We got a cat

Like millions of others around the world, Mathieu and I got a new quarantine partner to bunker down with.

Yes, I know what you might be thinking. Just another cliché couple who races to the pet store the second a pandemic is announced. I suppose in some ways we are. Getting a cat was not exactly in our immediate plan. But it was also not in our immediate plan to have our perfectly planned wedding in June cancelled.

The decision to get a cat was not a spontaneous one by any means. We’ve been talking about it for a long time now. Or, sorry, I have been talking about getting a pet, and Mat has been slowly broken down into agreeing with this decision. The thing is, Mat didn’t have any pet animals growing up so to him it was never really a big deal. He didn’t know what he was missing out on. Whereas I grew up with dog and/or cat hair as a garnish to every meal. Literally since the day I was born I had a dog or cat (or both) to snuggle up with. I’m very well acquainted with the love, joy, amusement and comfort they provide. Especially since I haven’t had one since I left Canada nearly 8 years ago.

So as I sit here on my computer, looking at Pippin curled up on the chair in front of me, I think about the journey it took for her to enter our lives. Just like life itself, it involved many twists and turns.

Growing up, I had cats, dogs, chickens, guinea fowl, budgies, turtles, fish, bunnies, hamsters and one very special African genetta paradina that was rescued from the side of the road in Ghana. My parents were rescuing and caring for animals long before my sister and I were even born. Clearly the animal loving gene was passed onto us, especially my sister who became the animal activist of the family. I was never quite as hyped up about animal welfare as her. I loved animals, and was always up for a cuddle, but never really went out of my way. I was also really lazy and easily disgusted. Picking up dog poo or cleaning up cat vomit made me nauseous. And yes, I was spoiled enough to have a mother who did that all for us. I also seemed to be the only one in the family who was driven insane by the extraordinary amount of dog fur that magnetised itself to every item of clothing I ever owned. I actually remember having to change outside, my coat wrapped carefully in a plastic bag, before going out anywhere.

parents feeding ducks
My parents having the time of their lives feeding ducks

By the time I left Canada at the age of 25, I was pretty happy to not have fur on every single item of clothing. I’d moved to China to live with my dad in his spacious, diplomatic-style apartment with marble floors and high ceilings. The place was so clean and tidy, I absolutely loved it. It was a strange feeling to leave my black wool coat laying out in the open. I’d gotten so used to the extraordinary measures I took back home in Canada to keep my clothing looking reasonable. But after a few months, my dad’s place started to feel like a concrete building, not a home. I started to miss my dog greeting me at the door with her teddybear in her mouth, or my cats laying on the heated vents slow blinking at me. That was a home, this was just some concrete slab of marble. Classic case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

While both my dad and I were desperate for an animal, we both led busy lives. My dad was traveling a lot for work and I was partying like a rockstar because, well, I was an expat in China and that is just what you do. Getting a dog or a cat would be cruel. So I decided to get two birds. This, I thought, would be enough for us to manage. So on one sunny afternoon, my friend and I went to the pet market on the outskirts of Beijing and got two budgies: Merlin and Luna. 

Merlin and Luna |my boring pet birds | Kimberly Hetherington | Art Therapy with Kimberly
Merlin & Luna

They were with us for a few months and I can’t say we developed the strongest of bonds. Eventually, both my dad and I had to go somewhere for a few weeks. We’d asked my dad’s cleaner to come by and feed the birds but perhaps we weren’t clear on how often she needed to come, or somehow there was some reason confusion around how much food they needed. Either way, the day we returned I only noticed Merlin jumping about in the cage. I looked down and it appeared as though Luna was laying at the bottom of the cage. This is never, ever a good sign because, well, birds don’t really lay down. As I got closer I noticed she was laying on her side, eyes closed, legs straight out, stiff like a piece of wood. It was clear that she was dead. My dad and I stood in the kitchen in shock. It was unclear the cause of death, it seemed like they had enough food and water. But I felt like a horrible person. I realised that I was clearly not a suitable pet-owner and put Merlin up for adoption. I interviewed a few people who were interested and decided to give her to a young Indian family with two children. They were absolutely thrilled as I handed the cage over, the kids were hoping up and down in excitement. I asked them to send me pictures of Merlin in her new home. They smiled and agreed but never did. I don’t quite know what happened but I hope Merlin is happy, or at least at peace, wherever she is now.

