A Parent’s Perspective
My 11 year old daughter has been using pester power for several years now to encourage me to get her a pet. My 16-year-old was also on the case, presenting me with appealing Facebook pictures of cute, furry kittens and crazy cat antics on YouTube.
My husband and I discussed it on many occasions but always felt that our lifestyle was too busy for the demands of a pet. We were reluctant to take on the responsibility of welcoming a little animal that might have to be left home alone for long periods of time. I was never that impressed with smaller animals as pets and while I might have considered a goldfish, fish just aren’t responsive enough for my liking.
My daughters must have been praying hard because the week-end of Hurricane Ophelia changed everything.
It’s not every day that Ireland experiences the sort of extreme weather that Hurricane Ophelia brought. It’s also not a common occurrence to have a hungry little cat appearing out of nowhere looking a bit lost and bedraggled. We all know the stories about never getting rid of a cat once you feed it and how clever cats can use their feline charms to get a few tasty morsels at several doors. It all meant nothing to my kind-hearted daughter who just saw a vulnerable creature in need of refuge.
I kept hoping that the lovely tortoiseshell cat would disappear. I was convinced that a cat with a collar, a bell and a shiny healthy coat must have a worried owner waiting for her to come home, but every morning, the little dark bundle was there huddled up on the doorstep. Then the storm arrived and all my steely resolve went out the door with the first few gusts. As the gales rattled the windows, Shadow, as she was now called, slept smugly in an old crate by the heater. It looked like she was here to stay.
Two weeks later and “that stray cat” has become “our cat”. We’ve dished out several hundred euros to get the best of cat care; all cat vaccinations have been taken care of and the poor cat is recovering from the recommended surgery. I actually manged to locate her owner and a wave of relief was followed by sleepless nights when I realised that she wasn’t really in a position to look after a 7 month old kitty.
I was very tempted to bid our lost friend a fond farewell; a cat had definitely not been on the agenda. I wasn’t even a cat person and my husband always said that he hated cats. It was a late night chat with my 16 year old daughter that tipped the balance in the cat’s favour. All my arguments about not knowing anything about cats, not wanting a cat and the fear of being tied down were demolished. One thing was clear: this little animal needed a home. I’d heard stories about Pope Benedict feeding the stray cats of Rome and about how much he loved cats. I said a few quiet prayers to St Francis of Assisi who once said that “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men”.
It took less than two weeks to fall head over heels for little Shadow and, in that length of time, I see all the benefits to children of having a pet. Whether it’s caring for farm animals, a dog or a cat or even a goldfish, the responsibility of a pet teaches children about commitment. When our overgrown kitten was settling in, my 16 year old slept downstairs to keep an eye on her. As she waddled around backwards trying to escape from her post-operative plastic collar, my children fussed around sympathetically. There were a few stressful nights when, in typical young cat style, Shadow was having a few moments of cat madness.
The children suddenly developed the realisation that pets aren’t like video games; you can’t just turn them off when you’re tired or bored. Pets can help children to develop virtues like kindness and respect. I was impressed at how a child whose bedroom looks like it’s been ransacked was so dedicated to administering cat medicine, bathing the cat and even the lovely job of cleaning the cat’s litter box.
Pets like cats and dogs teach children about loyalty and trust. In a sometimes confusing world, a pet is a trusted friend that children can confide in. Caring for pets requires empathy and sensitivity which helps smaller children to learn about treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself. I noticed my 7 year old son being very gentle with the new addition after a bit of lively play resulted in a minor scratch. Pets teach children about long term plans and permanency; once you take on the job, you stick with it until the end. With pets that’s a long term commitment.
Many Catholic parishes around the world have an annual blessing of the animals. A lot of our well known saints had a particular love for animals. When we are kind to our pets and all animals, we’re demonstrating our appreciation and love for all of God’s wonderful creation including all our furry friends and especially those that appear from nowhere on dark stormy nights.