The conversion of cat people

There hadn’t been a dog in our family in my living memory. When I was a baby, there was Johnny – a pure bred bitser[1], a beast of the most patchwork genealogy possible, a hotchpotch of canine genetics that tested the limits of hybrid vigour. But he was a myth, a legend, a story drawn from the mists of time. As far as I was concerned, we were devout cat people.

We had always had cats. My extended family also had cats. There were cats everywhere. I grew up pushing past furry legs on bathroom benchtops, furry butts hanging from the top of the TV where it was warm, furry faces two centimetres from my own in the mornings. Cats surrounded me, and apart from my grandmother’s dog Babloo who was bullied into submission by the cats, I was a little afraid of dogs.

When I was 21 and deeply in love with a Boy with cat allergies, I got a dog. The Boy was a dog person. His family had had a cat, but it was a strange, mostly-feral creature that tolerated the babies (the Boy and his brother), but hid in bushes to ninja-attack the Boy’s father when he came home from work. When I met the Boy, his family had transitioned into fully fledged dog people. Not a hint of cat in sight.

The Boy’s family had two dogs – a mostly blind, mostly deaf, ancient, curmudgeonly Blue Heeler, and a gigantic, not very bright, extremely protective mostly-Rhodesian Ridgeback. They were a terrifying combination. The Blue Heeler, who couldn’t see or hear me, would snarl menacingly in an offence-as-defence stance, which would alert the Ridgeback. I’m not sure the Ridgeback ever knew what he was supposed to be attacking, but he never let that get in the way of his avowed duty to protect his family.

I was very in love with the Boy. I got a puppy. 

When I brought the puppy home, my parents were furious. Well, my mother was furious. She was 56, a mother of four, exhausted, and utterly disinterested in caring for yet another sentient being. My father, who was decidedly not a cat person, was quietly relieved. 

The puppy was my responsibility. She slept on my bed, she rode on my lap when I drove the car, she went with me everywhere. She became an extension of me. She was loving and good-natured and clever. She learned to obey hand signals, knew how to cross a road, was eminently patient with small children, and she wheedled her way into both my parents’ hearts. 

They started taking her for walks in the morning, feeding her cheese on toast for breakfast, and sneaking her treats whenever the other one wasn’t looking. The dog became their third daughter. My father would take the dog for a drive. My mother – who’d been too busy to leave the house all day – would stare in disbelief. When the dog went missing, my father – the affirmed atheist – gave offerings at the temple for her safe return. Something he’d never done for his human children (my sister is still annoyed about this).

The dog kept them both vital and got them out of the house. She kept them exercising in the wake of my father’s cancer treatments, and gave them a focus for their attentions in the absence of grandchildren. She gave them a reason to connect with each other once their children had grown and gone. When my father died, the dog was the source of solace for my mother, and the reason she had to keep getting up each morning, keep walking out the door.

After I married the Boy, after we’d had our first child, after the child had started to walk and talk and love the dog too, it became clear that the dog had grown old and arthritic and beyond the scope of medical intervention, my mother – the lifelong cat person – was inconsolable.

“It’s your dog,” she said. “You decide.”

The vet made a house call. We gave the dog, who had gently, lovingly broadened our horizons and enriched our lives, as much dignity in death as we could. 

[1] Bitser = bits-er-this and bits-er-that (bits of this and bits of that).

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6 Comments on “The conversion of cat people”

  1. Aww..I have been through this, and god was it the toughest decision of our life!
    I wasn’t a dog person, at all, but when my hubby got home a puppy, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the tiny thing. He soon became my baby in the absence of a human baby. And 13 years later, when he was old and arthritic, we had to make the same decision that you did–give him as much dignity in death, as we could.
    I miss him terribly, and today, three years after he left, I feel he is just here, somewhere, the way you all must feel sometimes.

  2. I was a dog person growing up. But a kitten adopted me when I was 16, and she became my responsibility. Until the day I went off to college. Then she became Momma’s cat. She, too, was there when my dad passed, and she helped Momma get up and move in the morning. I am constantly telling my puppies that they aren’t allowed to die before me. I know they’re going to break whatever promise they make when they nuzzle me in response.

  3. I’ve been there and I know how hard that decision is, as well as how hard it would be to let nature take its course. But isn’t it wonderful that we get to have them at all? My mom was a cat person too, but my own allergy kept her from ever getting one. I love that The Boy turned out to be a keeper.

  4. What a sweet story. I teared up a bit at the part after your dad died, the dog was “the reason she had to keep getting up each morning, keep walking out the door.” I am not a dog person, but we have a dog, and I am the one who walks her, and the way she looks at me with complete unadulterated love, cynic that I am, I melt.

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