I am not a cat person. Truth be told, I am not much of an animal person at all. As a kid, I grew up with dogs, a cat, and a couple of gerbils that got eaten by said cat. RIP Lenny and Squiggy. So it’s not like I am an anti-pet person at all. I like animals just fine, as long at they are the ones that I can eat.
Khaki was the name of the family cat that I grew up with. She was a calico cat and had this really cool vibe about her all the time. She wasn’t mean, always did her business outside or in the litter box, and gifted us her fair share of chipmunks and birds custom delivered to our doorstep. I’m pretty sure she was well over the age of nineteen when she went to that great litter box in the sky, so I don’t have any childhood memories when she was not a part of our lives.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012. My wife and I are living on the coast of North Carolina and we have four kids, each of whom who have been asking for a pet pretty much since they left left the womb. My answer has almost always been “No!” with the caveat, “I have four kids, why do I need to introduce another mess-maker into the family?” I have been accused of being mean and insensitive and an animal hater, but for years I have stood my ground. Except for that one time we actually did get a dog.
The year was 2010 and we were living in the first house that we had bought with our own hard-earned money. It was great first home - lots of land for the kids to explore and a pond loaded with fish and an elusive giant snapping turtle. It only seemed natural to my kids that a dog would complete the picture of the ideal family and in a moment of weakness I gave in. We researched online for rescue dogs and found one that was predominately chocolate lab (which, if I was pressed to admit, is the perfect dog). After a few phone calls and lots of questions, I drove an hour and a half to South Carolina to pick the pooch up from a family that was fostering this soon-to-be member of the Griggs family.
This exciting new canine adventure didn’t last long. Bella, the name my kids bestowed upon the dog, was not a cuddly kind of dog. Apparently she had previously been owned by a guy who liked to hunt and most of her life was lived in a kennel. She wasn’t aggressive or anything like that, she just didn’t do much of anything. Fetch a ball? Nope. Come when you call her? Good luck with that. But Bella did enjoy running the property and splashing in the pond and one time she even dragged up part of a deer carcass in the yard for us to admire. But it was no secret that she was not the best fit for the Griggs family. So when we decided to load up the family and move to the coast in early 2012, we were able to find a new home for her where she could run and play with other dogs. The kids were mad at me, but I tried to convince them it was for the best.
We found a charming townhome near the water in Southport, NC, perfect for our family and not quite suitable for a dog. Although they continued to ask for another pet, I was able to deflect their request by reminding them that it would not make a lick of sense to have a dog if we didn’t have a yard for it to run in. Plus, lots of people in the community had dogs and they constantly had to walk them day and night and engage in the disgusting act of picking up their poop in a plastic bag. Being a dad, I knew how this would work. I would be the one walking the dog and picking up after it, not the kids. Thanks but no thanks.
Summer arrived and my family enjoyed all the benefits of living at the coast. Why would my kids want a pet when so much of their lives would be lived outdoors? I could feel their angst toward me starting to fade over being a pet-less family and my second oldest daughter had even stopped accusing me of being an animal hater. Life was good.
Until August. That’s when everything changed.
Our neighbor across the street was a college professor, a grandfather-type figure who would give my kids odd jobs such as watering his plants when he was away. One day he called me from across the street to tell me that there was something he wanted me to see. Lo and behold it was a tiny orange and white tabby kitten who was lapping up milk from a glass dish. “Oh, that’s nice,” I said. “You have new cat.” I wish that was how the conversation needed. “No, Sterling, he’s not my cat. He showed up in my yard and I’ve been feeding him everyday. He now relies on me but I have to go back to teaching full-time this weekend and I can’t stay to take care of him. I want YOU to take him in and care for him.”
No. Freaking. Way.
Well, that’s not exactly what I told him but he pretty much got the point. We were not in the market for a cat and I am sure that this little guy would be just fine living with all the other feral cats for which Southport is semi-famous. Satisfied that I had averted this cat-astrophe, I went on my way and thought no more about it. Then, like being blindsided by a linebacker in the open field, I came home to my wife and four kids huddling around this tiny kitten that I had politely declined just a short time before. It seems as if the good professor was smarter than I gave him credit for - he circumvented me and went straight to the source of pet desire.
There was no fighting it at this point. Once mom was on board the only choice I had was to go along with this whole nefarious scheme. The kids batted around all sorts of potential names for the kitten until they decided on Bubba. Bubba Jingles to be exact. Personally, I voted for Meow Tse Tung but I was overruled.
I was off to Walmart where I dutifully purchased a litter box, food, and cat toys so that our kids could help their new little furry friend acclimate to his new home. Whether I liked it or not, I was now the owner of a cat named Bubba. All of the cat jokes that I had told over the years now were now coming back to haunt me, being swallowed like a bitter pill. I needed an antacid and quick.
Sure, he was super cute, but I was waiting for the inevitable messes to start taking place. And it wasn’t all that long before they did. There were a fews accidents here and there that were not all that egregious, but when Bubba decided to use our Lazy Boy couch as a litter box, effectively ruining it (have you ever smelled cat urine or tried to remove it from furniture?), it was the only weapon I needed in my arsenal of cat-disdain to evict this little guy from our home and our lives. I looked at the kids and declared, “He’s gone!”
Tears ensued, followed by pleads of mercy and grace. “Dad, are you really going to get rid of the cat? Mom didn’t even like that couch anyway!” I had to admit that they had a point there. This was the perfect excuse to get a new couch that matched our beach decor. In my utmost benevolence, I agreed that the cat could stay but that we was now to be an outdoor cat. The litter box got tossed and Bubba spend the next few weeks outside, entering our home only to eat his food. Yet gradually, if not inevitably, Bubba found his way back into our home full-time, sans litter box.
And do you know what? This cat figured it out. Somehow, someway, his three week banishment from the kingdom had cured Bubba from needing any kind of reminder of where his messes were to go in the future. When he needed to relieve himself, he would wait patiently by the door or loudly meow in our general direction until someone let him out. This guy was easier to potty train than any of my kids had been!
Then something unexpected happened - Bubba decided that I was his primary master and he began to favor me over everyone else. When I would go to the mailbox, he would follow me. Bubba would come lay beside me when I was sitting on the couch and would come when I called, recognizing the sound of my voice, resembling more dog than cat. I had to admit that this feline was growing on me but I would never admit it to my kids as much as they tried to get the truth out of me.
Bubba has now been in our home a little over five years. The move this past summer up to Wilmington, NC, was a bit traumatic for him but he quickly adjusted, treating our cul de sac and surrounding yards as his personal kingdom. He still is fully potty trained, waking me up most nights around 3:30 so that I can let him outside when he does sleep inside. The neighborhood kids thinks he’s the coolest thing ever and he still lets my youngest daughter hold him and pose him like a toy doll.
So yeah, I guess I am a cat person of sorts. I like to say that I am more of like a one-cat man. Bubba has effectively become part of the family, for better or for worse. And just in case you are wondering, I still manage to deflect the constant barrage of pleas for another pet - except for the hermit crab and two mice that my kids brought home this past, but that’s another post for another day.
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