A year worth of Google searches couldn’t definitively answer one question: how would Penelope react to our pets? We would only find out when we got home from the airport. During the sixteen hour flight Jenn and I wondered about this constantly.
Everywhere I turned people told me our pets “wouldn’t matter” once we had a child, or the way we felt about them would change drastically. Considering how much our little zoo means to us I didn’t take the comments so well. I never said anything, but inside I was thinking “how would you know?”. I didn’t question the dynamic would be different. But to say the pets we loved for thirteen years would suddenly be worthless or insignificant was odd.
Were the naysayers right? Do we think less of our pets now?
Bringing Home Baby
The first time Penelope saw one of our pets she screamed. Tima, our tortoise-shell cat, was sitting on the dining room table. Penelope took one look and erupted. Seconds before she was laughing and having a great time with our friends Charlie, Stephanie, and Steve.
Several weeks later she would still stay as far away from the cats and dogs as she could. We would pet them and say “gentle”. We don’t know if she had a bad interaction with a cat in China or wasn’t accustomed to seeing them. It was clear she was not comfortable around any of them.
After a month home she would walk around the cats and dogs instead of stopping in her tracks. If they got too close she would start crying or screaming. This still happens if she’s eating and one gets close to her. Occasionally she would try to pet one of the cats if their back was turned. Sneak attack affection. She only attempts to pet the dogs when we go for a walk. As they drink from their portable bowl she will squat and place an open hand on their backs. We don’t push her relationship with them.
At feeding time Jenn allows Penelope to help with our most docile cats. She’s never allowed to be in the same room as the dogs when they eat and she’s not permitted to feed them. To our amazement she doesn’t get upset or surprised when our larger dog barks, which happens frequently. Maybe Penelope senses he watches out for her.
Without a doubt our lives are not focused on our cats and dogs as they once were. Now that we have Penelope the available time for our pets is limited. It was impossible to follow all the pet care advice before we had Penelope. How are we going to brush our cats for ten or fifteen minutes, clean their teeth, keep their nails trimmed, and give enough affection to all of them? Having Penelope also made us face the financial reality of pet ownership. If one of them gets so ill or a disease that costs a fortune to treat we will have to euthanize. That was true before, but it was further from our minds and extensive treatment seemed more plausible.
Our cats haven’t taken the changes lying down. As our attention shifted to the family’s new addition, they learned to work on a rotation system, or “first come, first serve”. Jenn and I watch a show or two every night. Our dogs sit with us and a cat or two will make their way into the living room, choosing an unoccupied lap. If another cat comes along and finds the premium seats taken they walk away or stay close by waiting for a vacancy.
The biggest struggle is all the cat crying. I get up at 6 AM. If I make the slightest noise when I get up our cat Speaker hears it and starts talking. What starts as a single ‘meow’ turns into a feline mob outside our bedroom door. We could chalk it up to an annoyance, but we worry they’re going to wake Penelope. There are mornings when Jenn and I are both ready to find homes for the most vociferous of the bunch. Neither of us want to deal with a prematurely awakened toddler.
We still love our pets and want them to live a good life. We maintain the same quality diet to keep them healthy and reduce vet visits. We reach out and pat a head or scratch ears when nearby. We still take our dogs for a walk at the park when possible. It would be cruel to neglect them, treating them like discarded toys. We hope Penelope will learn a measure of compassion towards all living creatures (except roaches). Of course she may just learn not to have so many pets when she gets older.
My big concern now is how Penelope will react when our pets start dying out. They are all older and some have medical conditions. Bringing a child into our lives didn’t eliminate the love we have for our pets. When they go it will be difficult for us. When Penelope realizes a pet is gone forever and sees our grief, will it trigger memories or emotions buried inside her? This isn’t something I’ve heard other parents discuss.
Overall the transition has been positive. Each animal is different so there is no “right answer” to my initial question of how Penelope would react. Each cat has their own personality. They have responded to the new little person in their space in different ways. Some want affection. Some allow Penelope to chase them. Others keep their distance. The dogs haven’t been an issue, with the small one wanting to lick her and the larger one becoming protective of her.
We employ the one piece of advice we consistently received from pet owners with children and the veterinarian couple adopting a little girl during our trip: Always Be Present.