“So, you’re getting rid of them, right?”
When I was pregnant with our first child, I got hit with this question more times than I cared to admit. And every time I heard it, it shocked me more than the last.
“No. We don’t kick anyone out of our family.”
“Well, JUST YOU WAIT. Things will be different after the baby is here.”
I’m pretty sure the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t. (See also, cloth diapering, running a marathon.) It was then and there that I vowed that, no matter what, our two cats and dog would remain a part of our family. Would their role change? Sure. Would they maybe get a little less attention? Probably for awhile, but they probably get even more now that we have a toddler. Would they always, at the very least, have their basic needs met? Without a doubt.
We adopted all three of our pets from animal shelters. They are all lovable misfits with sad histories and are far from perfect. We have a cat that’s a particular nosy jerkface, a dog that is entirely lovable but completely stupid, and another cat that craps on the floor when she’s nervous. But they’re ours. I’ll never go so far as to say “our pets are our babies,” because yep, they’re different. But they are family members that we committed to long before we said our marriage vows and bought diapers.
And weirdly, now that we have two kids – a 2.5 year old and a newborn – I find myself even more grateful for their presence in our home. I don’t love scooping cat litter and having to share my pillow at night, but they’re worth it. Why?
Pets teach compassion.
The earliest evidence we ever got of our son feeling empathy was when he accidentally petted a kitty too hard and, well, kitty ran away. “You gave Buckley a boo-boo. Can you make it better?” was answered with an immediate “I sorry, kitty” and a gentle pat.
Pets teach responsibility.
Once our son turned two, he began to participate in the care of our pets. We started with him giving the dog his daily “treat” (which is actually medicine), and then progressed to him actually feeding the pets and helping us brush them.
Pets clean up under the high chair.
I honestly don’t know what people without dogs do, beyond sweep or vacuum three times a day, and who has time for that?
Pets teach us about unconditional love.
Our pets are always happy to see us at the end of the day. They don’t care what we weigh, what our annual income is, or if we got put in time-out at school. They’re always ready for a nap, a belly scratch, a completely made-up toddler game. They love us because we are their people, and that’s it.
Pets are fun.
Give a toddler one of those feather wands (or a stack of post-it notes — don’t ask me how I know this) and a cat and sit back and drink your coffee in peace. You’re welcome.
And finally, pets remind us that everything good takes work.
No animal is perfect. They all require some degree of training, and reinforcement, and praise, and care to become good members of a family.
But then again — don’t we all, too?