In 2015, I left China and moved to Australia. As a backpacker getting a pet is obviously just irresponsible. Luckily, in the first apartment I rented, my next door neighbour had a chubby pug named Bud who ruled the neighbourhood. I’d often see him around and every now and then when I called him over for a pat he’d trot over to me. It literally made my entire day if he did. When I came back to Australia the second time, I decided to rent an apartment that already had an animal living there. Cat, dog, fish, lizard, whatever. I just needed to live with someone else’s animal. So, I found a room in a house within my budget, an incredible backyard patio area, and a little cat named Lucy who oddly enough looked like Hitler. As I sat on the couch talking to the woman who owned the house and would be living there with me, Lucy jumped up on my lap and started purring. Sold. I moved in the next day.

Lucy was a great cat, who has since passed away unfortunately. She had her cute and cuddly moments but was mostly a methodical killer. I can remember sitting outside on the patio with my other flatmate Jackie, sharing a bottle of red wine, having a laugh, and then suddenly be interrupted by a flurry of activity near the potted plants beside us. We’d look down and notice a tiny mouse limping helplessly across the tiled floor and Lucy running up behind playing with it like a ping pong ball. We’d scream in terror and the owner of the house would come running down the stairs telling us we were overreacting. “It’s just a mouse!” she’d say, flinging its dead body in the rubbish bin. Jackie and I would huddle inside on the verge of tears. “Hitler!” Jackie would hiss, she was not a fan of Lucy. The worst was seeing a dead mouse at the bottom of the stairs first thing in the morning. I didn’t know how to respond to things like this. My mother usually took care of the gross, terrible things our cats did. (Yes, I’m aware I was spoiled).

the Cat Lucy who looked like Hitler | Kimberly Hetherington | Art
Lucy, the cat who looked like Hitler.

Then, as most of you already know, I met and fell in love with Mathieu. I spent most of my time at his place until we realised it made more sense to get our own place together. I loved our first apartment, it was small but cosy. We lived there for two years and at the time I was working at a job that almost killed me. By the time I got home every evening, I felt like a shell of a human being. Every ounce of energy was drained. The feeling of wanting an animal was unbelievably profound. I would lay limp on the couch and tell Mat how I wanted something chubby and furry to cuddle.”But I’m chubby and furry!” he’d say, trying to cheer me up. It always made me smile, but obviously it’s not quite the same. All of our friends are expats too and most of them don’t have animals because they travel too much. So even during social events we didn’t even have someone to pat. Boo hoo, right? Well yes, it turns out. Animals are the best stress relievers and not having one can be detrimental for your mental health. At least for me anyway.

The original plan was to get a cat after our June 2020 wedding. Life was planned out so well; our wedding in the Canadian mountains and then a beautiful honeymoon in Tanzania. But then this little old thing called COVID-19 derailed it all. Life got reshuffled, flights got cancelled, and many tears were shed. I broke down in the living room, crying the hardest I have in a long time. It took me about a week of misery to come to terms with everything. A few days later, Mat told me he asked for special permission from our landlord if we could have a pet. Surprisingly, they said yes. Originally when we signed the contract we were told that no animals were allowed. While it was great news, I still wasn’t really motivated to look, or do anything about it.

One day while we were both working from home, Mat came over to show me a picture his friend’s cat who has been adopted from a local animal shelter. We called and booked an appointment to see the cats they had that weekend. When we arrived we realised it was actually a woman’s house. The cats were held in a small room. There were puddles of cat pee everywhere and the room stank. Mat and I looked at each other and I could tell he was just as disturbed as me. I breathed out of my nose as the woman pointed at all the cats who were up for adoption, naming them one by one. “This one’s owner died, he’s about six years old.” He was all white, missing an eye and had blood encrusted around his pink nose. Honestly, he was a terrifying to look at. As we talked about him he literally stretched his arms out around my neck and meowed in my face. “I have never met a more affectionate, loving cat in my life” she said smiling. Yes, neither did I. The cat was basically begging to be adopted. And if I was a nicer human being, I would have adopted him. But to be honest, the cat scared me. We spent a long time going through each cat one by one, and learning about their stories. It became evident who were her favorite cats, and who weren’t. I ended up meeting one cat named Bernadette Kitty Paris, a brown Tabby who had an underdeveloped cerebellum. I held her in my arms and looked at Mat as if to say, ‘this is the one.’ We stayed a little longer until it started to turn dark and the rain swept in. “No need to make a decision now, just let me know in the morning who you’ve decided,” the woman told us.

