Pet parents, dog moms, cat moms — I hated all these terms.
Yet, somewhere in the Vetco visits and meow cries and multiple feedings and kitty wiping and socializing and flat-out worrying, I became a cat mom.
Four kittens were found on an old man’s property out in Ben Wheeler, where many people dump their abandoned animals. The cats are all tom cats — feral males. Kittens were the anomaly. Someone abandoned baby kittens approximately 5-7 weeks in age, before Thanksgiving.
Kittens should remain with their mothers until at least 12-14 weeks old. In the wild, kittens remain with their mothers until they reach sexual maturity or the mother gets pregnant again. Unnecessary stress is created from being weaned too early and puts the kittens at risk for developmental, health and social issues.
When I got Leo and Galaxy, Galaxy did not clean herself properly. I bought kitty wipes to clean her after her litter box trips. She’d have been about 10 weeks by the time I got her. I did switch to baby wipes, which contained similar key ingredients but less chemical components and at a cheaper price.
When I had two cats, I realized how similar to raising toddlers it was. No, I don’t have the same worries about them — but I definitely had worries that stressed me out. Leo had a lot of aggression, and I became property he fought Galaxy for. I did not have the ability to raise a kitten who needed constant attention.
It’s a lot of work to raise kittens who should actually be with their mothers. Most abandoned kittens are fostered until at least four months of age because of how much work it takes to raise kittens and what is required of raising them. Some rescues won’t let you adopt kittens until they’re at least six months of age.
Moreover, the ideal situation is two biological kittens, but in a case like mine, that just wasn’t possible. Leo was stalking Galaxy and their “play fighting” did not stop with her growling and hissing until I sprayed him with water.
That’s not to discredit parenting human children, of course.
I don’t think of my cat as a furry human child.
I don’t actually think I am of the same species to my fur “baby”.
I can’t help saying, “Why are you like this?” and, “Baby, why?” and, “WHY, CHILD?!” like I did to Solara.
It just slips out.
I don’t intentionally reference human children or toddlers, but it’s hard when you find yourself sneaking out of a room in hopes of your cat not waking and following you.
Not everyone births their children, so I’m not going to touch that aspect (and neither should anyone else, because fuck that shit?) — but I’ve done a lot of really similar shit raising my kitten that I have done caring for toddlers.
- multiple feedings
- monitoring bodily waste
- eyeing a LOT of poop
- talking about poop a lot
- congratulating litter box usage
- celebrating solid poops
- wiping butts
- spot-cleaning kittens
- holding kittens
- cuddling kittens
- keeping kittens out of the dishwasher
- providing safe toys + environment
- responding to distress meows
- dealing with upset tummies due to food
Love is love & offspring is offspring
Raising a kitten is like raising a child.
Dismissing the concept is patronizing at best and ignorant at worst. Just because one is a human doesn’t make that type of parenting any better. I’m so sick of the elitism that is parenting humans, as if no one could possibly understand what it’s like to raise children without physically birthing and raising their own. It takes a village and every reason to have kids is selfish, so maybe check yourself.
People love differently, but ultimately that which they believe they feel for their pets could very well be the same.
The love I have for Galaxy is the same as I developed for Solara in her first two-and-a-half-years of being alive. The bond between us during that first year was the same that I developed for Galaxy in the two weeks I had her.
Caring for offspring is part of human DNA.
That doesn’t mean it has to be human offspring.
“If people evolved to alloparent, and our environment is now making caring for children more difficult or less appealing to some, it makes sense for people to alloparent other species entering their homes,” wrote anthropologist Shelley Volsche.
A behavior known to biologists and anthropologists as alloparenting is the act of caring for offspring that are not biologically our own.
Per evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, humans are cooperative breeders, meaning it’s in our DNA and ancestral history to help care for offspring that are not our own.
Volsche also wrote, “Alloparenting companion animals can offer a way to fulfill the evolved need to nurture while reducing the investment of time, money and emotional energy compared to raising children.”
