Saturday, March 01, 2008

Family shrinkage

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.

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Caught by nightvision camera on the top shelf of the closet

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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.

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His favorite sleeping spot: a human arm

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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.

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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.


Andrew said...

Sorry to hear about your having to go through such a hard circumstance. I hope for some peace soon for you and your family.

~aj~ said...

I am so sorry about the loss of Kara and Gabriel. I've been thinking of you guys a lot the past couple of weeks...wondering how everyone is doing. Never easy to lose a family pet(s). Sending love to you guys!

Hal Johnson said...

Rhonda and I had "fur kids" before Dylan arrived on the scene. We've lost two pets since he's been with us. Was it as hard as the times we lost pets before he was born? No. Was it still hard? Yes.

Sheesh Michael, you were in a terrible quandary. You were in a no-win situation with no choice but to choose the lesser of two evils. You made the only "right" choice a dad could make, of course, but man, I feel for you big time.

hard.rox said...

Once again I'm sorry about the loss of your feline friends.

Redlefty said...

Thanks, guys. Eight years is a good long run with pets, I think. Especially indoor/outdoor cats.

Samantha's already asked when we can get a dog. Yikes. I think we'll try a fish first. Or maybe a turtle.

Roland said...

Very sad on the cats, Michael. So sorry.

However, please don't try to find solace in a turtle unless you've had turtles before. If you don't know what you're in for, you just don't know what you're in for.

Give me the chance to "enlighten you" before you make that potential mistake...

Redlefty said...

A friend of our ours has a turtle for their three girls and said it's low maintenance. That's why we were considering it.

What say ye?

Roland said...

I don't want to talk you out of it, but I've had several of them.

Just to be clear, I'm talking water turtles. Red Eared Sliders, painted turtles, etc. I'll admit that a Red Eared Slider would seem to fit with the RedFamily theme. Don't let that influence you...

If you're talking about a tortoise (a box turtle, wood turtle, etc.) then I have less personal experience. This is route I'd take if I wanted a turtle again. A land turtle.

Water turtles are a pain in the ass. They are very, very dirty. When they are tiny little guys, they are cute and easy and you put them in the sink while you clean to bowl. And, then they start to grow up and you need an aquarium. All is right with the world for about six months, then you notice that the weekly cleaning isn't coming fast enough. It smells in there after 5 days. Then 4. etc.

These things eat and poop in the water and if it's not dumped and replaced (that's right, not filtered), it's disgusting in just a few days.

Also, the environment of disgusting water allows algae and fungus to grow pretty quickly; on the gravel, on the glass of the tank, and on the turtle, itself.

When you clean the tank, you have to be careful not to let it splash onto your face or you'll die. Not really, but salmonella is a serious threat.

Kids want to play with turtles, too. See above.

One Saturday, take a trip to one of the local manmade lakes or ponds at the park. Watch the turtles sun themselves on that rock. Ask yourself this? What made me think that this is the natural habitat for all these turtles? Cuz it probably isn't. In a year, will I be coming here to visit little my little RedTurtle, too?

It really is that bad, unless you have a pond in your yard, but don't do that, either. Birds, raccoons, possums, etc. love to eat turtles.

If you want to go the turtle route, consider a box or wood turtle.

Redlefty said...

Ah, thanks. Our friends have a land turtle/tortoise, I think. That may explain their apparently easy maintenance schedule.

Don R said...

I feel for you Bro'.It's not easy. I've "lost" 3 dogs in 5 years.

Mike said...

Turtles are even easier if you just find a shell in the woods.

James W said...

Sorry man! I know it is not easy to lose a pet. They are part of the family!

FishrCutB8 said...

I am so sorry--pets are family. I've lost two pets this year, and it is never easy, harder still when kids are involved. My thoughts are with you, brother.