We Didn't Know Pets Weren't For Christmas
Maybe before I post this blog I’ll dig out a picture of my black, half-Siamese cat with an injured lip who I named Holly.
The Christmas my twin sister and I were in the fourth-grade we woke up early, because that’s what nine-year-olds do on Christmas Day, and eagerly awaited the opening of presents. Once the living room floor was carpeted by spent wrapping paper, my parents announced one more gift for us. But we had to close our eyes.
My sister and I whispered with excitement through the darkness of closed eyelids about what this surprise might be. We could hear the backdoor open and close, then open and close again. Into our waiting arms our parents placed two furry bundles of pure joy.
Alright, alright, I’ll be real. They did place two furry bundles, but those were bundles of panic and fear. We opened our eyes to find two beautiful black kittens whose wide green eyes displayed the same shock we felt.
We’d begged for a kitten or a puppy for weeks, maybe months, leading up to Christmas. Here in our arms were our beautiful, terrified babies. Our family had a cat named HotRod for many years, but she was getting older and wasn’t all that interested in us anymore. We wanted our own pets. We promised to care for them, and of course let them sleep in our beds at night.
Keep in mind this was in the late 80s. In Mississippi, the rights of cats and dogs weren’t on many people’s list of priorities. In today’s world, giving a pet for Christmas is a big no-no, but on that day, it was a highlight I remember fondly 30 years later.
Our poor cats were terrified. They spent the first few weeks hiding under my parents’ bed. We would hang a cat toy by a string from the ironing board to tease them into coming out. And we would promptly scoop them into our arms and wag them around until they scratched us. As soon as their feet hit the ground, they ran back under the bed. For months we sported the knicks and scratches of kitten claws on our arms and hands, the battle scars of proud new kitten mothers everywhere.
Eventually our babies settled into their new home, and perhaps our excitement tempered a bit. I’m not sure when they stopped hiding, and their mischief began. They knew we were their owners. They loved to climb under the covers of our bed and lay on our pillows. We loved to giggle at the lump under the bed we’d made earlier that day.
One of the cats liked to lay across my father’s shoulders as he sat at the desk in his study. I believe that’s the same cat he cracked his ribs rescuing from our above ground pool. We had to break them from climbing the curtains. One of them learned how to open the door to the laundry room, where they slept at night, and let themselves out. They slept in our doll beds, doll strollers, the sofa, our beds, and anywhere else they pleased. They were cats afterall.
When my sister and I graduated from high school eight years later, we loaded our cats and took them for our senior pictures. They were again terrified. The funniest senior pictures we have are us with a death grip on our cats, and their eyes bugged out in fear.
My parents did a lot of the caretaking of these creatures, but my sister and I emptied lots of litter boxes and refilled lots of food and water bowls. When we moved away to college, my mother said the cats would ignore our rooms until we came home. On Saturday morning they would sit in front of our door waiting for us to wake up.
Both our beauties died at around twelve years of age. We were at college, and my parents said all the final good-byes. Our cats experienced lives mixed between adventure and the lap of luxury. They hunted mice in the woods behind our house, but turned their noses up when offered anything other than canned cat food in their bowls. I imagine it as the best of both worlds.
I’m not advocating buying your child a pet for Christmas, but I’m not totally against it either. As long as parents understand dogs and cats and turtles and rabbits all live long lives. They require attention and care even when you are sick or busy or when your kids move away. If you, the gift-giver, are willing to pick up the slack in care for a pet, and it’s been a decision your family’s been moving toward for a while, go for it. But don’t give your girlfriend or boyfriend or grandchild a pet without the full agreement of an adult who will be responsible when that person isn’t. Because all kids and teens are irresponsible from time to time.
Our cats may have been a surprise to us, but they weren’t a surprise to our parents. Neither was the amount of work that came with them.
Oh, and for goodness sakes, follow Bob Barker’s advice and have your pet spayed or neutered!
PS: Sorry I couldn't find a picture!