I was the woman who secretly rolled her eyes when people would go on and on about their pets. I didn’t get the constant doting and I certainly couldn’t fathom the cringeworthy idea of sincere referrals to canines or felines as “my baby” or “my kids”. I could also never comprehend the sense of devastating loss when a dog or a cat died that seemed equal to that of losing a human family member. Sure animals are cute and offered companionship, but beyond that I just didn’t get all the fuss.

Growing up in a house with “pets” – one turtle, then one hamster – that warranted almost zero interaction and were confined to little glass houses, didn’t set me off on a real pet loving path. Cleaning tanks was the extent of my up close and personal contact; not for the sake of play time, but because my sister and I had to physically remove Myrtle (the turtle… you could have guessed) and Fudgey (the hamster) from their respective abodes to clean them. Good stinkin’ times.

When set free from their glass enclosures, Myrtle had no interest in us and barely moved an inch (he had no likeness to the industrious tortoise of Aesop’s Fables fame) and Fudgey, as you would expect, went berserk, always managing to escape the temporary, makeshift holding area we fashioned for her, only to find the most obscure nook or cranny in which to cower. This would inevitably send my mother into a panic as there was a rodent roaming free in her house. The hunt was a laborious chore and offered no reward, since Fudgey preferred not to be found anyway.

Friends and family had dogs and I was always a little (A LOT) intimidated no matter the breed, no matter the size… the barking, the licking, the jumping, and the occasional humping. My “pets”, who could fit in the palm of my hand (though they were never inclined to do so), did nothing of the sort. I had no clue as to how to interact with a dog and, truth be told, when I don’t understand something it usually scares the shit out of me (still does… ask me about the time I first logged into Twitter). So as a kid, I interpreted a dog’s displays of affection as kind of scary acts of aggression or total gross-outs.

cats eyes

My sole childhood interaction with cats was as a cat-sitter helper to my lifelong, animal-loving older sister (she was clearly born with that special gene, proving the former of the nature vs. nurture argument). On my first, and I think only, visit with her to feed her feline charge, we needed to head into a neighbor’s super creepy basement to find this cat. It had horror movie written all over it, which added to the drama. After a few, “Here kitty, kitty, kitties…”, we spotted two glaring, bright green eyes from out of the darkness and that’s when I came face to face with Satan’s spawn, complete with the hissing, clawing, and flashing sharp teeth of my personal nightmares. I got the hell out of Dante’s Feline Inferno and never looked back.

What was likely a terrified cat just acting out, I interpreted as pure evil. From that day on, I wrote cats off as being aloof, at best, and downright psychotic, at worst.

So I spent the greater part of my 41 years on the planet – about 35 of them – never considering pet ownership and eye rolling at the “boopity schmoopities” directed at pets by their enamored, lovey dovey owners. In my thirties, I contemplated getting a dog because I came to learn what awesome animals they really are, but my lifestyle and the thought of picking up hot poop with only a thin layer of plastic between me and the offending turd, made the fleeting thought pretty easy to push out of my head.

Then about three years ago, I started to feel a little like Sigourney Weaver in Alien compliments of this tangible, but non-physical ache emanating from the depths of my being. It was as if something was trying to claw its way from the inside out and burst forth from my loins. I knew I wasn’t pregnant or sick, so I concluded that the mysterious pang I was feeling must be my maternal instincts and my inability to contain them any longer. I knew it was time for me to mother something… just not something from my own species.

"Cat Woman" convertMy boyfriend, a lifelong cat owner/lover, and I made it our mission to visit animal shelters every chance we got. We ruled out dogs (lifestyle factors and remember the “hands on” turd issue I mentioned earlier) and narrowed in on cats. I know… it’s a shocking transformation based on my earlier (as in childhood) proclamation that “cats = pure evil”. But I was able to rid myself of that association thanks to the pack of lovely cats my sister has owned herself and a few other friendly felines I have met as an adult.

So we’d hit the shelter circuit and look in cage after cage. I was always captivated by the massive amounts of cuteness of the kittens and felt agonizing sadness for the older cats that would likely spend their golden years behind bars. Nonetheless, I could never commit in either age direction. My heartstrings were void of the tugs I so desperately wanted to feel.

