What The Parenting Books Don't Tell You: You Might Not Love Your Pets As Much After You Have A Human Child
I remember the first time we saw Dangerkitty.
Our neighbors had been taking care of a stray tabby cat who ended up having a litter of kittens on their front porch. A few weeks later, they invited us to come and pick one out for a pet.
There was the tabby inside of a cat carrier lined with soft blankets, feeding her kittens. Suddenly, one kitten stopped nursing and came wobbling out of the carrier to see us. She was the biggest and fluffiest kitten in the litter, and that was Dangerkitty (though our neighbors were calling her "Bear" back then).
I’d always heard that cats pick their people, not the other way around, and I found this to be true. Danger definitely chose us that day. We visited her several other times before she was weaned, and we could take her home.
She was the first pet I’d had as an adult. Growing up I had a succession of hamsters named Fluffy -- Fluffy Jr., Fluffy III, etc. -- who all died within weeks or months of purchase.
And then there was a cat, when I was 14, who belonged to my mom’s husband-at-the-time. He was a jerk, and he pissed all over everything. The cat, not the husband (at least not the pissing part). They gave him to a relative.
After that, we got a dog named Jessie, a little rat terrier mix who rang a bell with her nose when she needed to go outside and lived to be almost 20. My mom treated that dog better than most people treat other humans.
But Dangerkitty was mine. I was in my late 20s, and I finally felt ready to commit to the responsibility of pet ownership. She was the best cat, and I thought I could never love another thing as much as I loved her.
And then I got pregnant. Danger used to curl up against my pregnant belly and purrrrrr. I wondered what my baby could hear and feel in there. I hoped that Danger and Oliver would get along.
When we brought Oliver home from the hospital, Danger wouldn’t look at me or acknowledge me. She would sit with her back to me, her ears shifting back, giving me the silent treatment. Every time Oliver made a sound, she was right there, sniffing him.
At first I was upset, but then I realized that all the love I had for my cat was nothing compared to the love I had for Oliver. Where once I felt very protective as a pet owner, I now felt the protective instincts that many parents have.
And part of that meant I felt it was necessary to protect my human baby from my cat baby. After all, Danger was an animal; she could turn, she could take a swipe at Oliver, she could sit on him in the night and smother him.
It was an odd way to feel. I was sad. I felt as if, by seeing her as a threat to the safety of my child, I had betrayed my cat, who I had once jokingly called “my kid." This was a cat I had raised from a kitten -- she was a little ball of fluff and love, and now I had to come to terms with the fact that she also was just an animal. She was definitely not my kid.
We bought a mesh tent cover to put over the crib, which prevented Danger from jumping in with Oliver and suffocating him. We monitored their interactions. The first time she scratched him (he deserved it -- he grabbed a fistful of fluff), I wondered if we’d be able to keep her.
We did keep her, but our relationship changed forever. I was no longer her “cat mom” -- I was her “owner.” I didn’t expect to feel this way.
Danger died a few years ago of cancer (RIP, Dangerkitty). Now of course I have Khaleesi, who I love to pieces. And while I certainly consider her a member of the family and the household, she really is just the family pet.
Do you have pets, and do you feel like they’re your kids? Did you have kids and then feel differently about your pets? Or do you love your pet(s) as much as you love your human child(ren)?
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.