Last June my girlfriend’s cat had a litter of kittens. After two months of taking care of them, and trying to find them a permanent home, we decided they’d all be better off at the SPCA.
Pretty much at the last minute I decided to keep one of the kittens. It’s probably the best decision I’ve made in years.
I’d never had a pet before, at least not since I moved away from ‘home’. I changed apartments too often, and for the better part of two decades I could barely afford to feed myself.
I adopted Cooler* for two reasons. One, with my first child on the way I wanted to find out if I could take care of another creature.
The other reason I adopted Cooler was for health concerns. I can’t find any definitive studies, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence having a pet can add years to someone’s life expectancy. When she was born I was in the middle of a nine month depression, and getting concerned about just how long I was going to be around.
In July of 2009 I wrote a post about the life expectancy issues surrounding manic depression and diabetes. According to a 2006 American study titled Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness it was found people with a serious mental illness, such as manic depression or schizophrenia…
“are now at risk of dying 25 years younger than the general population, compared with 10 to 15 years younger just two decades ago.”
Then there’s the Type-2 Diabetes and eighteen years of heavy smoking, both of which also take away decades of a persons life expectancy, so I should probably be dead twenty years before I was born.
According to the information I’ve been able to find, people with chronic or untreated manic depression should probably stay away from having a pet. Basically we’re barely able to care for ourselves, so how likely is it we’ll meet all the needs of a dog? I knew a guy who would buy all kinds of fish for his two gigantic aquariums while on a manic. But when he got depressed they’d all go belly-up.
For people who are introverts, or unable or incapable of having relationships, or just plain old depressed, a pet can really help get someone centred. It’s also a lot more interesting, and fun, having a pet… which is where the health benefits are supposed to come from.
Plus, having a pet is also a test of your empathy level. If you can identify with the pet, you’ll treat it how you want to be treated. The worse you treat your pet, the less it wants to be around you. The better you treat it, the more likely it is to want your company. The more you’re together, the more benefit you receive from its company.
Cooler has definitely made my life more interesting. My girlfriend likes to say my cat has “personality”, which is her way of saying Cooler is borderline nuts.
I can’t walk to the fridge without Cooler leaping out at me. Sometimes, when I walk to the living room, she’ll run up behind me and touch the back of my leg with her two front paws — like she’s playing tag, before she runs away.
She can use the handles on drawers to climb up my dresser, she’ll even open a drawer so she can sleep with my shirts. When I come home she runs to the door, and will even sleep near the door until I get back. Cooler also likes to play fetch with her little plastic mice-rattles.
Probably the most endearing thing she does is use her tail to balance herself when she sits like a prairie dog, with her front legs dangling down around her stomach. She does it when checking stuff out, like making sure it’s safe to get on the couch, or watching the TV scroll on the news channels. She loves hockey, because she can chase the puck across the TV screen.
She also sleeps with me, sits on the side of the bathtub while I shower, and spends a lot of time in my lap while I’m reading the paper online.
And, among a whole lot of other weird traits and habits, she also likes to hide her toys so she can find them later. Like, she’ll drop a plastic mouse into my shoe, walk away, come back, and fight to get it out — she’ll twist most of her body into my shoe in the attempt. Or she’ll get her plastic ball rolling, then walk beside it and, when it hits her, she’ll attack it like she’s seeing it for the first time.
There are people in my life who, every once in a while, would insist I get a pet. I’m glad I waited.
*I named her ‘Cooler’ after Steve McQueen’s character in ‘The Great Escape’, “The Cooler King” — McQueen’s character would escape the camp, only to be caught and tossed into ‘the cooler’, over and over again. When she was a kitten, my Cooler lived on my porch with her brothers and sister. And no matter what contraption I built to keep them from escaping, she was the one who figured out a way to get out.
“Things That Have Nothing To Do With My Girlfriend Being Pregnant And A Cooler Update”, Nov. 24, 2009