Warning: sad tale afoot!
Cats were always my pets as a child. I wanted a dog. In fact I wanted a specific dog. I wanted the Enid Blyton creation ‘Shadow the Sheepdog’ from the novel I had read and read until the pages came away.
I imagined I had a dog. Teddies etc. Sad old me!! Then again, I pretended my bike was a horse too and called it Toffee.
Myself and my neighbour (not allowed any pet, strict Mammy, kinda hated our cats) would play ‘Grand National’ and make a list of horse names. We would then ‘race’ on our horse bikes around the meadow. Yes, we had a meadow. No horses or dogs though! Mainly because we ‘live on the main road to Cork you know!’. The horse was always a pipedream. Expensive and hard work. When I was young however, I really thought my parents didn’t think dogs were worth the effort with an animal murdering highway outside the front lawn. Cats were more replaceable. Sorry to offend! It was the truth though! I thought this was their reasoning. Now I know. They were protecting me from the potential heartbreak of a beloved dog dying before its time.
This is not to say I didn’t love my cats. I absolutely did. Until 1995 approximately all my pet cats were tame and loveable. Scamper the black cat. Daphne the black and white. Tom the ginger (My first word was Dom as a result of Tom the ginger!). Smartie who only lived six months. Toby the tabby. Many more. I got older however and at seventeen was away at college. All the nice, clean, pleasant cats had met their maker over the years and gone to the great cattery in the sky. In the eighties, our road was dangerous (double bend) but was nothing compared to what it became in the late nineties. Faster, more powerful cars made pet raising hell for my parents. After several tragedies, they had stopped taking in little kittens to rear. My little sister’s relationship with pets had become quite a bit more traumatic than my own. They swore never again would they have one. Too upsetting. Nonetheless, they were soft hearted and fed occasional strays at the back door. These guys were wayyy more street wise.
Not like my little Beatrix Potter kittens, running after spools and cheekily climbing into airing cupboards to hide. No. They had an air of ‘been there, done that’ about them.
Moggies. Flea bags. Hobos. Drop in, drop outs. Rarely killed by cars. Looked two ways. They knew the way around a bin. They knew before recycling really happened and they had to negotiate the tincans, toilet rolls and tough potato skins to get to the beef rinds or whatever. Occasionally a few of these strays made my parents their number one care givers (cats make their own decisions) and occasionally would become tame enough to rub against a human leg. That’s about it. Once wild, always wild really in catworld. My parents’ house began to take on the air of Boys Town for cats.
On one occasion a cat adopted my parents by staying around. It didn’t take long to see why. As her belly grew, we realised she had probably been abandoned as female cats tend not to stray like males. Too late to neuter, she had her kittens in our shed. Feral as she was, I know that if you can handle a kitten early you have a great chance of keeping it tame. So we tried. These kittens however never fully prospered. Sad part coming…turn away if you wish. I called them Eyeballs. All of them. My reason was, when you peeped into the basket, all you saw were their big eyes staring up at you. Their mother was bewildered. A young cat. We tried to help her, using droppers to feed them. We tried warmth by the fire. They were too weak. They had been lucky to make a few weeks. The mother cat disappeared before we could get her to a vet. My sister was about six at the time. She has never forgotten it. Our desperation to save them. Inevitably, we lost them as life cycles dictate, like many of my wonderful pets before, just earlier and without experiencing the joy they can bring. My sister swears she will never own a cat of her own as an adult. I have had two. Both met sad ends. I still always encourage her not to dismiss the idea totally.
Cats are homely. Independent. Vain. Intelligent. Beautiful. Divisive. Unforgettable if you ever felt one became a friend. I watched cats keep my grandmother happy in her old age.
I owe them a lot for childhood memories. I will probably never own one again. I don’t think where I live suits them. I have digressed however. More than you know!
You see, there was a reason I wrote this post today. It wasn’t supposed to be about tragic kittens and childhood challenges. It was supposed to be about my relationship with eyes and bringing that into parenting. My lifetime wearing glasses and passing on my short-sightedness to my children. Bringing my little girl to the optician for the first time. I started by talking about the cats and these kittens especially. Now they are the story. It took over! I will blog again about the optician visit. Now I am led to wondering, are pets always a good idea for children? Their first introduction to grief? Is it worth it? We have two dogs now. Not like Shadow! Two little white Bichon Frise. Friendly. Naughty! Loveable.
We love them. Were my parents right? Will the heart-rending story of what may happen to them be worth it? I reckon so. It has to be. I can remember the tears of losing a pet. I can also remember the playtime, the cuddles, the love. The camraderie of a pet. My little girl squeals in delight when the dogs run around her legs. She is not afraid of any animal. I reckon her little sister will be the same. I am also sure we will always have pets. We love animals too much not to. So we take the risk! Not all stories are stories about Eyeballs. Some are about Shadows. Friendship and warmth. Learning about life. An interesting and nostalgic digression, don’t you think?!