By Troy Headrick
About a week and a half ago, at the end of a two-hour bike ride around our neighborhood, my wife came running into the house and said, “Come out! I found a little kitten!” I was just about to step into the shower, so I put my exercise gear back on and headed outside.
Sure enough, under a bush near a neighbor’s house, I saw a little ball of greyish fur scurrying around. There were a couple of adult cats skulking about, but it wasn’t clear that any of those was the mother. I immediately surmised that the little thing was likely about six weeks old and probably on her own, at least to a very large extent.
I stepped up to the shrub and started trying to coax the kitten out. She thought I was playing with her, so she would pounce in my direction and then run away. Finally, I was able to get my hands on her. I’d anticipated that she might fight me a bit, but as soon as I started stroking her back and speaking to her, she began to purr and went mostly limp.
I spent most of the next hour asking around if she was anyone’s kitten. One neighbor, a large, bearded man, told me she’d suddenly shown up in the area, and that he’d been feeding her a little each day. Still, she was emaciated and, as we were soon to learn, infested with fleas.
To make a long story short, we are now the proud owners—given the fact that she has us wrapped around her little paws, it’s not clear who owns whom—of a little female tabby. We’ve vanquished the fleas, given her toys, and bought her cans of food, yet we are still undecided on a name. None of those we’ve tried out so far have felt right, so we’re still brainstorming.
It’s been years since I’ve owned a pet. I grew up around animals, so I’ve had plenty of experience with cats, domesticated and feral. My wife, on the other hand, did not grow up around fur babies, because she was brought up as the prototypical inner-city kid, so she’s on a steep learning curve.
Being the caregiver of such a lovely creature is causing me to do a lot of introspection. Given that life is so hard and requires humans to become hard themselves to survive it, I wasn’t for sure that I still had anything like a soft interior left over from my boyhood. I wondered if I was anything other than an impenetrable exterior. I’m happy to report that I’ve found that our little tabby has turned me into a doting softy.
Oddly enough, recent events have caused me to think about a lesson that my parents were keen on teaching me when I was growing up. During my formative years, they’d often remind me that I had to be careful about the sort of people I hung around. If I chose the wrong sort, if I befriended troublemakers of one kind or another, I would likely go astray myself. Of course, I’d discreetly roll my eyes each time such a warning was made.
The point they were trying to make is this: We are shaped by the sort of company we keep. We become like those we spend time with.
Our little tabby climbs up on my lap and starts purring, and I find myself purring back at her. She turns her striped face upward, towards me, her grey-green eyes staring intently at me, which prompts me to stare at her, my heart melting all the while. My wife has even jokingly remarked that my interactions with the kitten is making her jealous.
I guess I’ve finally understood what my folks were trying to get across all those years ago. Love and softness begat love and softness.
Thanks for reading. As you plan your response, have a look at the photo I’ve included and suggest a name, or tell me about your own pet and how that relationship has changed your life.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.