The very real emotional void filled by my cat, who is a major a–hole


My family doesn’t have a great track record with pets. Until recently, our one and only foray into animal ownership was with neon colored fish who kept dying at the worst possible times.

While everyone kept telling us a dog would be therapeutic for the children, I was concerned it would be less-than-therapeutic for me, since I would no doubt bear the brunt of feeding, walking and cleaning up after the thing.

I’ve wanted a cat for years, but my husband is “allergic” to them in that he hates them.

He managed to get over his “allergies” when the children and I fell in love with a sweet white cat with dazzling green eyes who began lolling about in our garden shortly after we moved into our new house.

“Can we keep her?” my kids asked.

I desperately wanted to say yes, but didn’t want to “take” her if she belonged to someone. We put up posters around the neighborhood and tucked hand made fliers in people’s mailboxes. I joined the neighborhood Facebook page and posted her photo but heard nothing.

So, one day I scooped her into a cat carrier and took her to the vet. It turns out she was microchipped and did belong to someone, who didn’t seem at all surprised to hear she was out making eyes at another family.

“She just never bonded with us,” her owner explained, when I called her from the vet’s office. “She comes in at night when we are asleep to eat but otherwise she avoids us.”

I realized I was holding my breath. My children were crazy about this sweet cat, especially Jack, who would spend hours sitting by her side and talking to her.

I was hugely relieved when the woman said we could keep the cat, who my children had named Stella.

To say Stella has brought joy into our house is an understatement. The children adore her. They argue over who gets to feed her, they are thrilled when she chooses to sleep next to them.

As a mother, anything that makes your children happy that isn’t bad for them has a special place in your heart.

But I’ll admit that I have selfish and slightly unhealthy reasons for loving this cat. She is, after all, the baby who will never grow up.

My children are still at the age where they like me. I know that will all change. As part of their growth and development they will need to break away from me, and nature’s preferred method seems to be a spontaneous and organic lobotomy that convinces adolescents their parents are lame idiots who exist merely to embarrass them.

Oh sure, they’ll pass through this phase. (I hope.) But it will never be the same as it is now, when they throw their little arms around me and tell me I’m the best mommy ever, or fall asleep cuddled up next to me, or run to me in excitement to show off the drawings they’ve made or read me the stories they’ve written.

I get that it’s all a part of a healthy emotional development, that without this rebellion they could end up living in my basement as adults, making suits from the skin of slaughtered invalids.

I get it. It doesn’t mean I like it.

Raising children is like being madly in love with someone you know will some day break up with you. You just hope that, in the aftermath, they’ll still want to be friends.

But pets? Pets are different.

As long as I keep the Meow Mix coming, Stella will like me.

With Stella, my kisses won’t suddenly become “lame.” I won’t embarrass her for reasons unknown. I won’t be pinpointed as the cause of her irrational fear of clowns, just because I happened to jump out of the closet in a Bozo suit dripping fake blood and screaming her name as a prank those five nights in a row back in kindergarten.

Of course, because cats are part angel, part a—hole, there are times when I wish we could rethink this unhealthy relationship. While all cats chase and kill small animals, Stella is somewhat of an overachiever in this regard.

Not a day goes by when the carcass of a bird, mouse, rat, lizard or squirrel doesn’t turn up by the back door. Unless I bury their corpses incredibly well, she will DIG THEM BACK UP and play with their rotten, maggot-infested bodies. And then come inside for kisses smelling like death.

One day I discovered she had tucked a couple of lizard corpses under the front door welcome mat and so I tried, unsuccessfully, to sweep them into the bushes. Because their lower halves had been flattened into the front step, their heads flopped back and forth like windshield wipers. I finally managed to scrape them off with a trowel.

It almost made me reconsider the wisdom of making her my emotional crutch.

Aw, who am I kidding? I’ll forever be a sucker for that adorable, contempt-filled face and sociopathic spirit.


The little lady who’s going to help me deal with my children growing up. Here she is striking the classic feline pose known as “Get that effing thing out of my face.”


The pet that wouldn’t die

I wish the family pet would just die already.

Oh, calm down. I’m not talking about a loving dog who has been a member of the family for years, or a sweet kitty who warms our hearth every night and purrs my children to sleep.

No, I’m talking about a fish. A stupid, lousy, neon orange fish I bought for $6.99 two years ago, who, in my defense, I’m pretty sure wants to die as well. In fact, I’m convinced this animal would have long ago dispatched himself to the giant Pet Smart in the sky if he could only figure out how.

As a parent, I wanted my children to have an “easy” pet, like a gold fish, so they could learn three important life lessons. The first is what is involved in caring for another living being. The second is that they are not ready to care for a dog. The third — well, I’m getting there.

I should have known things wouldn’t go according to plan when we went to the pet store and my children zipped right past the humble gold fish and stopped before a tank of fish in screaming neon colors.

“These ones!” my son cried, and my daughter began jumping up and down. Who was I to disagree?

I should have disagreed. In fact, as the Person in Charge, I should have made a hasty retreat out the door when Jana, the Very Serious Fish Attendant, starting piling enough equipment into my cart to wire a small command center, all while giving me detailed instructions on the many things I would need to do to keep these fish alive.

She looked me up and down.

