One sunny day in January 1996, we decided to adopt a kitten. We drove to the Humane Society of Pinellas County to pick one out.
We found a litter of six tabby kittens just out of foster care, a furry, mewling mass squirming around their recumbent mother in a covered, elevated outdoor pen. The kittens were 10 weeks old. Our eyes and hearts picked out a brown and white longhaired female with pretty yellow eyes and a calm disposition.
Before we could adopt our kitten, we needed cat supplies. So, we left the kittens and drove to the nearest pet store to buy a litter box, food, a water dish and cat toys. We were gone for 45 minutes.
When we came back, our longhaired kitten was gone – adopted out from under us. The only kitten left in the pen was a shorthaired, silver-and-black tiger-striped male with bright green eyes, a lively demeanor and white tips on his front paws. The humane society volunteer who had fostered him and his littermates said it looked as if he had dipped his paws in milk.
The attendant opened the pen. The kitten climbed my arm and perched on my shoulder, where he sat and observed while I filled out the paperwork.
We put him in the carrier. He meowed the whole way home. We named him Murphy and marveled as he grew from sprightly kitten to warm, loving, devoted friend.
Nineteen years later, on Feb. 12 of this year, I wrote this update on Facebook:
“He joined our family in 1996, a shelter kitten who climbed onto my shoulder for comfort the first time I met him. He has been my companion through 19 years of seismic life change. I named him Murphy, after my favorite baseball player. He is weak now, legs gone, head and tail limp. He made it through the night, so we’ll take him to the vet today to see if anything can be done. Beth and the boys are sad, and so am I. But what a cat – a true friend. He’s had a long, happy life. Two decades of pure love.”
By 9:10 a.m. that morning, he was gone. It was time. We cried and mourned as a family, just as we had when we lost Luna at Christmastime in 2012. The boys had only ever known a world with Murphy in it. Our older sonwants to be a veterinarian, a career goal attributable, in part, to the love he felt – still feels – for that dear cat.
Murphy’s absence is not quite real yet to me. I’m still a bit confused in the middle of the night when I shuffle into our bathroom in the dark and I don’t have to worry about stepping in the litter box. I still am careful not to roll over too abruptly in bed, because I don’t want to unsettle the devoted old cat who purred the night away in the crook of my arm.
But listen: This is not a sad post. Murphy lived a long life and was loved every second of it. He is loved still. He was sweet and dumb and devoted and oh, so lovable. We rejoice in his memory.
And soon … we’re going to adopt another kitten.
We just have to make sure we find the right one.
Our Next Kitten: Candidates
How does one go about that these days? How do you adopt a kitten?
It starts with an impulse.
Before Murphy came to the end, we already were talking about what would come next. My wife is allergic to cats, but she began to campaign for a kitten months before we became a no-pet household.
Let me be clear: My wife is allergic to cats, but she wants another one.
She endured 11-plus years of cats under her roof, in her bed, under her feet. Murphy and Luna destroyed our floors with their claws and by other means. Before we replaced the carpet, we waged battle for years against the stubborn redolence of concentrated uric acid (also known as residual dried cat piss).
Her sneeze attacks are sudden and wall-shaking – the sneezes come in rapid-fire bunches and persist until Benadryl works its way into her bloodstream.
Despite this, she wants another cat, and soon. If not for the fact that I insisted we spend a respectful amount of time mourning the absence of my dear feline companion, we already would have a new cat in the family. She and the boys were that eager, but they understood I needed time.
Why does my wife want a cat?
“I like having something alive when I come into the house,” she said. “And I think it’ll bring joy, which is really the only reason that matters.”
We’ll adopt a kitten.
It will happen in the next few weeks, after our younger son’s cast comes off his broken left arm. We’re looking at late April.
Potential parenting fail alert: I might have promised him on the day he broke his arm that he can name our family’s new kitten. His choices so far – Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers or Murphy Junior.
Yeah … we might not be sticking to the letter of the law with that particular promise. I think it’ll be a family decision, with our younger son leading the discussion. That’s a fair interpretation.
(I am not spending the next two decades with a Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers.)
We have some ideas already about the kind of cat we want to join our family. The candidates:
What You Need to Know About Adopting a Kitten
Upon reflection, we’ll go with none of the above.
And we won’t go into this on a whim, as I did in 1996 with Murphy. Back then, I lacked the perspective required to envision the day two decades later when I would have to say that tearful goodbye to a companion who had shared nearly half my life.
Now, armed with the knowledge that the kitten we adopt next month could very well be cuddled in his or her feline dotage by our grandchildren, we will prepare accordingly and choose carefully.
- Budget for monthly expenses: food, litter, litter bags, industrial-strength cleaner
- Budget for annual (and emergency) veterinary bills
- Prepare the house to absorb the inevitable damage and to combat the inevitable smells and dander
- Explain to the boys about the responsibility of pet ownership and the opportunity to save an animal’s life by adopting from a shelter
- Determine whether we want to declaw our new kitten in order to avoid the kind of destruction wrought by our clawed kitties in the past
- Stock up on Benadryl for the allergies
- Research places near us that provide cat adoption services
- Clear time on the schedule for the next few months to nurture our new kitten and help him/her become acclimated to our home
Most important, we’ll explain to the boys that our new kitten is not a replacement for Murphy and Luna. The love and appreciation we feel for our departed companions will always be with us. If anything, as we get to know our new family member, I imagine our memories of Murphy and Luna will grow vivid – the way Murphy would leap and spin with a mid-air cartwheel as he tried to apprehend a bouncing rubber ball; Luna’s propensity to sit up on her hind legs, like a meerkat, and bat relentlessly at a proffered cat treat.
We so look forward to welcoming our new feline friend. Kids and pets – what’s better?
In the coming weeks, I’ll share the story of our family’s new addition. I hope you enjoy the journey, and I welcome any kitten adoption advice you have to offer.