Around the Island

Jenifer’s Journal: Fur-ever young

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet. — Colette

Though I don’t want to be “counting my kittens” too soon, hopefully, by next month, I’ll be welcoming a little orange Floridian feline who’s being accompanied up north by his foster-humans, Bob and Maggie. 

Ostensibly I’m getting him on behalf of my 5-year-old granddaughter who, desperate for a kitten, is being thwarted by her mother’s spoiled-rotten Chihuahuas. He will be my first pet in eight years. I can’t pretend I haven’t enjoyed the sheer luxury of leaving on trips without first having to arrange for a well-paid pet-sitter to follow my complicated, copious instructions covering every conceivable eventuality.

But now, with my little stray on the way, I think of my parade of pets since childhood, mostly all cats and dogs, except for when my kids were little, there was that horrifying incident involving two hamsters which still haunts me, and those several goldfish that went overfed “belly-up,” oh, and the sea monkeys, but I refuse to count them.

Though I longed for one, I didn’t get an in-house pet until I was 9, a deprivation based on the fiction that my father had allergies. However, we did have a few feral cats living in the upper reaches of our garage. One was a small gray tiger that I’d named “Milky,” probably because I brought her a saucer of milk every day. I’d put it down on the edge of the driveway, step back and wait (not an easy task). Eventually she’d appear from the dark recesses of the garage and glance sharply at me as she lapped up the milk. Over time she finally let me pet her. When I realized she was pregnant, I was over the moon.

One day she appeared with her belly swinging like an empty bag. The kittens! I soon discovered where they were, three of them, and, not knowing any better, I touched each very gently with the tip of my finger. Sadly, by the next day, the big orange cat I took to be their father had “dispatched” with them; myth or not, so I was told.

On the upside of this tragic tale, I was so devastated that suddenly my father’s allergies disappeared, and one night my parents came home from a party, woke me from a sound sleep, and showed me a little black kitten face peeking out from my mother’s coat. I named her Cleopatra.  The kitten, that is.

How my child’s heart swelled with love and confidence as I learned to care for her. I came to know her favorite foods, and toys, and understand her language for happy, hungry, angry, lonely, scared. And she came to understand me — perfectly.

That small black cat, shiny as patent leather, was the first in a long line of beloved family pets that formed over the years: Suki, the Queen of Siam; “Cat,” the Belgian barn cat for whom I acted as midwife; Prince Harry, King of Cats and the twins, Freddy and Pete; our beagle, Napoleon, noted garbage-hound; Joe, the terrier mix who only buried rocks; Bill, the yellow Lab puppy, who finally learned bathroom etiquette from his “sister,” Lois, a pit bull mix who arrived from Staten Island in the nick of time and taught him a thing or two. And many more.

I sometimes worry that it may speak to my incompetence as a pet owner that I’ve had so many pets. The thing is, they die, whether from speeding cars, or long, protracted illnesses, or once in a while, like my 16.5 year-old orange cat, Jack, just plain old age. Though their loss is always excruciating, having a pet is much, much more about love and life than death.

In her March 23 article on people.com, Jen Janeau shares some statistics from Rover.com regarding pets and the pandemic: “Pet adoption has seen quite the boost over the COVID-19 pandemic. So it’s no secret that many have turned to furry friends to keep them company while, in the meantime, giving cats and dogs a loving home.”

Statistics show that 26% of people got them from breeders, while the vast majority (64%) adopted from either a nonprofit or rescue group (40%) or another family (24%).

According to Rover.com, “93% of people said their ‘pandemic pet’ improved their mental and/or physical wellbeing in the last year and over 80% said it made … being at home during the pandemic more enjoyable.”

Though the article doesn’t indicate what percentage of adopters are seniors, I’ll bet it’s sizable. No question that a pet is a big investment in time, money and patience, but caring for one awakens our inner child every time. Our kitten will soon be on his way, but it’s not just my granddaughter who’s excited.

I might as well be 9.