By Dushyant Shekhawat May. 16, 2019
About three weeks ago, a mother cat abandoned her litter in my building’s parking lot. Even without the hassle of diapers and bottles that human babies would entail, these kittens have taken me to my wits’ end.
“My babies are starving!” My usual post-lunch daze was rudely interrupted by this singular thought – a thought that I, an unmarried 27-year-old, did not imagine would concern me for a few more years at least. But there I was, ducking out of office to drive back home in the afternoon heat, all to fulfil my self-appointed role as the caretaker of three very needy infants. And as I ran up the stairs to my apartment, my slippers slapping an urgent rhythm, I thanked my lucky stars that at least my dependents weren’t human babies.
About three weeks ago, a mother cat abandoned her litter in my building’s parking lot. There was an orange tabby, a tricoloured tortoiseshell, and a grey-and-white dappled kitten, their eyes barely open, emitting such high-pitched mews that I first thought the sounds were coming from birds. They were tiny, no more than a month old. The tortoiseshell, a female, was in the worst shape of the lot – she had a maggot infestation on her rear end, and a painfully distended belly that was likely full of worms.
At first, my girlfriend and I thought to let nature run its course. But after the mother cat failed to show for two more days, and the kittens’ mews became increasingly pitiful, we had to step in. We marched downstairs with an empty carton with windows cut in the sides, grabbed the sickly kitten, placed her snugly in the carton, wrapped in warm napkins, and took her to the vet. And that is how we became accidental cat parents.
I’ve never kept a pet, so I was unprepared for the amount of work that would go into nursing Cleo back to health. (Yes, we named her Cleo, and her brothers are Sizzles and Cosmo.) For a precious little kitten that only weighed 300 gramme, I must have lost at least three kilos in running up and down the staircase to get her the right medicines and make sure she was eating on time. And holy meow, were there a lot of medicines indeed!
I’ve learned parenting isn’t just about gushing about how cute your offspring (or pet) is, it takes dedicated effort and self-sacrifice.
Scavon anti-microbial cream. To be applied thrice a day to the wounded area to keep away the flies and those pesky maggots.
Amoxicillin syrup, twice a day. Only 0.2 ml however; too much will cause ulcers, too little might lead to infection.
And for all three of them – Bendex de-worming solution, first thing in the morning, for three days, to be repeated after a gap of ten days. Oh and to make it interesting, it has to be administered orally, with a syringe – something that causes kittens to flinch, much like questions about Canadian passports do to Akshay Kumar.
As I was saying, I’ve never kept a pet before this. I’ve always loved animals, and to a lesser extent, babies too. So before we had the responsibility of caring for Cleo, Cosmo, and Sizzles, I used to (rather pompously) assume I was good parenting material, for babies of both the four-legged and two-legged varieties. The last few weeks have shown me I was living in a glass house all along. In the first week, I was calling them names like “cuties” and “babies” in a tone sweeter than the one I wished my girlfriend a happy birthday this year. But of late, any eavesdroppers are more likely to hear me say something like “rascal” or “haraami”, which are just the printable names I have for them. Luckily, there’s no danger of those three fuzzballs ever understanding what I’ve been saying about them, which is not something that you can say for human children.
Raising pets has always been considered a dry run for parenting. A Huffpost article titled “How Your First Dog Can Better Prepare You for Parenthood” states that couples who begin caring for young animals do so “not only as a step toward deepening their commitment, but also as a test of their ability to work together to nurture another living thing – a child, most importantly.” But if this was a test, my own self-assessment would be that I failed. I wouldn’t want to have kids based off this experience. Not for any lofty reasons like the planet’s deteriorating climate or a lack of faith in the goodness of human nature, but just because raising kittens is hard.
Even without the hassle of diapers and bottles that human babies would entail, these kittens have taken me to my wits’ end. Forget having to change a smelly diaper, I was complaining at simply having to clean Cleo’s bum with a damp cloth before applying the medicinal cream. Their feeding cycle (every four hours) had me skipping workouts and going late to bed, and as I gave their wellbeing priority over mine, I realised I’m way more selfish than I thought I was.
I’ve always loved animals, and to a lesser extent, babies too.
I also realised I am super-paranoid, which was another fun discovery. I once ran downstairs at 2:50 am because I saw a feral tomcat enter the building compound. Worried he would claw the kittens, I rushed to where they were sleeping and stood guard, even though it was completely unnecessary – the tom ignored me as if he was a radar signal and I was a plane behind a cloud and continued his nightly patrol.
The experience of making sure these abandoned kittens grow up into healthy cats has been a harrowing one, and I have a newfound respect for people who manage to raise little humans. I’ve learned parenting isn’t just about gushing about how cute your offspring (or pet) is, it takes dedicated effort and self-sacrifice. But before anyone classifies me as a bad, or lazy cat-parent, I want to make clear that these are not the reasons (or not the prime one, at least) that the kittens taught me I wasn’t ready to have kids.
The real reason I’m afraid of having kids after these kittens isn’t something I’ve already experienced, but something that is still to come to pass. Cleo, Cosmo, and Sizzles aren’t going to be this size forever, and as they grow up, they’re already acquiring more of that famous feline aloofness. They no longer sit on my feet after feeding, choosing to slink off to a more secluded spot under a car or behind a flower pot. The day where I call to them and they ignore me, just like that tomcat did is not too far off, and when it comes, my life is going to feel a little emptier. As I’ve learned through conversations with my own parents, the hardest part about raising a child is letting go. Eventually, I have to let go of these kittens, and it’s going to hurt me much more than it’s going to hurt them.
That’s why I’m not ready to have kids. Because when it comes to parenting, there’s so much to learn, and I still haven’t figured out how to say goodbye.