Before Dante was born, the ruler of our house was a cat named Random. We got Random from a shelter in 1996, after a bitter February cold snap. They said they picked him up on an extremely cold night, living on the street. He was a Manx tabby, meaning he had just a couple of tail vertebrae, resulting in a little stub that would still wave around expressively at times. Laura and I are both definitely cat people, especially her — when we were first dating I mentioned that I thought I might be a little bit allergic to cats, and she turned on me and said, deadly serious, “Don’t make me choose.” My allergy is quite mild — as long as I keep fur out of my face for the most part, I’m good — so we adopted Random shortly after we got married, and loved him.
Dante’s arrival was quite an adjustment for Random, as you might imagine. Suddenly here was this creature — loud, unpredictable, and full of peculiar scents — commanding so much of the attention that used to go to him. We still made an effort to spend time with Random, and when baby Dante was sleeping, Random would often come and have a lovefest with us, but still, things had changed forever. Add to that the fact that Dante was utterly fascinated with Random, a doomed love that was unrequited from the start. Random was reasonably patient with Dante, but babies and cats just generally do not mix, or at least they didn’t in our house, and all the waving, noise-making, and enticement in the world on Dante’s side did not change this immutable fact.
Meanwhile, one day Laura noticed what looked like a skin reaction after Dante had touched some peanut butter, so we took him in to get some blood tests for peanut allergies. In the process, we tested for a variety of other common allergens, and came up positive on a total of three: peanuts, eggs, and cats. The peanut one we could handle well enough, and the egg one he got over in a couple of years time. The cat one, however, was tough. Suddenly it seemed as though something was going to make Laura choose, especially after the allergist advised us to get rid of our cat. Even at the time, this struck me as a very allergy-centric response. There was no way we were going to get rid of our cat if we could possibly make it work, especially since we had all been living together already with very little sign of problems. So we kept things clean, and kept hair away from Dante, and everything was fine. I’m sure it helped that Random himself avoided Dante assiduously most of the time.
We lost Random in October 2009. He had cancer in his jawbone, and by the time he was diagnosed there was no treatment that would have left him with reasonable quality of life. Dante was 4 years old at the time, old enough to understand what death meant on a basic level, but too young to really process it. What was true about him then, as now, is that he takes losses very hard, and always seeks some solution to them. Anytime a toy breaks or can’t be found, he becomes deeply distraught and begins immediately announcing plans about how it can be repaired or replaced. Random couldn’t be repaired, and we weren’t ready to bring a new cat into our lives right away. I remember Dante taking in this information and still looking for solutions. “I could pretend to be him!” he offered.
Since then, we’ve been pretty circumspect about getting a new cat. Just because Dante didn’t react very much to Random doesn’t mean he wouldn’t react to a new cat, and in fact we have seen him react from time to time when we’d bring him to the houses of cat-owning friends. The reactions aren’t huge, and certainly are far from life-threatening, but he’d eventually get sniffly, sneezy, and puffy. The last thing we’d want to do is introduce a problem into Dante’s environment, or place ourselves in a situation where we really would have to get rid of our cat to avoid endangering our kid.
And yet. Laura is a born cat owner, and desperately missed having a feline friend around the house. Dante, in the meantime, had become obsessed with cats. True to his 4-year-old word, he was constantly pretending to be a cat or a kitten, and had begun pressing harder and harder for us to adopt a cat. “Even if it makes me allergic, it would be so worth it,” was his recurring line of argument.
Researcher Laura got on the case, checking out how to be a cat owner even if you have a cat allergy. She learned the allergy mechanism and the specific allergen, which is a protein called Fel d 1 present in their saliva. She found lists of breeds who produced less of this protein, and various traits associated with lower allergen levels. She learned about what kinds of products, habits, etc. can lessen risks of a reaction. She also explained the situation to his pediatrician, who said, “Look. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, and we have two cats and three dogs. I just pop a Claritin if I’m having an issue, and everything’s fine. If you want to get a cat, go ahead and get a cat. Watch for major reactions, and keep your Epi-Pen handy in case of emergency, but otherwise you can just manage it with Claritin.”
Thus reassured, we then all had a conversation about it. We agreed that we were willing to give it a try, and decided that we wanted to definitely adpot from a shelter rather than a breeder. We hoped we could get a kitten, so Laura put herself on some email alert lists for kittens in some of the less-allergenic breeds, including Manx, Siberian, and Russian Blue.
That was a couple of months ago. She hadn’t heard much of anything, and we were starting to think we’d just need to look for traits instead of breeds, but on Thursday the 28th, she suddenly got a message that a nearby shelter had two five-month-old Siberian/Tabby kittens available. She called me at work, and we decided to head out there. (Comically, this was the same day we were having a new bed delivered — when it rains it pours.) I was coming from work, so they beat me there by about a half hour. When I got there, I saw this little kitten sitting in Dante’s lap, purring up a storm. The cat never stopped purring the whole time it was with us, passed from Dante to Laura to me as we talked with the shelter about the various details.
Reader, we married him. Or rather, we adopted him. It was instant love from the time that purr started. We brought him home, and he’s now living in our bedroom — they advise keeping new adoptees in a small area at first before introducing them to the rest of the house. No names yet — the shelter had named him “Socks”, but we’ll likely choose a different name. Creativity is flowing in this area, and lots of candidates are bubbling around. Just as we called Dante “t.b” before he was born, standing for “the baby,” we’re currently calling the kitten “t.k.”
The point is, we have a cat in our lives again. And it is wonderful.