The case for a cat
My youngest has been at me for a year to get a cat. That’s a year for him to build up a rock-solid case with someone who’s dead set against cats for pets. I don’t hate cats. But since here in Australia up to 23 million feral cats are threatening 81 vulnerable and endangered native species across our fragile and unique ecosystem, you can see my reasoning.
Here’s some of my side of the discussions we’ve had over a year on his pet topic (pun intended). You can work out his reasoning.
No, we are not getting another animal. We already have two dogs, two guinea pigs, four children. That’s enough. Maybe when the dogs have…Okay, okay, I won’t talk about it.
And no, we are especially NOT getting a cat. Why not? Because they kills birds. Yes – I know they can’t help it, but that’s why not.
Yes, I know you love cats, but we are not getting a cat.
Anyway, why would we get another pet? It’s hard enough getting you kids to look after the ones we have already. That’s why we now have free-range guinea pigs.
Well, if we DID get a cat – and it’s a big IF – you would need to be responsible for looking after it. EVERYTHING. Feeding, grooming and kitty litter. You would?
Getting a cat would help you? How? You can’t explain how? Of course not… It would help you with school and other things? Well… I need to think about this.
IF we got a cat – and remember, that’s a BIG if – I’d want to adopt one from the RSPCA. You’re ok with that? Good. And preferably an older cat, who’s a bit more mellow and used to things. After all, we have a busy household. Did I mention the guinea pigs and dogs?
You need to prove to me and Dad that you CAN be responsible. That means getting through the hard stuff now. Following the bedtime routine. Taking your dirty clothes to the wash. Helping when asked.
When might we get a cat? Well, not until after the summer holidays and not until we see how first term goes. Easter holidays at the earliest. IF you show you can be sufficiently and reliably responsible.
Excuse me, young man, that’s not being responsible. One word – cat!
Okay. Phew! You can get a cat. (Cue exultant leaping about and a heartfelt hug and Thank you!) Dad and I have had a long talk about it. If you really think that having a cat will help you (‘It will, Mum, it really will’) you can get a cat.
My husband and I did talk about it. The sort of talk where he rolls his eyes and accepts the force of logical arguments. We decided that a vet every so often would be cheaper than a psychologist on a regular basis. (I don’t mean this to sound flippant.) In addition, a cat would potentially benefit our other children.
Anyone who’s ever owned a pet will be able to tell you how this has enriched their lives in unexpected ways. It’s no different when it comes to ASD. Increasingly, animals are being brought into nursing homes, into courts, into hotels as ‘ambassadors’, and other work and domestic environments. They can help with sensory needs and they’re great de-stressors. You don’t need to interpret complex facial expressions to work out what they’re thinking, they’re non-judgmental and they’re excellent focal conversation points for people who find conversation difficult.
I’ve written before on the value of pets as therapy, and I read recently of the difference that a cat made in the life of Iris Grace. In the same way that we came to have a dog, we were now on the road to adding a cat to our family.
My oldest boy was in favour. Middle son not so keen, and concerned on the dogs’ behalf that they might feel left out. Husband – even less keen than I was but prepared to be open-minded. Daughter? Perhaps ambivalent. We would have to wait to see.
Fast forward to the middle of the just-passed Easter holidays. We had visited the RSPCA before Christmas and again during the term. Just looking. Thinking. Planning. Now was the big day.
Since the decision to get a cat was made, we had gradually accumulated most of the things we thought we’d need. A cat basket. Two scratching posts. A cat toy. A collar and lead, because you never know… and we’d allocated a place in the laundry for a litter tray.
After briefly floating the idea of a kitten, we reverted to a cat. And here we were, at the RSPCA adoption centre, in the midst of Saturday morning busyness with, coincidentally, a ‘special’ on cat adoption! Would there be any left for us? Two we’d looked at earlier had already been re-homed. Many of the others weren’t considered suitable for homes with existing pets. The choices were narrowing.
In the end, the choice was between waiting for the next lot of cats to come in, or taking home Regina, a dainty stray – part tabby, part tortoiseshell. Having felt like he’d already waited all his life for this moment, my youngest opted for Regina. He could barely contain his excitement. Having a cat might finally be the thing that teaches him patience. He admits readily that he’s not good with waiting. Well, he’ll need to, as the cat gets used to a new home and new family – two-legged and four-legged!
In his brief weeks of part-time living away from home, my oldest boy had experienced living with two cats and a dog. He was keen to see the new arrival. I hope it might provide a common point for the two boys to interact. They have done little together for some time now.
Middle son was mildly interested, daughter fled to her room and husband dutifully gave her a pat. As fate would have it though, husband ended up looking after Ruby – as Regina was renamed – while the rest of us were away on a pre-booked holiday that I’d forgotten about while I was up at the Adoption Centre signing away life as we knew it. Since it was at a national park, there was no chance of taking Ruby with us. I think my better half became a little fond of Ruby while we were away.
It’s early days. We’ve had Ruby for barely two weeks. My youngest has been in tears several times because she’s not yet ready for the cuddles he wants to give her. “I told you we should have got a kitten!” he wails. But when the tired monster isn’t in the driver’s seat, he’s happy for her to take time in getting to know us. He’s pleased that she has found a snug place to sleep on his bed. And this morning, for the first time all year, he was out a full quarter of an hour before I usually go in to wake him. Holding Ruby, not complaining, cheery after a good night’s sleep.
Watch this space!
Until next time, hold your pets close and your children closer. Be open to looking at things differently, and Happy Wombatting!