Pets Are Not Like Children

Parents find it frustrating when pet owners compare their experiences with parenthood. While there are some undeniable similarities—such as the apparent acceptability of putting your child on a leash while out for a walk—there are also some obvious differences. For example: petting a child with your foot while reading a book or spraying a toddler in the face when he or she chews on live wires would be frowned upon for parents, while both practices are common for pet owners.

Another difference between pet ownership and parenthood is a matter of scale. In her article, 13 Things Non-Parents Should Never Say To Parents, Scary Mommy blogger, Lola Lolita says, “Puppies are like babies in the same way cinder blocks are like bricks of gold, kittens are like tigers, André is like Dom Pérignon, and a light sprinkle is like a monsoon.”

Given all these differences then, when it was time for my girlfriend and me to adopt our first solo pet, it’s ironic how classically—even stereotypically—we adhered to our parental roles. For Hannah (read, the expectant mother), our baby existed from conception. For nine months she stared, starry-eyed and smiling at Craigslist ads looking for a kitten. I, on the other hand, assumed the role of nervous potential-father, incessantly checking my bank balance and worrying how we’d pay for everything.

“It won’t be that bad,” Hannah said. “A re-homing fee is usually only $60.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but you’re not counting vet visits, food, litter, toys, the monthly pet-fee that’ll be added to our rent, and the non-refundable $250 pet deposit. We just aren’t ready for this kitten.”

Then, one evening—after hours of trolling Craigslist—Hannah went into labor. “Look at this!” she cried. “I found these six-week-old Russian Blue mixes. It says they’ve already received their first round of shots and are ready for adoption!”

“Oh?” I hedged. “Are Russian Blues pretty?” When she didn’t immediately look guilty, the way she had after looking at photos of cross-eyed Siamese-ragdoll mixes with six toes and kinked tails, I knew we were in trouble.

“They’re gorgeous!” Her whole body seemed to contract for a moment before she turned back to her computer and did a quick Google image search. “See?”

My eyebrows rose as I studied the elegant grey cats on screen. “Okay, do you have pictures of these particular kittens?”

“Yeah,” Hannah said, clicking back to the Craigslist post. “The picture quality isn’t great, but you can still tell they’re adorable.” She pointed to one of the kittens. “This one that sounds perfect. His name is Firefly and it says he’s, ‘quiet, content, and cuddly. He’s a little playful but not rambunctious.'”

I smiled in spite of myself. “Firefly is a great name. Is he named for the TV show or the bug?”

“The bug. See the white tip on his tail?”

“That’s adorable,” I groaned.

“So, can I email the poster?”

I looked into Hannah’s shinning eyes and swallowed hard. “Go ahead.”

The street where we were to welcome our child occupied a liminal space between an upscale residential neighborhood and a rundown block of apartment buildings. The split level duplexes that lined the road reflected this duality. While a few of the buildings looked well maintained and comfortable, many others looked like they’d make excellent homes for squirrels, raccoons, or drug dealers. We stopped in front of a perfect example, the upper duplex was freshly painted while the lower was vacant, and Hannah called her Craigslist contact, Bailey.

“Should we wait in the car?” Hannah asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied, glancing around. “Might as well get out, I guess.” We got out. “Great, it’s raining.”

Hannah looked over at me and grinned. “Chaos in the universe.”

So it seemed to me standing there on that cool, rainy morning, waiting for our little money pit to be delivered. Soon, a thin woman, maybe twenty five, came around the corner of the house clutching something small and shivering to her chest. She was followed by a young man with shoulder length black hair and a scraggly Napoleon III—which is a handlebar mustache mated with a chin strip, a combination that made him look like a modern musketeer who’d fallen on hard times.

“Well, here she is,” Bailey said.

“She?” Hannah asked mid “Aw.”

“Yeah,” Bailey said, blushing slightly. “We got the gender wrong.”

I smiled, thinking of my sister, Hana, whom the doctors made us believe would be a boy. We were going to name him “Adam.” One of my mother’s favorite Zachary stories, tells how little four-year-old me wasn’t able to grasp this change in gender. “Hana’s great, but when’s Adam coming home?” I had asked.

As if listening to my thoughts, Bailey asked, “Are you going to keep her name?”

“Yeah,” Hannah said, “I think so.”

“Cool,” Bailey said. Her musketeer boyfriend grinned and bobbed in the background. Bailey shifted Firefly to one hand and fished some tiny bottles out of her pocket. “Here are the shots she’s already had; they should be enough for a little while.” She handed Hannah the bottles then turned to me. “Do you want to hold her?”

Here’s the thing, I wanted to say, I’m not great with babies. Children, okay, maybe, but babies? Not so much. I had tried to hold my second cousin a few times when she was an infant and neither of us much liked the experience. Of course I didn’t say any of that. My traitorous mouth said, “Sure.”

Then something miraculous happened. Bailey handed me the tiny, blue-eyed ball of fluff and my life changed. I felt an overwhelming wave of love envelope me—as powerful as it was unexpected. Tears came to my eyes as my new feline daughter burrowed her little head into the crook of my elbow. How had I not understood before this moment how essential she was to our lives? How beautiful, how perfect—she was our baby.

I looked up at our donor parents and locked gazes with the nebbish musketeer. He was smiling so widely his eyes nearly disappeared. We shared an indefinable masculine moment, one pet-father to another. I’m glad you understand, his gaze seemed to say. Now I know you’ll take good care of her.

I will, I promised as the women took care of business.

Hannah paid Bailey the re-homing fee, collected the vaccine bottles, and then turned to me. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah,” I said, still feeling drugged. We said our goodbyes and I reluctantly handed our palm-sized progeny over to Hannah so I could drive home. Hannah set her in the towel-lined milk crate we’d brought along to serve as Firefly’s temporary bed and began fussing over her. She squealed, oo-ed, aw-ed, and petted our baby as we drove along.

Unable to help myself, I took one hand off the wheel and scratched Firefly behind the ear. As soon as my hand touched her, she began purring loudly. “That’s just great,” Hannah laughed. “You didn’t even want her and she’s going to end up liking you better.”

“I don’t know about that,” I demurred, though privately I felt exultant.

Our feelings of euphoria lasted for the next several days, even surviving Firefly’s struggles with Brilliance cat litter and the subsequent “presents” left for us behind our bed and dresser. The feelings survived midnight surprise attacks, intense bouts of hide-and-seek, and one terrifying, nearly-fatal encounter with a ball of yarn. In truth, although it’s no longer overwhelming, the feeling still hasn’t faded.

So, no, I’ve never seen a brick of gold, never experienced a monsoon, and never tried Dom Pérignon, but as I clip my little girl into her Come With Me Kitty Harness and we go out to explore the world, I can’t help but feel like a lucky dad.

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