I’ve always wanted a dog. When I was a toddler, the only VHS I owned was Disney’s Lady & the Tramp. I watched it so much that my mom still knows entire scenes by heart some 30 years later. (I’m pretty sure this is also the reason our VHS collection rapidly expanded by the time I reached kindergarten.) I desperately wanted a cocker spaniel like Lady, gifted to me on Christmas morning in a hat box tied with a pretty silk ribbon. This is still a not-so-secret wish of mine, though my taste in dogs is more Tramp or Jock these days.
But I’ve never owned a dog. Growing up it wasn’t an option, partly because my parents liked to travel during the summer. Dogs require a place to stay and a level of attention that makes it harder to find sitters for them if you’re gone for more than a few days. They’re also expensive compared to other pets, and we were not in a financial situation that made dogs a viable option.
So we owned cats. Three over the years, before I was diagnosed with asthma and felines were no longer welcome in our home. I know my parents would have loved a dog, too, but cats were much more practical. We lived close to woods meaning more than the occasional mouse would find its way indoors. My mom, who is comically afraid of rodents, was particularly fond of the cats’ ability to catch unwelcome intruders. Cats could also be left home alone while we vacationed, only requiring my grandparents to check in every couple days to refill food and water dishes and clean the litter box. Cats just made sense at the time.
Despite our history of cat ownership, my immediate family would all describe themselves as “dog people.” My mom had dogs growing up, my dad lived with family and friends who owned sweet pups that he still speaks fondly of. When we lived with family members after moving to California, my sister’s chores consisted of feeding and washing our aunt’s two Jack Russell Terriers. A few years ago my sister adopted an adorable Jack Russell named Sherlock. To say I was jealous is an understatement. Sherlock looks like Wishbone, and is nearly as well behaved. He has the exact opposite personality of typical terriers making him basically the perfect dog. Then my parents adopted their own JRT, Trevor, and… well, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an adult woman who pouted for a couple days over this development.
You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t you adopt a dog then?”, and I totally would if my life were different. Right now my husband, Ben, and I both work full time. We agree that getting a dog now would be unfair to the dog. They need a lot of attention, and we’d both feel guilty leaving him or her alone for nine hours a day. We also can’t agree on a breed or where to buy it (I’m into scruffy, smallish dogs; Ben wants a Border Collie. I’m pro-adoption; Ben wants a puppy.). A dog just isn’t in the cards at the moment.
So to remedy this animal shaped hole in our hearts, Ben “adopted” a neighborhood cat who has been hanging out in our backyard since we moved in.
I was fiercely against this. I am a Dog Person. I do not like cats. I’m allergic to both, but dogs don’t trigger my symptoms as badly as cats do. The cat was not allowed inside. Ben had to change his clothes before crawling into bed if he touched the cat. He could continue to feed it pieces of lunch meat and the occasional bowl of milk, but I drew the line at buying food for it. I held onto the idea that this cat belonged to someone else and was just using us for our sunny deck and willingness to feed it.
This lasted a month. Maybe. See, the thing about me is that if I’m in proximity to a fluffy mammal for long enough, I will develop a loving relationship with it. What started with me occasionally feeding the cat after work (I eventually broke down and OK’d buying actual cat food) and allowing it to sit on the sofa (always on blankets) quickly turned into full blown love.
I tried to fight it, but it’s difficult when it’s the middle of winter and a warm cat crawls into your lap and starts loudly purring. It’s hard not to love any animal that follows you around and meows sadly because she just wants to be pet. This was a cat that you could pet and easily feel her ribs, who now visibly fatter thanks to regular feeding. This makes me feel good. Like I’ve made some sort of difference in the world, no matter how small and probably insignificant.
So now we have a cat. I’m still angling for a puppy, but for now Ms. Bonkers D. Bobcat (Ben named her after the 90s cartoon; I added the salutation.) is a nice addition to our home. It’s comforting to see her waiting for us at the backdoor after a long workday, and even better hearing her chainsaw purring as she lays in my lap. She doesn’t need anything from me beyond food and affection, which is sometimes all I have energy to give after work.
Deep down I’m still a dog person. But for now I’ll gladly love my cat.