Volsche published a study in Sage Journal illustrating how some individuals are choosing to adopt pets over raising children as fertility rates decline globally.
In her research, Volsche found non-parents of human children viewed their pets as emotionally intelligent individuals and more likely to use endearing familial terms when referencing their relationships with their pets.
It is this difference, combined with the evidence from my earlier research that these individuals address the species-specific needs of the dogs and cats in their care, that suggests pet parenting is, truly, parenting pets. Though the details may look quite different – attending training classes instead of school functions, or providing smell walks for dogs instead of coloring books for children – both practices fulfill the same evolved function. Whether child or pet, people are meeting the same evolved need to care for, teach and love a sentient other. (Volsche)
More science supports pet parents are actually parenting
- Dogs see their humans as their parents, though cats may view their humans as parents more than dogs, thanks to a study ft. kittens
- Humans may be more empathetic towards human children, puppies and adult dogs than they are towards adult humans
- Dogs and cats bond with their owners the same way human babies bond with their caregivers — 65 percent of infants are securely attached to their caregiver, and about 65 percent of kittens and cats were found to be securely bonded to their people
- Gazing into the eyes of your dog activates the same hormonal response that bonds humans to infants
- While animals are food-motivated, dogs prefer praise over food — much like human children.
- Adult dogs have the mind of a 2-2.5yo human child, whereas adult cats are closer to 2-3yo human children
- Cats have about the same social reference from eye contact as autistic people (my inference)
- Cat-owner bonds are similar to that between dogs or infants to their caretakers; cat-owner bonds were found to be similar to mother-infant bonds, and cats form attachment relationships to their caretakers
- Relationship bonds would benefit cats and dogs in terms of leading to better food and safety, while humans would be less stressed
“American pet owners are transforming the cultural definition of family,” per sociologist Andrea Laurent-Simpson. Some workplaces offer “pawternity”, or “furternity”, acknowledging the role pets play in their employees’ lives and that giving time off specifically to care for or grieve their pets will result in a happier, more productive and less stressed employee. This, of course, is the result of alleged labor shortages caused by a pandemic, but it might be a positive step in the right direction towards creating equity for child-free (and childless) humans raising pets.
If your boss knows you don’t have children, they’re more likely to take advantage of your time because they know you haven’t a “family” to come home to. There are also many benefits for families available through the workplace — perceiving “family” as children, rather than childless life partners, regardless of any pets in the household.
Some pet parents are creating bank accounts to ensure their pets’ well-being should anything happen to them — essentially trust/savings accounts created for the pet’s trustee to care for that pet with the funds, so as to prevent someone’s pooch or whisker friend from being sent to the pound or euthanized due to lack of financial means.
Years ago, I’d have thought this all pointless crap, but I’m 30 and now know all adoption originates in trauma. Unless I am meant to adopt a human child, or I wind up with a partner who has kids or wants to give birth to one, I may only ever have a fur baby. I do see myself as creating at least an emergency fund for Galaxy, should anything severely expensive crop up that isn’t covered by pet insurance (which I need to get).
In Volsche’s research, she and her colleagues gathered that the current and future generations of humans are evolving to alloparent due to financial and environmental constraints.
I am honestly here for this redefinition of what it means to start and have a family. I also feel hope for humanity because instead of viewing children as a commodity or accessory to a relationship, more recent generations are viewing them as the true responsibilities they are — gleaning from their own upbringing that forcing a new life into our current world may be cruel, and realizing the number of children — humans and pets alike — that need secure, loving homes.
I will end you with this sentiment (again) by Volsche:
It is this difference, combined with the evidence from my earlier research that these individuals address the species-specific needs of the dogs and cats in their care, that suggests pet parenting is, truly, parenting pets. Though the details may look quite different – attending training classes instead of school functions, or providing smell walks for dogs instead of coloring books for children – both practices fulfill the same evolved function. Whether child or pet, people are meeting the same evolved need to care for, teach and love a sentient other.
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