I am not a pet person. I know, I know…pets are good for us. Pets can decrease depression, stress, and anxiety. Pets teach children responsibility and compassion. But honestly? Life with twins has been a little crazy. I didn’t want to add more crazy to the mix. I know how expensive pets can be and I know who really ends up caring for a pet. This mom’s plate has been quite full for about 18 years now.
Then we found evidence of mice in the house. Our home backs up to a beautiful green space, apparently filled with the creatures. After my strong, brave husband set traps and caught 17 of them in our house…17! In our house!… I became more open to the idea of getting a cat. An outdoor cat. To catch the mice before they entered our house. And the moles that tear up our lawn every spring and fall. And the rats that found their way into our crawl space.
So when my friend suggested I go take a look at the litter of kittens that had just been born in her barn I was ready.
I had no idea! I grew up with dogs. All the cats I’ve ever been around were stand-offish and arrogant. But these kittens were absolutely delightful: playful, sleepy, cuddly, rambunctious. I knew we needed not just one, but two. One for each of my then-12-year-olds.
Brynna picked a gray and white short hair and aptly named him Smokey. Nate picked an orange long hair with a white tip on his tail and named him Astro.
Smokey and Astro were to live in our attached garage. Strictly outdoor cats. With a safe, warm, dry place to sleep; food; water; and direct access to all the critters that wandered in from the green space.
Those kittens were the delight of our neighborhood. Kids would stop by on the way home from the bus stop to play with them or just sit on our sidewalk and watch them wrestle and chase each other through the bushes.
About a month after we brought the kittens home, Smokey disappeared. He went off one morning and never returned. As the truth set in that night, Brynna wept in my arms. I wept with her. Heart-wrenching. This is why I didn’t want pets!
Astro missed his brother. His playmate was gone and he’d never been alone before. He cried and pawed at our door, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t take it. I had to do it. For the first time, I let him in the house. We couldn’t risk losing him too and setting ourselves up for more heartbreak. Nate was willing to share “his” cat with Brynna especially when he realized it meant sharing litter box duty. Astro was officially our family pet.
Six years later, Astro is still with us. He has his own blanket on the couch and toys to play with in the living room. He still likes to be outside- especially in the summer- keeping his eye on things. He doesn’t wander outside the yard, and he does a very good job of keeping the mice out of the house. The moles in the yard, not so much. Apparently, they aren’t as tasty as birds, bunnies and mice. I’ve cleaned up my share of decapitated remains left on my doorstep. Another reason I did not want pets!
Last summer, our beloved family pet became discontented whenever we brought him in for the night. He would dig through his litter box and eat what he found in order to make himself throw up. I know! Disgusting! Yet another reason I did not want pets. When I finally realized what he was doing I took him to the vet, thinking there must be something horribly wrong. When all his tests came back normal, the vet told us this was highly unusual behavior for a cat. In my own internet research, I discovered that this could be a behavioral issue, and it dawned on me that maybe Astro was nocturnal and wanted to be out at night, prowling. Maybe all these years we thought we had been protecting him, we were really keeping him from becoming who he was created to be, and he was ready to be free. So we cracked the garage door once again, counting the cost, giving him the freedom to come and go. Problem solved. Happy Kitty. And no more litter box!
My twins turned 18 in August. This is their senior year…college applications…a year of many lasts. Next year our nest will be empty, except for Astro. I want to hold them tight, keep them close, protect them. But this experience with Astro has taught me to hold my children loosely, with hands wide open, to give them the space and the freedom to be who God created them to be. That has become my new prayer posture. Hands open to give back to God what He has so graciously given to me so that I can receive whatever it is that He has for me next.
Maybe I am a pet person after all.
“Yet if you devote your heart to Him and stretch out your hands to Him…then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.” Job 11:13,15
Kim Maxwell is an elementary school teacher-turned stay-at-home mom. She lives in Gig Harbor, WA with her husband Steve, their two teenagers and their cat. Kim teaches a weekly women’s Bible study as well as fourth and fifth grade Sunday school at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church.