The next morning, I was up at six as usual and while we were laying in bed I told Mat that I wanted Bernadette Kitty Paris. He agreed. Together we sat in the living room, the phone on speaker as I called the woman back. “So… we’ve made our decision!” I told her, beaming. “We’d love to adopt Bernadette Kitty Paris.” The other side of the line was silent. “Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry, but my husband… he really loves her. Our other tabby cat died and we really want to replace her. Sorry to make you come all the way here for that. Any other cat is available though…” my mind went blank. I’d never heard of this ever happening before. This lady had about ten pet cats in her house, it was shocking that she wanted to add more. None of the other cats really stood out in my mind so I decided that it was a sign, maybe a cat wasn’t for us.

A few days later, our mutual friends suggested we try another shelter she used to volunteer at. Because of COVID, we weren’t allowed to see any of the cats in real life so we scrolled through the ‘adopt a cat’ page and enquired about the ones we thought were cute. It’s pretty hard to tell just looking at a photo. I guess it’s like online dating, you never really know what you’ll get. We got an email back about a small one year old cat. Her name was Jayne. In her picture, she was sitting with her chin titled down looking up with these big mousey eyes, her two paws were delicately placed with one paw slightly lifted on the floor.

On a bright Sunday morning we filled in all the required paper work and finalised everything over the phone. It felt like adopting a child. We were informed that Jayne would be spayed the following week and we would pick her up straight from the clinic. We patiently waited that week, preparing her litter box and making toys. The place she had her surgery was on the other side of the city and we had to take the bus, train and another bus to get there. Again, because of COVID, we had to wait outside the building. Then a vet came out wearing a mask and told us she was ready to be taken away. I asked how she was doing and the the vet said, “she’s pretty scared but she’s really smoochy. You can tell she’s afraid but she was rubbing her head on my hand anyway.” How cute.

We brought her home and had the bathroom all set up with her bed, food and kitty litter. It didn’t take more than 24hours for her to integrate into our home. We thought it would take a few weeks of hiding under the bed but by the second day she was laying upside down with her shaved belly exposed. She has been the most delightful little creature to share our lives with. I love her so much already I can’t imagine loving anything this much. It makes me wonder how I’ll be as a mum. If a feline pet has expanded my heart this much, I wonder how a human child would.

Our cat Pippin | Kimberly Hetherington | Art Therapy with Kimberly
The many faces of the little pipsqueak, Pippin!

Little Pips came into our life when everything got cancelled and our hearts were broken. She’s helped to remind us of the little things in life. Nothing excites her quite as much as a crumbled up mushroom bag. She will run laps around our apartment, dive bonding it and then carrying it around in her mouth like fierce lioness in the plains of Africa. She’s so playful, watching her reminds me that life does not need to be so serious. And the way she falls asleep with her tummy in the air and hands clasped over her face is so cute that it feels like vicarious relaxation to simply witness it.

As the saying goes, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Maybe I was too caught up in the details of how things would go and everything I would achieve this year to really enjoy and savour everything I have now. I have a tendency to do this; always planing and preparing for tomorrow. I sometimes forget to live in this day, or this moment. But I know that life is not to be lived tomorrow, it’s to be lived today. This pandemic, and my little Pippin, have taught me to make room for spontaneity and absorb my life fully while it’s happening.

This year may not be the one that any of us expected but it’s the one we got. It’s taken a while to adjust my perspective but now I see that 2020 will be a year of doing my best and letting go of planned outcomes. Life will never go exactly according to plan and that’s okay. Right now, it feels easy to accept the uncontrollability of life. Maybe tomorrow, or later this evening, I’ll feel differently. Or maybe I won’t. Either way it doesn’t matter. What matters is that of right now, I have the two of the most important things I’ve been wanting my whole life: a loving partner, and an adorable pet cat. And right now, this is more than enough.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant Nibbs. I was so happy to read your story. Very interesting. Thanks

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