Cats make wonderful pets for people who have the personality to handle them. Typically, two cats are enough for most households. Any more than that and it can feel overwhelming. Four years ago, I agreed to get one kitten. One. So why do we now have eight cats? I am totally blaming you for this.
My dear fiancè's name is Kat so it really is no huge surprise that there would be cats in our household. Not only is there the name influence, her father runs a cat rescue that houses anywhere from 12 to 20 felines at any given time. Having cats in our home was probably inevitable.
We've not always had cats, though. Originally, we had no pets, only children. I left all the pets with my sons when I moved to Indiana. I needed to be mobile and flexible, a state that does not work well with having an obligation that needs feeding and care on a daily basis. Kat had the children and didn't want to introduce a pet until they were old enough to not kill it. If you know our children you understand why that was a smart move.
Four years ago, though, Kat lobbied hard and I finally gave in to rescuing a kitten from a local shelter. We met up with an all-black kitty we named Burberry and brought her home. That was the beginning.
A few months later, when the weather was horribly cold, we acquired an adult male who had been stalking our back door for a while. Kat had just pulled into the driveway and shut off the car's engine. She opened the door and he jumped right in, settling into the floorboard where it was warm. His ear was docked, which meant he was already neutered, so we brought him in and fed him. He got along well with Burberry so we let him stay.
All went well for a couple of months but the weather only got colder and snowier. One bleak morning I looked out the front window to see a gray tabby struggling through the snow. I alerted Kat and she rescued the poor thing from the cold. Once we got her inside, we could tell something was wrong. A trip to the vet revealed that the poor thing had a severe hernia and was pregnant. A hernia could be repaired but her kittens could not be saved. We brought her back home and nursed her back to health with the full intention of re-homing her as soon as possible. I did not want a third cat. No one else wanted her either, though, so she stayed.
Over a year passed. We added a hound dog named Belvedere so I wouldn't feel like the only one without a pet. We also added my youngest son to the mix. The house was starting to feel full.
Then, while walking the dog one day, Kat discovered a set of kittens outside near a neighbor's home. She found it unusual for such small kittens to be outside in that setting. When she inquired, she discovered that the kittens, along with a mother cat, had been unceremoniously dropped off on the corner. It took some doing, but eventually, both kittens were captured and brought home.
Kittens, of course, are adorable. My son immediately adopted one for his own and the other kitten adopted Kat. There was never any question of re-homing them.
Life, of course, has its ups and downs and one of the downs came the evening we found out Burberry had a fatal intestinal issue. There was nothing we could have done to prevent it, nothing we could have done to fix it. Within a matter of hours, she went from a bright, rambunctious cat to barely able to pull herself across the floor. We cried, hard, as the number of cats dropped to four.
Four cats is a workable number, though. We were happy. Another dog, Hamilton, came to stay with us in the spring, giving Belvedere a much-needed buddy. Everything seemed cool.
Then, a friend messaged with the sad news that her aunt had passed quite unexpectedly. One of the consequences of her passing was that her kitten had been left outside for several days. No one in the family could take the kitten. She asked if we would mind adding her to our brood. Naturally, we couldn't turn her down. Returning to five kittens wasn't that big a deal and she mixed well with our team.
Months passed again before Kat's dad made a request that added to our number again. One of his rescues was being problematic. He was being a bit of a bully to another cat and generally disturbing the peace among the cats at the rescue. Dad didn't think he was so much of a bad kitty but rather just in the wrong environment. Would we mind seeing how he would do here, at least on a trial basis? Naturally, we agreed, and to everyone's great surprise the new cat merged perfectly with ours.
Now, we're up to six.
Within our circle of friends, pets come and go. Kittens and puppies are a regular occurrence and while we look at the pictures posted on Facebook and comment about how cute the little ones are, we're never tempted to take one. We have six cats and two dogs and five adults. Our house is full.
There are exceptions to almost everything, though. One of those exceptions came when a friend's cat gave birth to a little of kittens that included three orange tabbies. Orange? We didn't have any orange kitties. We also knew that these particular friends wouldn't be able to keep all the kittens and, because of the time of year, finding reliable homes would be difficult. Kat and I talked it over and decided we could take an orange kitty.
When Kat first went to see the kittens, though, she changed her mind. There were two who, no matter how often they were moved, consistently sought each other out and snuggled together. There was no way we could take one kitten and not the other, was there? Separating the two would be cruel.
Then, one of the two developed what we thought was a cold. Its nose was runny with snot crusting on its little face. Momma cat stopped nursing him. He was in bad shape. Kat took him to our vet and got him antibiotics to help the cold and milk replacement to get him back to health. Momma cat still didn't want anything to do with him, though. There was little choice but to bring him on home if he was to survive. His brother followed a couple of days later.
We Cannot Take Any More Cats
Once again, the kittens are adorable as one can see in the pictures above. They are loved by everyone in the family and merged effortlessly into our brood. However, we simply cannot take any more cats, no matter how severe the emergency. We don't have the room.
