I can call my cat my child if I want to — and that’s OK
I’m a parent.
No, not a human parent. I don’t have any human children. My child is my cat, Poppy.
Poppy is a small tortoiseshell kitty with a big personality and soft fur. I adopted her in June and bringing her home is one of the highlights of both of our lives.
It’s been six months and we’re still learning about and getting to know each other.
A writer for New York Magazine recently wrote a column about the delusion of pet parents. M.A. Wallace does not believe children and pets are the same and should not be equated. People should not call themselves pet parents.
I know Poppy isn’t my child. I joke about her being my child all the time, and in a way, she is. While I have no human children and have not done any parenting with human children, I think having a cat is a lot like having a child. It is certainly not the same — but how different is it?
The way I’ve adjusted my life for her needs, and how much I care about her, sure feels like what human parents must do. When parents decide to bring a child into their home, they make accommodations. Their lives are changed forever, because no one can get back the hours of diaper duty as a parent.
I don’t have diaper duty, but I can never get back the hours I’ve spent cleaning up Poppy’s puke and scooping her poop.
My schedule has adjusted to meet her needs. I get up 15 minutes earlier than before to feed her, cuddle her and clean her litter box every morning. When I’m working on schoolwork at home, I take frequent breaks for play and snuggle time. Then, when she decides to nap, I can finally buckle down and get stuff done. I can’t go on trips or move without careful planning. Even travelling three hours by car for Thanksgiving break requires preparation and stress.
I adjusted my budget to allow for cat-related spending — which includes mostly toys, let’s be honest. I’ve even rearranged my furniture and other items to give her the space she needs and protect her from the dangers of my closet. Her bed has taken permanent residence on my chair in the living room.
Dirty dishes can’t be left out, because Poppy will try to lick food off them. She loves barbeque sauce and will go to the ends of the earth to lick my plate.
There are different kinds of parents, just like there are different kinds of children. Wallace argues pets can’t be like children because children are the connection to the future. My cat may not be a productive member of society later in her life, but many human children won’t be either. I don’t have a cat to create a productive member of society. I have a cat for companionship. Living with me and enduring jokes about being my fake pet child sounds a lot better than Poppy living at the humane society.
“In stark contrast to pets, children are always trying to outgrow, outflank and outsmart their parents,” Wallace said in the column. “Children are cunning and devious with long memories and big plans. They don’t just grow, they develop.”
Maybe Wallace hasn’t experienced life with cats, but Poppy is cunning and is constantly trying to outsmart me. She loves to hide in my closet, under the bed or any other dark hidey-hole imaginable. Poppy gets into boxes, tips things over and is generally being a curious cat. I have to teach her not to do these things.
Poppy has developed too. When I brought her home, she was not a happy cat. She was grumpy for weeks, swatting and scratching me whenever I was within reach. But then she changed. Poppy calmed down. Over time, she has become one of the sweetest kitties I know.
Wallace said people project their feelings onto animals. This may be true in some cases, but I think Poppy is proof that animals and people pick each other.
When I went to the Moscow Humane Society, Poppy was the first cat I interacted with. I opened her cage and she walked right to the edge, looked at me for a few seconds, put her paws on my chest and tried to start snuggling. Poppy chose me, for whatever reason. I think it’s because she could tell we have similar personality traits.
A study by veterinarians at UC Davis in 2016 discovered cats with calico and tortoiseshell coats tend to challenge their human companions more often than other breeds.
According to a story from the Seattle Times, the study was based on a survey of over 1,200 cat owners and found torties and calicoes are more likely to hiss, chase, bite or swat during human interactions.
Calicoes and torties are characterized as feisty and unpredictable.
If I was a cat, I’d probably be a tortie, just like Poppy.
So I feel confident in saying Poppy could tell we were alike in some way, or maybe I just smelled really nice. Either way, we have similar personalities and it’s backed up by science.
Tess Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos