With CEO Amy Quale, Wise Ink Publishing
“KI-IY! Ki-iy! Smooch, smooch, smooch,” my sixteen-month-old son squeaks down the stairs. He means to say “kitty,” but hasn’t mastered the art of the consonant yet. The smoochy sounds he’s mimicking from when I used to call the kitty from the basement, where she hid out for six years—up until a week ago.
“Sorry, baby, she’s not down there. Here’s your car! What does the car say?” I ask him.
“Brrrrrrmmmmm,” his little lips buzz.
“That’s right! Good job! What does the cow say?”
We gave our cat to a new home last Saturday, and I hadn’t expected my intense emotional response. No one I know is surprised but me, because apparently my friends and family find me more predictably emotional than I admit to being myself. And sadly, it’s not like I even miss my cat that much—I do miss her a little, but not desperately—but giving her up has actually, surprisingly, and unexpectedly changed something about how I perceive myself. Writing this out, I’m trying to find a way to define this new perception in a way that doesn’t leave me at odds with how I view the core of my humanity or make me sound horribly, terribly, irrevocably heartless. Did I mention I have a tendency toward the dramatic?
In truth, I never would have said “I’m a cat person!” but I definitely have said (and will say again, because it’s still true) that I’m an animal person. I always viewed myself as the kind of person who could make commitments to animals and keep them. You would think this would be especially easy when gifted with the coolest, sweetest cat ever.
Six years ago, I was meeting with a client in my office. She had recently found a little tortie cat lingering around her back yard, and she took her in, determined to find a home for the cat. After our meeting, she had plans to bring the cat to a friend’s house as a temporary foster home.
“You’re not in the market for a cat, are you?” she asked me.
“Well, not really,” I said, “But you can bring her in to say hi!”
My kitty—Cassidy, or “Mama Cass” as I came to call her when she doubled her weight after a few years under our care—let me hold her like a baby. I was a goner, and I brought her home that night.
Six years, a daily three-hour roundtrip commute, one traveling spouse, one master’s degree, two entrepreneurial leaps, and one baby later, I was sick of cat hair on my pillow. In my freshly laundered clothes. In my bathtub where my son takes his baths. On his high-chair tray. And, sadly, I was sick of getting it all over my clothes every time my guilt got the best of me and I invited her on my lap. To top it off, we were going to move soon, and I knew that no matter how many times a week we changed the litter box, there was that undeniable “cat” smell in our house. Plus, this one time, when my son was about a month old, I heard him suddenly scream out in the middle of the night (I hear this is normal) and I rushed in his room to find the cat peering down at him in his crib. Does this all sound trivial in light of the fact that she still was, and is, in fact, the coolest, sweetest cat ever?
“I think we should find a new home for Mama Cass,” I said to my husband every few months after our son was born. All I could see were the irritants, and I wouldn’t let myself think too much about the good things or how I would feel once she was gone.
“Let’s not do anything rash or drastic,” my even-keeled husband said. This is why we’re a great match—my admitted over-dramatization and immediacy is smoothed out (and paced out) by his tendency to not move on something until he’s pondered it awhile. Alternatively, I light a fire under his tush when necessary. We make each other better. But over the next year, my husband would learn about my newfound dread for Mama Cass, however unfounded it was, and it would become something of an impasse between us.
This debate became a common interaction that was repeated every month or so. Finally, in one of my less-stressed, almost-joking moments of suggesting we send Mama Cass a-packin’, my husband finally relented.
“Really?” I asked. I had been almost kidding when I suggested it this time. Our cat had become a point of contention between us that was almost a comedy routine, something I didn’t actually ever think would get resolved, much less with my winning. I never saw it coming.
We agreed that yes, there would be some very nice things about not having a cat. And, being that Mama Cass was the coolest, sweetest cat ever, she deserved a good home—a home where a pleasant, social, affectionate (but not overly affectionate—Mama Cass never wanted to be a burden) cat like her would actually get the affection and attention that, in my heart of hearts, I knew I would never give her, at least not to the amount I knew she’d prefer. We agreed that we would never “put her down” before her time. Our plan was to simply put feelers out to see if there was a good home for Mama Cass, expecting it to never really happen. And we agreed that, under any circumstances, if it didn’t work out in this imagined new home, we would take Ms. Cass back, no questions asked. We would chock up her return to us as a sign that she was meant to be with us for the long haul. So, I sent out one message and one message only—to my cousin, who had made a suggestion a few months prior that she and her boyfriend were considering adopting an adult cat.
Two days later, my cousin texted me and said, “Good news! My co-worker wants Cassidy.”
To my surprise, my heart sank. I began to think of how much I really did love how she’d hop on my lap (when I had a blanket on it) while I read a book. When my husband was traveling, our dog always acted like a weirdo and would often prematurely retire to bed, so it was usually Mama Cass and me staying up to watch old episodes of Six Feet Under on HBO NOW. Then there was this sweet way Mama Cass would curl up on my hip as I lay on my side . . . well, at least she did before she doubled her weight. Plus, my son loved—LOVED—this cat. She would let him lay on her like a pillow—something I’d never seen another cat exhibit with a toddler. How could I deny my son the wonderful experience of growing up with this uncommon sweetness in a pet? And then there was the actual reality that she wouldn’t live out her years with us, our son wouldn’t remember her, and ultimately, I wouldn’t be the person I thought I was—the person who could make a commitment to an animal and keep it.
I finally had to face the reality that even though I’m a nice person, maybe I’m not the kind of nice person who can really, truly love cats, because if I couldn’t love THIS cat (the coolest, sweetest cat ever—did I mention that?), then how would I ever really be able to love any cat? Mama Cass was a perfect cat for us; she never did anything but do her best, and somehow, through all my “life experience,” personal growth, and perceptions of my own compassion, I never appreciated this truly amazing animal. And, I finally realized, I didn’t deserve her.
As we drove away from dropping her off, I sobbed the whole way home. I wanted to turn around and tell the nice family that I changed my mind, but I couldn’t do that to them. I wanted to punish myself somehow, but I wasn’t really sure how or what kind of good it would really do.
A week after dropping her off, my tears have stopped, and I’ve settled into living without cat hair collecting in the corners of our rooms. My son is still calling for the cat in the basement, but his interest in her is fading—I’m not sure he has made the connection that she’s no longer here, but the fact that she no longer responds to his calls is making him divert his attention elsewhere. And my cool, calm, collected, ever-loving husband, always 1,000% sure once he’s made a decision, has been at peace since the day he said, “You know what? I agree—I don’t think it’s good for us to talk about this anymore. Let’s find a new home for the kitty.”
I don’t feel good about any of this, even though it’s what I’ve thought I wanted for over a year. But I have found some peace in it. Our cat is with another cat now, and she’ll be able to experience some companionship that she never would have gotten with us. She’s also in a home with true cat people; though I’m disappointed in myself that I am not a cat person who could give this wonderful creature the life she deserved, I have accepted it. I’ve realized that as a mom, and as a human in life, sometimes there are no right or wrong choices—just choices that might bring some peace, and some that might not. But peace never comes without a price.