Before my daughter was born, my husband and I rescued a cat. Not just any cat mind you. This was THE cat. We loved Harley Tiger sooo much, from his little pink nose to those lovely orange tabby cat stripes. He was truly our fur baby, getting special toys, plentiful attention, and snuggles every night.
When I was pregnant, I daydreamed about Harley the cat playing sweetly with our little girl. I couldn’t wait to see the two of them together and wondered if she could hear him purring as he laid on my pregnant belly. So idyllic.
Then the baby came. Harley was hesitant but a pretty good big cat brother all considered. The older our daughter got, the more fascinated she became with him. But neither my husband nor I had time anymore to go pick out cute, cat nip infused, sushi shaped cat toys anymore. This human baby suddenly required 110% of our attention at all times. We no longer dangled shoe strings for Harley to bat at. Our fur baby was no longer first priority. And sadly, he was becoming a nuisance.
Suddenly Harley’s less desirable qualities became glaringly obvious. He tracked litter through the house (gross) and sneezed cat boogers on the floor (double gross). I was already cleaning up diapers & baby boogers and did not appreciate having double duty. Plus I was hyper aware of keeping the floor clean for a crawling baby, and the last thing I wanted for her to cross paths with was some icky feline by-product.
Once Claira started walking, she was chasing Harley nonstop. Toddlerhood was approaching and although she didn’t bite people, she did bite the cat – especially his tail – and often. This actually was, and still is, one of the biggest stresses in my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Seriously! While trying to do the dishes or get the house in some semblance of order, I’d hear Harley suddenly hiss aggressively. Then I’d come running to pry off a giggling Claira who would come up with a mouthful of fur. Every single time, it made my heart pound. I didn’t want Harley to get hurt, but more importantly, I didn’t want Claira to get bitten or scratched – even scarred. Just the thought that our cat could potentially disfigure our child made my blood boil.
My feelings towards the cat began to change. I was constantly trying to separate him from Claira, whether that meant keeping them from hurting each other, keeping her out of his litter box, or keeping her out of his food and water bowls. We put up baby gates just to separate the cat and baby, only the cat could still jump them. I swear he liked to taunt Claira by waving his tail in her face until she’d grab it… I’d previously imagined having Harley around could help teach Claira empathy and kindness. But then I started to wonder if she was instead learning negative lessons, like how to scold the cat when he jumps on the kitchen table.
Both my husband and I tried repeatedly to teach Claira to be more gentle with the cat. She was just too little to understand. And as Claira collected more bite marks and cat scratches, I started wondering if Harley might be better off with another family. It felt like he just created more stress for me and diminished our quality of life. I never snuggled with him at night anymore. I never dangled string for him to play with. He was a nuisance. I realize none of these things are the cat’s fault, but when it comes down to baby’s needs vs. cat’s needs, the baby’s going to win. That’s just how it is.
Then one day, I thought I’d lost Harley. It was during a series of terrible forest fires that were way too close to home for comfort. Though our house was safe from the flames, we heard reports of wild animals coming out of the forest and that all domestic pets should be kept indoors. Harley was an indoor cat, so I didn’t worry about it at the time. Then, as I was stacking blocks with Claira, I realized I hadn’t seen Harley in a while. We went around the house, calling his name and peeking under beds. No Harley. I started to worry, remembering the earlier alert, and imagining how pathetic and wimpy Harley would be if faced with a coyote, mountain lion, or even the neighbor’s dog.
I went into the garage and continued calling for Harley, my pitch becoming more frantic. Then I heard a muffled “mew”. I thought maybe he was in a box somewhere and called out again to be met with another faint “mew”. He sounded just as desperate and frantic as me. I realized Harley was just outside the garage. I wanted to open the garage door but was afraid that the sound would scare him away. So I ran around to the front door, and Harley came running! He was covered in dust and a few spider webs. I picked him up (he nearly climbed up my leg), dusted him off and brought him back inside, singing his praises and telling him what a good boy he was. I gave him probably half a bag of cat treats. I gave Claira some treats to give to Harley, and when she teased him and took them away from him, she got a very stern talking to. For the first time in 18 months, Harley was first priority.
I realized that, even though he’s more trouble than he’s worth, Harley is still an indispensable part of our little family. “Harley” was one of my daughter’s first words. Every time we come home, she calls “Harley” before we get out of the car. And the first thing she has to do once we go inside is find him and give him a hug. He is her big brother. Hopefully Claira will soon grow out of her tail pulling habits because Harley is here to stay.