One Creature Small & Great


I hail from a family of pet-owning animal lovers, but I must confess:

I’ve always had a bit of an odd relationship with our furry friends.

It all began when my family adopted our first dog. I was an anxious, frustrated kid, and at the tender age of six didn’t really understand the distinction between “play” and “harrassment.” My prankish antics earned me much growling and a lifetime of doggie detachment — she was a proud little lady and didn’t suffer foolish children lightly. Of the six members of my family, she liked me the least.

After our dog passed on a semi-feral cat adopted us. My sisters did their best to coddle her and get her to trust humans; I, meanwhile, made the kitty-clueless mistake of having him attempt to swat my extremities (not very successfully: I was faster). After I left home, my parents adopted another cat, and this one, while more gregarious, was no less tough-minded in the play department. Winston liked me more than Mookie did, but I couldn’t say any kind of bond was formed.

Even though I’ve lived alone for nearly all my adult life, these early experiences made me resist the notion of getting a furry critter of my own. And other excuses as well: too much bother; the anticipation of presiding over yet another passing; and, of course, my own ever-mobile, ever-transient lifestyle.

That is, until this year.

For one thing, that settledness bugaboo: I’ve lived in San Francisco five years, and have been at my current job for three — the longest such stints in my adult life, with no plans on altering either. And then came this summer, that anguished stride through the looking glass. Is it unusual that watching a loved one die somehow elicits the desire to foster and care for new life?

With those notions in mind, I went with my sister and mother over Labor Day weekend to San Francisco’s palatial SPCA to see if a kitten was available who could enter my life.

Indeed, there was no shortage: between its mild climate and the resilience (and fertility) of the feline species, San Francisco is never wanting for baby cats. They were adorable, but one struck my fancy: a five-month old, near-solid dark brown female resting alone in one of the glass-walled “cat condos.” She came out of her cat tree and meowed as I approached; when I entered, with a volunteer, she continued her vocalizations and climbed into my lap.

I took Daenerys home that afternoon, bracing for the worst: refusal to come out of the “safe room” I’d created for her in my spare bathroom; hiding under bed and sofa; scratching up furniture. Instead, it seemed to me, a miracle occurred: she adjusted to the full expanse of my two-stories and 800 square feet in an afternoon; willingly ate everything that was put in front of her; and slept in my bed that night and every night thereafter.

Oh, her kittenish feisty side did come out eventually, but on the whole she’s been a wonder to play with, to hold, to chat with (she must be part Burmese, given her vocal/social/adaptable tendencies). She’s even handled the couple of trips I’ve taken out of town with (relative) aplomb… though I did get an earful on my return from my latest excursion this morning.

They say people in good relationships live longer, healthier lives — and now research is coming out that the same holds true for owning a pet. I’m hoping to spend many happy years with my new adopted housemate, and feel I’ve happily expunged the ghosts of pet misfortune of times gone by.