My two-year-old nephew is terrified of cats. This generally has not presented a problem, since my folks are a little wary to let their cat around him anyway; he’s not vicious, but his claws don’t fully retract and he’s gotten attention-seeking in his old age. We’d warned the kids at a very young age to be careful around the cat, and my parents have taken to closing him in my brother’s room (with a full bowl of food and water, and his litter box) when the boys are over.
The other day though, while my nephew was playing in the kitchen, the cat happened to wander in, and without provocation – the cat didn’t even approach him – my nephew had a full-blown freak out. Hiding in the corner, screeching, and crying. It took his mom and my mom both to calm him down.
Neither of the boys have a problem with dogs – the bigger, the better, in fact – and Bear is growing up in a house with a cat, so there’s no issue there. Just, for some reason, cats are terrifying to my nephew. Maybe it’s lack of exposure; he grew up for almost two years in a house with a Jack Russel, so he grew accustomed to pretty wild dogs, but never to the unique in-you-face aloofness of a cat. I don’t know.
We never lacked for pets growing up. We weren’t a cat-or-dog house, we were always a cat-and-dog house, and usually had multiples of the former. The first house we lived in, up until I was six, we had a French poodle named Ebenezer, and two cats, Jonathon and Black Beauty. The intention was not to have two cats, at first; my grandfather came over one day and saw a cat identical to Jonathon – who was an indoor/outdoor cat – sitting on our steps, and let him in. It was only later when he noticed two identical cats eating out of the same bowl that we realized that something was a bit off, but we named him and kept him (as another indoor outdoor) for the rest of his life.
Our second set of cats was intentional, Tama bought for my sister’s birthday, and Jasper following a few years after, born to a stray in our garage. Our downstairs neighbor kept the mom and gave the other five kittens to friends, and we kept Jasper – the cat that presently is so terrifying to my nephew. The two of them joined our Golden Retriever, Happy – so named because it was the only thing that made my then seven-year-old brother happy after the death of Ebenezer.
And it wasn’t just dogs and cats. Living in the city, there was never a lot of opportunity for large animals as pets – I have friends who grew up around pigs and horses, but we live in an urban area of apartment buildings and tenements, and those of us growing up with a yard were lucky. But that didn’t mean that we were limited to kitties and puppers. Growing up, we had an array of birds – parakeets when we were younger, and cocaktiels as we got older. For years, we had a trio of them, one (Gus) that my dad bought (and named; we lucked out, because apparently that was a name he wanted to bestow on one of us and got voted down) was a mean sonofabitch, but the other two, Yoshi and Oreo, we adopted from my aunt, and they were sweethearts. My sister had a rabbit for five years, named Thumper, because she was seven when we bought him and of course he was going to be named Thumper; a veritable tribe of hamsters, all named after food of food-adjacent products (Honeydew, Oreo, Peanut Butter, and Roxy Ice are the ones that most readily come to mind); fish after fish after fish (we learned first hand why you don’t put any other fish in with your bettas!); fostered a guinea pig or two; and adopted an adult hedgehog named Leroy who we had until he was about five, which is a pretty good run for a hedgie.
Fear of animals was never a “thing” in our house; we had a healthy deference for animals we didn’t know, regardless of species, which is what I’m trying to instill in my son – that dogs, for instance, are nothing to be afraid of, but we have to respect them and their space. But an actual fear of the animals? Never a thing. Not in our house.
I’m wondering if my nephew will grow out of his fear, or if he (like my husband and his fear of dogs) will retain the phobia into his adulthood – if we’ll have to keep out cat in the basement when he comes over for playdates or sleepovers. If that’s what it takes for him to be comfortable, we’ll do that, of course (and the cat could do worse, we have a really nice finished basement), but I’d hate to think he’ll lose out on the quiet companionship of a cat – or any other animal – later in life.
Do you have fond memories of pets?