For years, my son Matt begged for a brother or sister. It took a cat to change his mindby Cathy Rentzenbrink / April 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
Someone asked me recently if I felt worried about my son being an only child. “Yes,” I said. “And we’ve got fleas as a result.”
For years, Matt has been asking for a little brother or sister, as though it would simply be a case of picking one up from the baby shop. The older I get, the less I feel capable of everything that growing a human entails so a few months ago I convinced him that a cat would be just as good. Erwyn, my husband, wasn’t that keen, but he too succumbed to the picture that I painted of how delightful life would be with a cat around the place cheering us up.
We went off to the sanctuary and filled in lots of forms. They wouldn’t give us a young cat because we live near a big road. There was only one we could take home that day. She’d been abandoned, was nearly dead when she was brought in, and they were amazed she had survived. She was about 12 years old, they thought. They had named her Arabella, but we could change it if we liked.
“Please can we have her,” said Matt.
I looked at his eyes and at her eyes, both full of pleading. It seemed like an opportunity to do a modest good deed and we took Arabella home, lauding the bravery of her survival, and pledging to make sure that the last years of her life were wonderful. I thought her name was a bit stupidly posh. “Maybe we should call her Lazarus,” I said, “as she rose from the dead so many times.”
But no, Matt liked Arabella so Arabella she stayed. And she was lovely to have around the place. She had an air of not quite being able to believe her luck at having a sofa to sit on and enough to eat. She tolerated Matt’s enthusiasm for her very well—at first he was a bit inclined to treat her like a cuddly toy—and took to Erwyn. When I went away for work she slept next to him on my side of the bed and then looked a bit peeved when I came back.
It wasn’t all larks. Matt fed her but somehow I’d ended up in charge of the litter tray and I gagged every morning as I emptied it into the outside dustbin, often in the pouring rain. I tried to encourage al fresco toileting but Arabella wasn’t having it. A baby would grow out of nappies, I thought, but gave up my attempts at feline potty training and focused on accepting the situation with good grace.
Then I had a few itchy bites on my ankle. I googled. Fleas!
We annexed Arabella to a room with no carpet or soft furnishings and my parents commenced a bathing and grooming regime. We tried everything the pet shop had to offer and home remedies from the internet. Arabella looked confused but accepting through the whole process. She never scratched or seemed uncomfortable but the fleas were stubborn. They were only ever two or three but they wouldn’t go. After three weeks of this, I asked my Facebook friends what to do and learned that the over the counter stuff doesn’t work a lot of the time and we had to take her to the vets for the good gear.
Arabella looked very unhappy as we waited in the vets, mainly due to the two dachshunds and the Great Dane sitting either side of her. She purred as she stepped out of her basket on to the table in the consulting room.
“She’s a happy little thing,” said the vet.
“She is!” I said. “She has a really good and grateful attitude to life.”
The vet gave us a prescription and told us that the over the counters used to work but don’t anymore. We put it on straight away, and the next day Arabella was free.
“Arabella looks happy, doesn’t she?” said Matt. We looked at her, curled up on the sofa, restored to the glory and luxury of cushions. “Are you glad we got her?”
I thought of all the effort, of the dreaded litter tray, of how sometimes the cat can feel like just another thing on my long list of jobs. I watched Matt stroke Arabella, and the way she pushed her forehead into him, asking for more love and affection. Matt has learnt to be gentler with her than he used to be and they get on very well. Arabella does take effort, but then most things worth having do.
And I thought how much harder it would be to have had a baby as the fourth member of our family and I said, “Oh yes, I love Arabella. I’m so glad we got her,” and I made a silent plan that as part of teaching Matt to be a responsible pet owner he really should start being in charge of the litter tray.