The Ethics of Adoption

Every time I enter a pet store with my cat, Firefly, someone asks me if she is a rescue. I was so surprised the first time that I didn’t reply, “No, I got her on Craigslist,” but something rather more ominous: “Not yet.” In truth, I’m still surprised when people ask because the question seems so personal. No one has ever asked me if I was adopted.

Although I find the question surprising, the query itself isn’t irksome. No, what frustrates me is the predictable response to my reply. The questioner lets out a little, “Oh,” of disappointment, then turns away. We are no longer worthy of interest. There’s a strange devaluing of lovingly raising a baby animal implicit in this reaction that’s completely absent (or even reversed) in humans, where the majority of families are created through birth rather than adoption.

Is it because animals (and cats in particular) are over-populated, because you’re giving an animal a second chance, or because of the very real possibility the animal will be put down if it isn’t rescued?

Why isn’t adoption more celebrated in humans? Although human children aren’t put down if a suitable home isn’t found, their lives are often so challenging that they become hardened, bitter people.

I ponder these questions as I glance up from my keyboard at my astonishingly amazing girlfriend. As a baby, Hannah was adopted by two wonderful, loving individuals.

I have no doubt that if one were to describe her parents’ actions in adopting their son and then their two daughters as “selfless,” or “courageous,” they would humbly demure, saying they received much more than they gave. I’m sure they are right.

Yet, as I look back to my computer, open to the South Dakota Humane Society Website, I can’t help but think that any adoption (but particularly human adoption) requires both.

Let me back up. 

About a week ago Hannah’s parents found a five month old kitten out in the snow, pawing at the glass sliding door to their porch. The youngster didn’t have a collar or tags, so, after feeding it some turkey and warming it up, they took it to the Humane Society.

downsize_0001Of course they told us about her (it turned out to be a her) shortly thereafter, knowing that Hannah wanted a second cat. She’s pretty (though you wouldn’t know it from the photo on the Humane Society’s Website) and Hannah was instantly smitten.

Here we go again, I thought. Then, surprised by my reaction, Haven’t I changed?

Apparently not because I was feeling just as nervous about things that don’t really matter as when we adopted our first daughter.

However, instead of worrying about money, my primary concern at this point is sibling rivalry.

I worry that Firefly and the new kitten – already dubbed Igmu (“Cat” in Lakota) by Hannah’s father Steve, and which we promptly shortened to “Iggy” – won’t get along. I fret about fighting, worry about equal distribution of love, and that Firefly might feel she’s being replaced. For the most part it’s all fairly standard sibling stuff.

However, another branch of my concerns have to do with Iggy being a rescue. I worry that she will be too timid, hiding all the time when guests come over (as many rescues, including my grandmother’s two cats, do). I worry that no matter how much care and attention we give her we will never be able to heal the scars inflicted by her first five months of existence.

My apprehensions are not helped by the fact that Hannah and I were blessed with an incredible first born pet. Firefly is playful and snuggly in equal measure, is very quiet, is not afraid of guests, and takes immaculate care of her coat. She is essentially the perfect cat. When describing her virtues, Hannah and I often take a little credit.

“Certainly,” we acknowledge, “her natural temperament is good, but she’s also had a safe and loving home her entire life. That is why she turned out so well.”

We’ve missed that early molding time with Iggy and have no way of knowing what she’s undergone.

This, I think, is the sticking point for a lot of people in both cat and human adoption. It’s the uncertainty that makes it hard. This uncertainty is mitigated by adopting young, which gives the illusion of control.

I say “the illusion of control” because what we are ultimately afraid of is that our love will not be returned, or that it won’t be enough. We worry our love will be wasted.

But here’s the thing, the thing that I didn’t fully understand until typing these words: love is never wasted.

Love isn’t more or less worthily bestowed upon a kitten you adopted at six weeks old from Craigslist than it is a five month old feline who wandered randomly into your life.

Love is beautiful and courageous whether you are lavishing it on a child you brought into the world or on a child you found already living in it.

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  1. A.c. Huayra says:

    Nice, I’m glad to read a backstory of the cat’s amd their naming ceremony. Even though there are versions of adoptiin literature available at public libraries, so,e of the most thought provoking and upsetting amd unsettling the good way stories
    Chapter’s about copong mechanisms with definition’s is Joe Soll’s reading material. I had a time of it a few years ago getting through the initial chapters myself. It took years to sign up for adotion heritage camp despite all of the support and reasoning to sign up sooner…

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