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Faith in Vermont: Our Newest Addition

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Posted on October 30, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



According to our family’s well-loved edition of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Hermes, the “merriest of the Olympians, was the god of shepherds, travelers, merchants, thieves, and all others who lived by their wits.” That’s a diverse set of patronages; the bottom line is that, although best known for zipping around in his winged shoes and winged helmet, Hermes was a bit of a trickster.

So it’s particularly appropriate that my daughters named their new kitten Hermes, since we were basically tricked into adding him to our family. 

Here’s how it went down:

My three oldest daughters take piano lessons back-to-back at the home of a wonderful musician and friend of our family. This summer, their piano teacher’s family was adopted by a stray female cat that showed up one day -- visibly pregnant -- and never left. They fed her, and named her Junie. 

When I took my daughters to their piano lesson one day in mid-September, their teacher told them that -- based on her newly diminutive size -- it appeared that Junie had had her kittens. “But,” she added, shaking her head, “we’ve looked for them everywhere, inside and out, and we just can’t find them. I’m afraid they may not have made it.” 

That was all it took to send my daughters on a mission. While they rotated through their lessons, the two who weren’t playing the piano executed a Junie stakeout. 

When they returned home from piano, I could barely make out the story through their shrieking: They’d found Junie’s kittens. There were four of them. She’d hidden them in an old dollhouse in the attic.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Of course, homes needed to be found for the four kittens. Of course, my daughters begged us to let them take one. 

We’re an animal loving family, but there were two significant strikes against a kitten:

1.    Both my husband and one of our daughters have tested positive for cat allergies.

2.    We share our house already with Gracie, an overly anxious six-year-old labradoodle, who can’t be let loose in our yard because she’s proven herself incapable of not attempting to kill one of the seven ducks and 24 chickens that free range there. We assumed Gracie would have the same response to a kitten.

Still, we’re not heartless. My husband and I discussed it and came up with a compromise: We could take a kitten, so long as we were all agreed that said kitten would remain outdoors as a “barn cat.” (We know plenty of local families that have tough cats who stay outside and handle pest control chores.) My daughters agreed to this compromise. My husband began building an insulted cat shelter. 

Then I mentioned our plans for compassionately but firmly keeping our kitten outdoors to a couple of cat-owning mom friends. They looked at me as if I’d just suggested sticking my own children in boxes in our shed.

“You can’t do that,” they said. “Not to a kitten. It has to stay inside until it gets its shots and gets fixed, but it’s better if you keep it in for a year, at least. Otherwise it’ll be miserable and it won’t be able to defend itself. It won’t survive.”

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

“Okay girls,” I told my daughters, “if you still want this kitten, you’re going to need to convince your father to let you keep it indoors.” 

So they drew up a contract. They promised to handle all of the cat chores. They came up with a plan for keeping the kitten upstairs in their rooms until the dog accepted her new roommate. They swore that if the kitten caused intolerable allergies or dog angst, we could find it another home. 

Then they picked out a kitten from the litter, and named him Hermes. He was “the feisty one,” the one who wasn’t shy about high-fiving them with his tiny paw. (Feistiness is an important adaptation for successfully navigating our household.)

We brought Hermes home amid much wishful thinking. We knew lots of cat owners who loved their pets despite their own cat allergies. After all, when my husband and I got married I was a cat owner myself. He wasn’t too miserable during our first five years of marriage-with-cat, right? And a cat might just be the best thing that ever happened to our anxious dog. 

It could’ve gone either way, but to quote Fredrick Buechner: “Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.”

The truth is that, in the week since Hermes came home, nobody’s appeared to suffer from a worsening of allergies. And Gracie the dog? She’s curious, she follows Hermes around, there’s a lot of sniffing and a little paw-batting. But if success equals, “the dog does not seem to want to eat the cat,” then we have success.

We also have an adorable, feisty little tiger-striped grey kitten who loves to play and cuddle in equal amounts -- and who isn’t shy of children who want to do lots of both. 

“As if you didn’t have enough to take care of, already!” more than one person has said to me. I’ve said it myself. Because if the truth is that things are going smoothly, an equally true truth is that it makes absolutely no sense to add a kitten to a household filled with four young children, 24 chickens, seven ducks, one dog, and two confirmed cat allergies. 

Then again, adding any relationship to our lives often makes no sense when considered through the lens of our own comfort. 

Almost 20 years ago, back when my husband was my new boyfriend and I was living alone in Manhattan and trying to decide whether to take the cat I’d been offered, my husband-then-boyfriend offered this advice: “Take it. Most of the things I’ve regretted in life were things that I didn’t do.”

He may regret having given me that advice, but -- nearly two decades later -- I believe him still. 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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