt him, a cheesy tactic but admittedly sucessful. Kara had her play buddy.
His favorite sleeping spot: a human arm
Human arm and a belly rub? Heaven.
We had cats long before we had kids. And throughout our kids' lives the cats have been there. Even through Gabriel's fall from our 2nd floor apartment balcony. And Gabriel's "MIA for 24 hours" episode, which ended with him coming home with a broken leg. And Gabriel's fights with the other neighborhood cats. Hmmm... there's a pattern here. If cats have nine lives, Kara gave most of hers to Gabriel and he used about 14 or so.
For the past three years Samantha's allergies have been getting worse and worse, and the cats appeared to be a trigger of her reactions. An allergy test confirmed that she was pretty sensitive to cat dander. Even though these days the cats live mostly outside, Samantha was still having problems. "She's on the path to asthma", the allergy doctor warned. "You've got to limit her acute reactions, because each time that happens her body gets more and more ramped up for chronic problems." How fair is it to have pets and then tell your 5-year-old daughter that she can't ever touch them?
A few weeks ago Jamie took the kids on a weekend trip to visit family. I was alone at the house and took the cats to the local animal shelter for a "counseling visit" to explore options to get them adopted into another family. One part of the visit was a blood test, and Gabriel came back positive for FIV (feline AIDS, basically). It's not transmittable to humans, but isn't good for cats and made both of them impossible to adopt.
"We don't have the option to adopt them", the shelter manager explained. "And you'd need to keep them inside from now on".
"That's not an option for me, unfortunately", I answered.
"We can take care of it from here, if you'd like."
"I understand what you're saying. Yes, thank you."
I let her take the cats to the back of the shelter, knowing that when Jamie and the kids got home the house would be unusually quiet. No meowing when the van pulled into the driveway. No furry creatures curling around their legs when they walked in the yard. Nobody to pounce the sticks when Jack drug one through the grass.
I knew it was the right thing, and obviously our child's health comes before our cats. When I watched the cats get taken away, I walked out the door and still knew it was the right thing. I got in the car knowing it was the right thing.
But I still cried.