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Coming full circle as a cat owner

Growing up, my family had an abundance of cats running amok. These were the days before spaying and neutering were common occurrences. We all know what happens when there’s no protection against the passions of nature, so inevitably we had a feline family much bigger than our own. 

Each time a litter was born, we would keep a few kittens and give others away to neighbors or friends. I remember my sister and I feeding many a kitten with a medicine dropper, making cozy beds for them out of Avon boxes and towels, and nursing those with parasites back to health. She and I also created a pet cemetery in the woods behind our house where we would hold a memorial service and bury the cats or kittens that passed on. 

While we had many cats, my most cherished was named Smokey. He was dark gray with light, piercing blue eyes, and he loved me the most. We had him longer than any of our other cats. When I think of being a little girl, this is the pet I hold close to my heart. He eventually died of old age and I was heartbroken. 

Fast forward many years. 

I’m now 38 and have two little boys, ages 6 and 9. Lately, they’ve been begging me to get a cat. I was a dog person for 10 years when I was married. We couldn’t get a cat because my ex-husband was allergic, so we had two dogs. We decided they would stay with my ex-husband once we parted ways. I thought about keeping one of the dogs, so the boys could have a pet at each home, but the dogs were such good friends, separating them wasn’t a good plan. 

I think dogs are beautiful creatures, very social and responsive, probably more so than cats. The boys initially asked for a dog but I said no. As a full-time working single mom, taking care of a dog right now sounds overwhelming and exhausting. I know my limits. Furthermore, on the days or weekends I don’t have my kids, I’m often traveling, biking, or otherwise not at my house, which doesn’t lend itself very well to owning a dog. 

When the boys saw getting a dog was out of the question, they started asking about a cat. If you’ve been around kids at all, you know they can be very persistent. The boys knew I’d grown up with cats and I guess figured this was my soft spot. They must be pretty smart kiddos because I think it’s working. 

Not only do I want them to be happy, but with almost a decade of mom experience under my belt, I’ve learned animals and children belong together. There’s a mutual innocence between the two parties that results in true love and companionship. I fully believe owning a pet as a child offers many of life’s most important lessons. 

Cats and I have a lot in common. While people who meet me think I’m an extrovert, I’m actually an introvert, or perhaps a small-setting extrovert. I can be very talkative in an intimate group setting and among friends, but in the grand scheme, I enjoy my alone time and get overstimulated with too much human interaction, so a cat would be more my speed, especially in this season of my life. 

My dad also said he’ll help with the cat when or if I need to travel. My dad was the original cat master, after all, the one who taught my sis and I all we know. And also, since my mom passed away, he could certainly use the company. 

Once school starts and life settles back into a routine, I’m going to be on the lookout for a cat. I don’t think I’m going to intentionally go “shopping” for a cat, but if one comes my way or we visit a shelter and one winks at me, I’ll take him or her home. 

Life’s been hard for both the boys and me over the past couple of years. They lost their grandmother and I lost my mom who was more wonderful than I could ever describe. She wasn’t a distant grandma that we saw on holidays or during the summer; she was part of our everyday world so it shattered all of us. Then on the heels of that loss, the marriage couldn’t sustain itself so the boys had to deal with another heartache. 

I can’t mend all the scars these life situations have surely caused, but I can brighten their spirits and offer new memories with a pet of our own. I have no idea when this cat will come along or what it will look or act like, but I probably need to find some medicine droppers and Avon boxes, just in case. 

(Susanna Barbee writes this column and wears many hats at The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living, and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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