I get up early, typically 5:00 every morning, to let the dogs out. With the first hint of light, all six cats come running. Some want attention. Some want food or water. Some just want to know what's going on. Cute as it is, the situation in our small kitchen quickly becomes crowded. I have to be extremely careful where I step and first thing in the morning, before I've had a chance to make coffee, that's a really dangerous proposition for the cats.
Everywhere one looks in our house now, there's a cat. They all have their favorite spots, but even in the bathroom, where one might like a bit of privacy, there's going to be at least one cat joining and if the dogs are inside Hamilton's coming along as well. Two of the cats have been known to jump up in one's lap while one is sitting on the commode.
Both cats and dogs go through a large bag of food each week. Our monthly food costs typically run right around $100.
Vet bills pile up as well. The latest was with the new kitten whom we assumed had a cold. He didn't. Turns out a botfly had made its home in his nasal cavity. Fortunately, we caught it before any serious damage was done. There will be additional expenses with the kittens as well as they're going to need shots and they'll need to be neutered very soon. The last thing we need is a couple of horny tomcats running around the house.
Oh, but where are my manners? Here, let me introduce you to our cats. You've met the kittens, Frankie and Solaris, in the pictures above (in the top picture, Frankie is on my shoulder, Solaris is in my lap). Here are the rest.
Name: Gypsy the Wandering Vagrant, aka Fat Guy
Fat Guy is the senior member of the brood, the one who jumped into the car and declared himself at home. We don't really know how old he is but we're guessing around eight, given his mannerisms and dental conditions.
Having been outdoors for a long time, Fat Guy is the only one who regularly expresses a desire to slip out the back door. He wishes he had opposable thumbs so he could open the door himself. Believe me, he's tried.
Fat Guy is the undisputed Alpha across all ten pets, even the dogs. He tends to take a gentle approach, but challenge him and the claws are coming out
Name: Bobbie the Bobcat, aka Bit Bit
First, I should note that Bob is female.
Second, I should note that Bit Bit is short for Bitch Bitch, which more accurately describes her general demeanor.
Bit Bit is the one who had a hernia, which likely affected her general mood. She's taken her sweet time warming up to the humans and the other kitties. Only in the past year has she started getting up in our laps and asking for affection. Even then, especially in the mornings, walk too close to her and she's going to give you a howl and a swipe. One is best advised to not mess with this kitty unless she comes to you first.
Name: Fred Fredburger
Kat named this one. Only those familiar with the animated series The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy will get the reference.
Fred is one of the kittens rescued off the street two years ago. He's another one who was in bad shape when we got him and racked up a sizable vet bill in the very beginning. He's been worth it, though. He's Kat's favorite lap kitty and even follows her to bed at night and tucks himself in under her covers.
Fred is also the only cat I've ever seen who actually recognizes and responds to his name.
Name: Amber aka Fat Ass
Amber is Fred's sister and my son claimed her the instant we brought her home. She is one of the cuddliest cats I've ever met and can be quite demanding when she's wanting affection. One dares not deny her.
Amber has a weight issue, though. We're blaming it on the boy and how he cuddled and carried her when she was small. The fact is, though, she just eats a lot and needs to be on a diet.
She has also taken on the mothering role with the new kittens, Frankie and Solaris. While she's not able to nurse them, she will groom them both and let them sleep with her.
Name: Gabby Tabby
Gabby came to us after her owner unexpectedly died. She was still a kitten, about eight months old, when she got here and even now is the smallest of the adult cats. She has a slight orange tint to her fur, which is a unique quality that adds to her beauty.
Gabby was an indoor/outdoor pet for her previous owner but we've kept her indoors and she hasn't voiced any objections. She will sometimes look longingly out the kitchen window but she's not one to run toward an open door.
Gabby is the most skittish of the cats and rarely makes an appearance when we have guests. Even though she's been with us nearly a year, she still is frequently startled when someone tries to pet her. She's adapting, though, and can often be seen playing with the other cats early in the morning.
Magnus came to us from the kitty rescue. Unlike the others, he was temporarily given up while his owner addresses some personal issues. As such, there are conditions under which his owner could reclaim him. We're not anticipating that happening any time soon, however.
Why Magnus couldn't get along at the rescue we don't really know. There, he was a bully and did not fit in at all. He's done wonderfully here and has even started playing with the new kittens after some initial hesitation. He's a lover, enjoys being petted and snuggled, and enjoys a good game of chase through the house with the other adult cats.
If Magnus' owner does reclaim him, we'll be sad to see him go. He's a fun cat and a good companion.
These Cats Are Your Fault
As much as we love our eight furry felines, the truth is that only two of them should be here: Magnus and Gabby. They were pets who were wanted and loved but became victims of circumstances outside anyone's control.
