Pets live a long time. Never mind things like parrots and turtles; my doberman has an estimated lifespan of twelve years, and domestic cats can live up to twenty years. Heck, I had a gerbil who lived until he was five years old once. I don’t even know what I’m going to have for dinner tonight, never mind my five year plan; yet, I know Athena will be there with me.
There are tons of photos floating around the internet talking about how you shouldn’t get a pet unless it’s forever. There are a LOT of people who get shamed for saying they can’t afford certain vet treatments and asking for help and the first response is always, “why did you get a pet when you can’t afford it?”
And people who are nodding along right now? I’m with you. I really am. When Athena cost us over $10,000 this past summer, we figured it out. We never once thought “is it worth it?” If I were to, hypothetically, develop allergies, I would take allergy medication every day to keep my pets while getting shots to overcome my allergies. I fully agree that we should get pets with every intention of keeping them for their entire lives and taking good care of them for that time.
What about when being with you isn’t what’s best for your pet?
What about when keeping your pet through some issues is worse for them than being with you?
What about when keeping them may just be selfishness on your part?
As I touched on briefly in a previous post, I am rehoming my cats. And before you throw your judgement at me (believe me, I’ve already said it all to myself), let me tell you the story of my cats.
When I was a kid, I loved animals. I wanted pets so, so badly. My dad was allergic to cats, and I think thought dogs were too much work (frankly, I can’t blame him – my sister and I played classical piano and swam competitively and didn’t have time for much else), so he had a rule: I could have any pet I wanted, as long as a) it could fit in the palm of my hand, and b) wasn’t a bird (because they are messy and noisy). Fair enough. I had gerbils mostly, and lots of fish. We ended up with two baby hamsters at one point when my best friend had a hamster and was babysitting her friend’s hamster, and she, against her parents instructions, let them have some play time. I loved my critters. I even took them out to the backyard to let them play in the grass under a portable glass lid my grandpa made me to contain them and keep them from being eaten by birds. I always wanted a cat though.
The summer I was sixteen, my parents got divorced, and I got my mom in the divorce. For Christmas that year, there were two sparkly bags for me under the tree. I opened one excitedly, pulling out the paper, and it was empty. “Oh, shoot,” my mom said, “you were supposed to open the other one first!” In the other one was food and water bowls, a little collar, some toys; basic kitten supplies. One of my best friends had a part time job at a vet clinic, and they’d gotten in some tiny, tiny kittens who were found in a barn, only days old, their mother dead; my mom had arranged for me to get one of them. The empty bag was symbolic of my new kitten.
We were only supposed to get one, but when we went to see them and these teeny, tiny black kittens are crawling all over you and mewing? No chance; I got two. They stayed at the clinic for a couple weeks, but I still got them way younger than most people get pets; I remember doing feedings of kitten milk with a syringe, and carrying them around in the pocket of my bunnyhug. I took them out to play in the grass on tiny little harnesses and leashes; my little Salem and Bast.
I loved them both, but as an awkward, alternative, pagan girl, Bast was MY special baby; she has bad tear ducts, so she always looks like she’s crying, she is fat, she loves getting pet but will bite you if she gets too happy, and has eight toes on each paw. For real. Mommy’s little freak.
Bast was always the adventurous one too. One time, when she was four or five, she escaped the house. I cried for a bit, and then I plastered her photo on Craigslist and Kijiji and the Humane Society Website and around the neighbourhood, and I registered her missing with the microchip company. I even walked around the neighbourhood shaking her food container and calling her name; nothing.
Four full days later, she showed up, happy as a clam, on the back porch looking – I swear to god – smug. From that day forward, she was constantly trying to escape the house.
A few years after that, one insane, over-tired night, I went to work for a ten hour shift and accidentally left my balcony door open – I got home from work, closed it, and went to bed. I woke up in the morning, and saw, through the window, my Bast napping on the balcony, not a care in the world about being locked out.
Salem, on the other hand, has always been less adventurous. She likes people more than Bast does, but won’t even venture into the hallway of our apartment building, indoors.
Just over three years ago now, my partner and I moved to Toronto from Ottawa, and since me and my cats are a package deal, they came along.
Since we are been here, they have NEVER been happy. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. The noise of the city? The fact that we have far less space in a condo here than they did in their house back home? The dog? I don’t know. What I do know is that since we’ve been here, they’ve destroyed two couches and one mattress by peeing on them over, and over, and over again, until even Nature’s Miracle wasn’t miraculous enough.
I have taken them to the vet, of course. I assumed a UTI, or maybe something with their kidney’s, to start. They got a clean bill of health, and the vet suggested that it was likely behavioural. He said that they probably needed more private space; fine. In my one bedroom plus den, the cats got two new beds, their climbing cat tree, mental-stimulation cat toys, and three litter boxes between the two of them. It helped exactly nothing.
I got them all kinds of homeopathic remedies; anti-anxiety drops for their water, pheromone spray and collars, treats that help with urinary health, and super-expensive-your-cats-will-use-the-box-no-matter-what cat attracting cat litter, along with a special mix of herbs that are supposed to attract your cats to the litter box.
It didn’t help.
So that brings me to present. I have these two eleven year old cats who I’ve had since they were tiny, who came to me at a rough patch in my life, and who have seen me through thick and thin. I love them dearly. What do I do now?
I was thinking to myself, a few months back, about maybe putting them on prescription anti-anxiety medication, when it hit me: how selfish am I? My cats are hitting me over the head with the fact that they are not happy with me that I want to medicate them into a docile state?
So I cried, and cried, and then I thought about options.
I am fortunate that my uncle and his wife have a farm. They have two dogs, chickens, sheep, goats and miniature goats, horses, alpacas, and… I don’t even know what else, I can never keep up. It’s basically my heaven!
Oh, yeah, and did I mention? They also have barn cats. These are cats who have food and water and litter boxes and shelter and heat, but who live in the barn and have freedom in the country.
This weekend, we’re all packing up and going on a mini road trip to a beautiful farm outside of Ottawa, and my cats are getting a new home. It is killing me. It kills me when I’m working on my blog and Bast is lying on my lap purring; it kills me when Salem wakes me up by headbutting me for pets at 2am. It especially kills me when I remember how, when Bast was a kitten, I’d sleep on my side, and she’d sleep on her side facing me, on my pillow, her paw in my hand.
They started their lives on a farm, so they can live out the rest of their lives on one.
Do I know for sure they’ll be happy on the farm? No, I don’t. But I do know for sure they’re not happy here. I’m going to give them a chance.