“These are very delicate fish,” she said. “We have a very high standard of water quality.”

I nodded, suddenly aware that I must be wearing my T-shirt that said TOTAL F—ING MORON, because she was looking at me like I had just drooled on her.

“We also have a very generous exchange policy,” she continued smugly. “If either fish dies in the first 72 hours, bring it back for a new one. All we ask is that you bring a sample of the water from your tank so we can determine the issue.”

“Does that happen a lot?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

“Why the hell do you sell them?” is what I wanted to ask. Instead I smiled and nodded.

Three hours later, after I had prepped and set up and arranged their tank to incredibly specific instructions, bright orange Jack (named by and for my son) and bright green Walter (named for his best friend) were swimming happily. My children watched them rapturously for an entire 20 seconds before asking me to put on the Disney channel.

True to Jana’s word, the next morning Walter the Fish wasn’t looking so hot. This had me worried, as Walter the Human was coming over to play, and I didn’t know the extent of psychological damage it would cause him to see his namesake nose down in the gravel.

When Walter arrived, he and Jack ran off to see the fish before I could stop them.

“Boys,” I called out, “keep in mind Walter the Fish is kind of sick. He caught a cold and he’s not feeling well.”

When I reached Jack’s room the boys were standing nose-to-glass with the aquarium, watching Walter’s lifeless body floating belly up at the surface.

Walter the Human looked at me with a 5-year-old’s unwavering authority.

“He doesn’t look sick to me. He looks dead.”

“HA-HA-HA! Walter, don’t be so SILLY!” I cried shrilly, fooling no one. “He’s just sick. SICK!”

Walter shook his head.

“Jack, your fish is totally dead.”

“HE’S NAPPING!” I shouted, flicking his body away from its crash course with the gurgling filter.

That night, after my husband had surreptitiously managed to replace Walter the Fish — (“See, he’s all better!”) — I did some Internet research on our new pets.

It turns out the breed — which I will not name for fear of a lawsuit — is trademarked by a company that creates them specifically for their garish coloring. This means that, like all creatures of strategic breeding, they are high maintenance and more susceptible to all sorts of ills. These fish would be dead within a few months, according to several unauthorized pages.

This actually cheered me up. By now it had become clear the level of care these creatures required was beyond my children’s capabilities, and instead of becoming a lesson for them on how to take care of something, the fish became simply two more bodies in the house I had to feed and clean up after.

Every week I siphoned one-third (no more, no less) of the water from their tank using a length of tubing from the hardware store and a turkey baster. I added fresh water and pH-balancing solution. I delicately scrubbing the sides of their tank and dutifully changed their air filter after soaking the new one in lukewarm water to dislodge any carbon particles from the outside.

This didn’t mean I loved the things. They were just fish, after all, who seemed terrified of my kids and only interested in me because I fed them.

I’m not even sure how long it took me to notice Walter the Second was missing. It simply occurred to me one day that I hadn’t seen him in a while and so I scanned the tank for his little green body. Noticing that the pirate ship ornament had fallen over, I reached in to lift it up.

I found Walter. All 527 pieces of him. The poor thing must have become trapped when the ship had fallen over. There wasn’t even a body to bury, just a billowing cloud of neon green fish parts that needed to be scooped from the water while Jack the Fish swam in frantic circles.

“How do we tell the kids?” I asked my husband that night.

“If they don’t ask, don’t tell them,” he answered.

“But this is the most important part of pet ownership for a child.”

He looked at me in confusion.

“What is?”

“Death. Everyone knows that you get pets so kids can learn about dying.”

I could have sworn he inched away from me.

“What are you talking about? Where did you even come up with that?”

“V.C. Andrews.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the reference, V.C. Andrews was an author who wrote a number of disturbing books devoured by teenage girls (and really weird adults) in the 1980s. The plot lines revolved around things like incest, emotional abuse and inherited wealth. Kind of like the American Girls.

In addition to some horrific scenes now etched into my psyche, the books imparted the knowledge that pets teach children about death.

My husband, wise man, conceded that was one way to look at it, but suggested it would be easier to teach kids about dead pets when said pets weren’t in tiny pieces on their way to the local sewage treatment plant.

He was right, which meant I had just missed my second opportunity to teach my kids about death. Damn.

At this point, to make this parenting venture pay off, I need Jack to pass away at a convenient time, in one piece, so I can sit my children down and gently explain the circle of life while soft music plays.

But of course, this is NEVER going to happen. That’s because this fish is obviously some sort of anomaly, a freak of nature sent by the universe because the Powers That Be decided that the circus that is my life needed another ring.

His life expectancy was six months and he is still alive two years later. He has outlived two companions and survived the stress of moving to a new house, the water in his tank sloshing on the floor of my car as I drove 15 mph, old ladies blowing past me giving me the finger.

He has become my earthly perdition. My children will be off at college and I’ll still be siphoning his water and scrubbing his tank with arthritic hands. My grandchildren will glance at him when they come for visits before asking for the Disney channel. I’ll probably even have to make provisions for him in my will, because I have a feeling the earnest little f—ker is going to outlive us all.

But despite how much I want him to die, I’m not about to kill him.

What kind of heartless, crazy a—hole do you think I am?