The others, however, are here because someone else wasn't a responsible pet owner. Pets weren't spayed or neutered. Kittens were just dropped off on the street, left to fend for themselves. For Bit Bit, Amber, Fred, and Frankie, had we not intervened they would likely have died. We weren't looking for extra pets but we're not the cold-hearted, selfish beasts who leave a helpless animal out to die.
Globally, the pet population is a significant issue. Animals are left abandoned in many cases and in many others, they're kept in conditions that are worse than being left out on the street. Puppy and kitten mills that breed animals by the hundreds for pet store sales leave owners with weak, sickly animals whose extensive vet bills often become a burden on the family.
In the US alone, there are over 70 million homeless cats and dogs. With fewer than 4,000 shelters, there's not enough room for even a quarter of those. Shelter animals are euthanized at the rate of approximately one every eight seconds and that still doesn't keep up with the rate at which pets are abandoned. Disease also spreads rapidly among the homeless pet population and that puts other animals, including your own pets, in danger.
This situation exists, and we have eight cats, because people didn't take care of their pets. They didn't have them spayed or neutered. They didn't consider the costs before taking in a pet. Pets were bought for children who didn't know how to take care of them. Pets were abandoned instead of being responsibly rehomed.
People like us often come to the rescue of homeless pets but we're at our limit. We cannot take another homeless animal no matter how severe the need might be.
Regaining Control of the Pet Population
Pet overpopulation didn't just happen overnight and it won't disappear overnight. Bringing the pet population back in line requires diligent and purposeful effort from generations of humans. We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere might as well be here. The steps are not difficult.
- Spey/Neuter your pets. There are no excuses for having family pets running around breeding with every cycle. Bob Barker was telling you to do this all the way back in the 1970s and no one listened. The only reason for having pets capable of reproducing at this juncture is if one is purposefully and responsibly breeding, which is a whole other level of commitment to the animal's health and well being. The old wives tale of females needing to have a litter before being fixed is nonsense. As long as the pet is healthy, one doesn't need to wait past the eight-week mark. This is especially true with cats who can reproduce before they're a year old. There are low/no-cost clinics in every major city. No excuses. Get it done.
- Don't purchase animals from puppy/kitten mills. I cringe every time I see a pet store selling some little puppy for thousands of dollars while there are literally millions of homeless puppies that are likely to be better pets. The average family doesn't need a purebred animal. If one does not plan on going through all the challenges of showing their pet, then mixed breeds are just as loving, just as loyal, and less likely to have the health issues that over-bred breeds often encounter. Many shelters have free adoption days when the shelter becomes too full, making it possible for one to gain a new, loving and grateful companion for very little cost.
- Only adopt an animal if you're committed to its long-term care. When we chose Belvedere, our hound dog, we were told he had been surrendered because his previous owner "could not take care of him." I've often wondered exactly what those circumstances were that were just too much trouble for someone to not be able to care for such a loving and loyal animal. When adopting a new pet, one has to consider not only how cute it is as a puppy or kitten, but what it is going to need as an adult. How large is the pet going to grow? How much space does it need to run and exercise? Do you have the time to give this pet the care and attention it deserves? Adopting a pet is a forever agreement, not something one abandons when it becomes inconvenient. Don't start what you cannot finish.
- Keep your pet's immunizations up to date. One of the biggest heartbreaks is having a pet die too soon. There are a number of diseases common to both cats and dogs that can take our pets from us unexpectedly. Many of those diseases are carried and transferred by stray animals coming into contact with our pets. Immunizations help keep those diseases under control and prevent them from spreading. This is especially important given how easily rabies can spread even among different species. Most immunizations are annual. Plan for them and make sure they happen.
- Have your pets chipped and keep chip information updated. The ability for veterinarians to implant a microchip just under your pet's skin can make a huge difference in finding lost/stolen pets. When we first rescued Hamilton, one of our primary steps was to check whether he was chipped. Had he been properly chipped, we would have known quickly where he belonged and could have returned him. He wasn't and other efforts to find his owner failed. Hamilton was lucky we found him and took him in. Many lost pets don't find new homes and end up either in shelters or dead. We never know what circumstances might cause us to lose track of a pet. Have them chipped and save both of you a lot of heartaches.
Our Pets Are Our Best Friends
As I settled down to sleep last night, I felt four tiny paws pad their way up my arm, onto my shoulder, and a little ball of fur curled up under my chin—Frankie's favorite place to sleep. A couple of minutes later, Solaris curled up on my chest. Hamilton was already spread out across my feet. Our pets love us and we love them. As hesitant as I was to take on the first one, I don't regret accepting any of the cats or dogs we have in our lives now, even if they do outnumber us 2 to 1.
We are at the same point as many shelters, though, where we simply cannot take any new animals. We don't have space. We don't have the funds. We're at our limit.
We've done our part. Now, you do yours. Your pets are your responsibility. Take care of them.