This went on for better part of three years, to my boyfriend’s disappointment and to my own confusion with myself. I finally made the BIG STEP decision to adopt and was going through the motions, but I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t take the plunge.

Then it dawned on me, “Oh yeah, that’s right, I have a major fear of things I don’t know and things I don’t understand.” This, coupled with me feeling (or rationalizing) that I just hadn’t met quite the right cat yet, brought our search to a standstill. Eventually, we both decided to take a break from looking, since it was amounting to nothing but frustration.

Kitten reveal_3 weeks old_May 6, 2013Enter May 6, 2013 at 10:50AM… an email popped into my inbox with the subject line: “A friend of mine…”. The body copy message continued… “is trying to find a home for this kitten she is hosting. Let me know if u want it.” THIS picture was attached.

I took one look at that face and I WAS DONE… my heartstrings were not being tugged, they were being yanked and shredded with no relief. Aside from her undeniable cuteness, we were told that the kitten’s biological mom was killed, so she was an orphan and was subsequently separated from her litter. On top of all that, she was being fostered, via a “kill” shelter. At this point, my heartstrings were completely decimated and we knew we needed to adopt her… she was THE kitten we had been waiting for.

Over the next five weeks we watched and waited as this little kitten grew to the required weight (2 pounds) for adoption, oohing and ahhing over weekly update pictures her foster mom would send us. The anticipation of bringing her home was palpable.

On Sunday, June 16, only one week ago, we picked up the kitten, who we named Peachu as an homage to her gorgeous peach markings, and our lives were instantly changed. The tidal wave of emotions this little fur ball has evoked in me are shocking, the love I have for her is deeper than I thought possible, and the sense of responsibility I feel is enormous.

I was not at all prepared for the incredible effect she would have on me… she’s “JUST A CAT” after all. If I had a dime for every time I have said that over the years, this kitten would have a scratching post the size of the Eiffel Tower and crafted out of pure gold.

While I would never compare cat ownership to rearing a human child, I am now caregiver to and protector of a very tiny, vulnerable living creature – my “kid with claws” – who is relying on me. This is an incredible privilege that most definitely falls somewhere on the maternal instinct spectrum, as far as I’m concerned.

Peachu at home with us_June 16, 2013Peachu is an active (often hilariously hyperactive) member of our family, she entertains us and we her, she gives us affection and we give it right back, she’s always happy to see us and we her, she needs to be fed, nurtured and taught, and she is a part of us. What a truly amazing experience and we are only 7 DAYS IN.

The most profound part for me is that I FINALLY get it now… I finally get what all the “fuss” with pets is all about. It’s love, pure and simple. And THAT is a truly beautiful thing.

So with my own proverbial tail between my legs, I humbly admit that in less than 24 hours, I officially became a not-so-crazy “Cat Lady”… minus the sensible shoes, afghan and porcelain cat figurines all over my house (that will NEVER happen).

I will also admit to uttering the frequent “boopity schmoopity” to Peachu because I am a woman madly in LOVE with her insanely adorable cat. So let the eye rolls now be cast in my direction. But trust me, if it can happen to me – the recovering “I’m just not a pet person” – it can happen to anyone… you just have to be open to it and ready for it.

PS – I’m taking it upon myself to rebrand the moniker of “Cat Lady” to “Cat Woman”… has a much cooler ring to it.

(lead image: Peachu at 4 weeks old)

By Jennifer Jones, Co-Founder & Managing Editor, Women You Should Know

National Adopt-A-Cat Month

June is National Adopt-A-Cat Month. The goal of this special month, which is being promoted through the ASPCA, the American Humane Society, the North Shore Animal League America and countless local shelters across the country, is to bring attention to the large number of shelter cats needing homes in America, especially during “Kitten Season.”

Research has shown that living with pets provides a variety of health benefits: owning them can help lower blood pressure, lessen anxiety and boost immunity. According to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute, owning a cat can alleviate stress and anxiety, and potentially reduce the risk of heart attack by 30%. Need we say more?

So if you have been thinking about getting a cat – an adorable kitten, a mellow, older cat or something in between – or if you have never considered the thought of adopting until being completely and utterly moved by my story (wink, wink), now is the time to channel your inner “Cat Woman” and adopt.

Black cat_Beth Stern Spokesperson North Shore Animal League America