I didn’t really have a ‘proper’ pet experience when I was growing up. When I was really young we had pets at various stages but they all met untimely deaths: Sandy the dog bit me when I was about 3 and got sent to doggy heaven via the vet’s syringe; a budgie which got its claws caught in the carpet overnight and must have had a heart attack; and my brother's goldfish which my Mum boiled alive after leaving their bowl under the bath tap to refresh the water but accidentally put the hot tap on – oops.
I had a couple of goldfish myself when I was about 9 or 10, and I named them ‘Crockett and Tubbs’ (a time when Miami Vice was cool...) and they were, well, goldfish. They didn’t do much except swim around, and sometimes when I badly needed to change their water, float there all forlornly and on the edge of death by suffocation.
When I grew up, moved into my own home and made my own life, and then had my daughter, having a pet wasn’t really on the agenda for various reasons…space, time, money, plus my ex-partner wasn’t really an animal person. I was also a bit worried about the hygiene stuff and how I would cope with it. Despite this my daughter, of course, always wanted a pet, and I finally relented when she was 13.
The timing was good…I was working from home so there most of the day, and it just felt right. We decided to get a kitten as we both wanted the experience of having a pet that we had known when it was tiny and watch it grow up.
We contacted Cat’s Protection and went to see some kittens being cared for by one of their fosterers who had recently collected a mum and 5 kittens that had been found dumped in a park (people can be so cruel). My daughter and I both fell in love with these tiny, mewling, bundles of fluff that were only a few weeks old. We picked the one we wanted – female tabby – and brought her home when she was around 8 weeks old.
We named her Millie. Millie has taught me a lot, most of which I really wasn’t expecting. From what I can gather about cat’s (having never had one before), Millie is fairly typical i.e. she is either totally uninterested in you or just uses you for food/strokes/love/affection. She doesn’t really seem to, well on the surface anyway, reciprocate our adoration.
But how much I love her surprised me. I understand her routines and rhythms, and I think she understands mine too.
She brought me and my daughter closer together and gave us a common bond, which is a bonus, especially during the sometimes tricky teenage years.
Millie also taught me to be a lot more relaxed at home, and that I don’t really care about scooping up cat poop, and a little bit of cat hair about the place, and the fact that she ruined my wicker laundry basket with her claws. Yes, it’s not pleasant to clean up poop but it’s no worse than changing a baby’s nappy, however the joy that my daughter and I get from her, make it more than worthwhile. Life is about this moment, the here and now, and enjoying it fully, and the other stuff, like having a perfectly clean house at all times, is really quite superfluous.
Millie also helped me with one of the ‘Yamas’ in the 8 limbs of yoga – Ahimsa (non-violence). This often equates to vegetarianism, and I definitely started to feel a lot more uneasy about eating meat after loving and caring for an animal. So naturally and organically, my appetite to eat meat diminished. I am not dogmatic about this and won’t say that I’ll never eat meat again…if my body needs and craves the protein, I will eat it. But for now, my body (and my mind) says NO.
And having Millie has helped me with unconditional love. It has reinforced the understanding that you can’t change anyone else – even if they are ‘just’ a cat – and you just have to let them be. I can’t will Millie into being an affectionate lap cat. She can be moody, and if you’ve upset her (for example by making her come inside when she is not ready) she will hold a grudge for a little while before she forgives you. But that’s OK. I can’t change the behaviour of anyone/anything else, and just have to love them for who they are without attachment to the result.
So I thank you Millie, you are my guru! And I’ll try to remember this next time you are furious with me and are staring at me like you want to kill me…I know you love me really!