Pet care and pet guilt

Pet care is one of those tasks that tends to fall to parents – with the associated pet guilt…

Photo of a black and white cat


Among the many tasks associated with being a parent there is pet care. Pets are lauded as a natural mental health protector; as loyal friends in a world of loneliness; as beings who need care and therefore help to introduce young people to the idea of responsibility for others on a low-level scale. Parents often have a misty-eyed memory of their own pets when growing up. They want their children to enjoy contact with the animal world as much as they did. That is until they actually get pets.

In an ideal world, kids would love their pets so much that they would happily clean and feed them, take them for walks and so forth. While my kids express great affection for the cat, however, it is a rare occasion when they actually feed him or clean the litter tray or worm him or look out for any health issues. They built mazes for the guinea pigs to run through and wheeled them around in their kiddie bikes, but cleaning out the cage was definitely seen as a parent task. The same goes for the rabbit. That leaves parents not only doing most of the everyday tasks, but also feeling guilty when said pet looks in need of attention.

This is the reason successive campaigns for a dog have been turned down in our house and not just due to the expense. While young people swear they will take it out for walks in all weather, I know the reality will be one more thing on my to-do list.

The cat, however, is a charmer and by far the best colleague I’ve ever had so it is not that difficult to tend to his every need. Plus cats are fairly independent and they love to relax, providing a very important role model for stressed parents. Our cat stretches and drapes himself everywhere. He finds a sunny spot, puts his little paw over his eyes and completely owns the territory of Upstairs Mat. He must look at me pounding the keyboard and think I’m crazy. That’s because he’s also very smart. He has learned to slip a paw under the door handle and pull it down so he can get almost anywhere in the house.

A major issue, however, is cat care when you have to go away for work. I’ve got to go away for a couple of days soon and there will be no-one around to look after the cat. I tried relatives. I looked up cat sitters [fairly expensive for just opening a few sachets and emptying the litter tray once a day…]. I briefly considered smuggling him into the work thing I am going to as my fluffy assistant. I finally managed to find someone to look after him, but I feel guilty asking them and guilty leaving the poor cat. He follows me everywhere I go. If I have a bath he is outside the door waiting for me. When I come home his ears are finely attuned to the sound of my car and he is at the door to welcome me. He sits on me at night. Such devotion is surely undeserved.  But for now, he is lying right beside me watching me work and probably thinking how odd humans are spending so much time looking at screens rather than having fun.

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