Saturday, 9 February 2013

Disposable pets

We have three cats, all adopted. One was surrendered, one abandoned, and the last was disposed.

Angel was surrendered to a no-kill animal rescue agency, along with her brother, when their owner fell on hard times and couldn't afford to take care of them. It stinks but I understand that. And if anyone surrendered their black and white kitten Angelica to a shelter just east of Toronto, one that services Paws and Claws, she's a happy, healthy almost seven year old cat now (we picked Valentine's Day for her birthday) and is currently curled up snoozing on the couch.

I feel anger when I think of Blackie. Her previous owners left her behind in a shed when they moved. She was just a kitten when we adopted her at eleven months old and she'd obviously been malnourished. Her leg bones are bowed and she's got the oddest walk (which is not helped by her current pot belly). I can't understand and don't want to understand the mentality of someone who would lock a kitten up and abandon her to possibly starve to death.

It's Oreo that has me baffled. We had neighbours who lived across the hallway from us when my children were smaller. They moved in with two older cats and, shortly after we adopted Blackie, they picked Oreo out of a box of "free kittens".

A few months later they decided to move in with a family member who did not want three cats in his home. The Mom was deciding which cat to take to the shelter when I volunteered to take one. This came at the perfect time for us because my children's father (and his girlfriend) had promised the kids a kitten from the litter their cat was going to have. That litter never arrived and the kids were heartbroken they weren't going to get their kitten. Oreo, still a kitten at the time, was just what they were looking for.

A few weeks later the neighbours had a dog, given to them through the family grapevine. Someone's grandmother died, leaving behind an elderly dog. Daughter was disappointed, positive that if we'd waited a few weeks, we would have been given the dog instead of Oreo. I reminded her repeatedly that a) we'd never been offered the dog and b) we had Oreo and why would she trade him for any animal. Daughter was ticked to discover they gave the dog away to someone else shortly after moving due to bathroom issues.

A few years went by then there was a flurry of excitement on Facebook because they were getting a puppy. They'd been looking for ages and found the perfect puppy for their family. Then came the adorable puppy and child pictures. I asked how the cats were getting along with the puppy and got the response of "we got rid of the cats several months ago". Got rid of the cats who were around eight years old at the time.

A short while later she was posting saying she was going to look for a new home for her puppy soon if he didn't stop barking at the vacuum cleaner then wetting in terror. I suggested puppy training classes and provided links to local ones. She responded saying that despite months of looking for the "perfect puppy", she had not once looked into the breed. Apparently anxiety and wetting issues were common. She also refused to look into puppy training classes because hopefully the puppy would outgrow these issues.

I got blocked when I replied the shelters are already full of dogs who didn't outgrow anxiety issues and poor bathroom habits then reposted the training class links. This was at least half a year ago so I'm sure little Coco has been passed along to another family and they've moved on to yet another "perfect pet". We adopted Oreo five years ago this April. In those five years they have gotten rid of three cats and two dogs that I know of. I haven't spoken to them since last summer so who knows if they've gone through another perfect pet since then.

I woke up this morning to find Oreo snuggled against me again, his head nestled on my arm, his legs sprawled, his eyes watching mine... eager for me to wake and rub his tummy. He rolled around on the bed when he realized I was awake, licking my nose and wriggling so I could reach every part of his tummy. Son came into my room before bed last night so I could read him part of my novel. When he left to brush his teeth, he patted his leg and said "Come Oreo, it's tooth brushing time" and Oreo jumped off the bed and trotted along behind. My daughter insists he's a dog disguised as a cat.

I don't think of that family often but every once in a while Oreo will do something completely adorable and completely him and I wonder if they know what they're missing. How do you pick out a pet, promise to care for it, then give it away? How can you love and care for an animal for months or years and then pass it along and forget about it? One child used to ask my daughter and I about Oreo. "He's my Oreo" she'd insist to my daughter. Her mother never asked. Do her other children ever wonder about the pets they no longer own? Will they grow up to care for their own pets or will they grow up to see pets as nothing more than toys? Something to enjoy for a time and pass on once they're "boring".

Sure, I'm the one who gets to deal with the not fun stuff. Oreo very likely has FIV. I know it's not as easily transmitted as I was told when we first adopted him but I can't help but wonder if my other two cats have it as well. And Oreo has allergies, which means they get expensive cat food. We're eating lentils, rice, and pasta while the cats dine on smoked salmon and trout.

But then he walks up beside me, demanding attention, and closes his eyes in ecstasy as I scratch his forehead right above the eyes. His purr deepens, he grabs my hand with both paws and maneuvers it for a chest rub. He stares at me and my heart melts and I wonder once again if they ever know what they threw away.

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