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I was in the garage with our toddler, Aspen. We’d recently adopted a cat, and Aspen was obsessed with it. His name was Vincent, a stoic name with artistic significance that the animal shelter gave him. Not that this changed a thing. He was still a snooty attention whore, like most cats. He was black except for a few white patches on his paws and nose. He’d basically taken over the garage. Mel, my wife, was trying to get him used to our home before we let him out into the neighborhood. This was supposed to last a few weeks. But with the cat stuck in the garage, and Aspen knowing where to always find the cat, I’d spent the last few days with Aspen tugging at my finger, dragging me to the garage door to see the cat, or as she called him “Kigie.”


I was not a fan of the cat. I didn’t want it in the first place. In fact, Mel and I had been married for 11 years, and I’d resisted getting a cat since day one. It isn’t only cats I don’t like. I don’t like pets in general. I don’t like the way they always want attention. I don’t like the smell. I don’t like picking up their poop in the yard, or litter box, or wherever. I’m not into poop handling. I don’t like the fact that they lick their crotches and then lick my face. All in all, I find pets really irritating. But the kids wanted a cat. They wanted one real bad, and as we had more kids, the draw to get an animal became too strong, and suddenly I found myself in a cold garage with a toddler, arms open wide, chasing after a terrified feline.


It was a little after 9 p.m., and Aspen was in pink footie pajamas with brown smiling monkeys on them. Her blond hair was a little messy from taking a bath. I think the main problem that Vincent had with Aspen was her complete disregard for cat handling etiquette. She stroked him against the fir rather than with it. She tugged on Vincent’s tail, and squeezed him hard enough that he lost his breath. Sometimes she tugged on his ears. All of it was innocent. It was obvious that Aspen loved Vincent.


But at the same time, she just didn’t get it in the same way she didn’t understand that it was rude to throw food on the floor or poop in the tub or pull her older sister’s hair. More or less, Aspen, like most toddlers, was unwittingly an asshole, and our new cat was her new obsession. However, I must say, in defense of Vincent, he was never aggressive with Aspen. He never tried to bite or claw her. He simply waited it out with a look of disdain, and the second he got the chance, bam, he was gone, off hiding atop the storage shelves.


When we first stepped into the garage, Vincent was using the litter box, and naturally Aspen crouched down, her hands on her knees, and watched. And as much as I disliked the cat, I couldn’t help but watch my toddler watch poor Vincent doing his business, and feel a sense of connection. I can’t count how many times Aspen barged in on me while I was doing my business. She held the same inquisitive look while watching the cat as she did with me. She pointed and talked in gibberish, all the while Vincent had a look of discontent, his head moving side to side avoiding eye contact. Every so often the cat let out a subtle grunt that seemed to say, “Can you give me a moment?”


I don’t think I’d ever felt sympathy for an animal before then. Sympathy that became more present the moment Vincent left the litter box, and Aspen opened her little arms and chased him, giggling and squealing.


Vincent immediately hopped onto one of our storage shelves to get away from Aspen. For the most part, he had been a reasonable animal. I would pet him. He purred. Then he’d leave me alone. As far as I was concerned, we were cordial. He didn’t demand much attention from me, but rather whored himself out to the kids. We said hello every once in awhile, and that was it. I couldn’t ask for more from a cat.


But as I watched Vincent hide from Aspen, I felt a sense of bitterness. I couldn’t count how many times I’d thought about hiding from our toddler. How many times she’d come screaming into my bedroom, upset about something I couldn’t for the life of me figure out.


Aspen reached up and started whining. Vincent and I made eye contact. He seemed to be saying, “Please… not again.”


I told Aspen that Vincent didn’t want to play right now. “He’s resting,” I said. I tried to put it in words she’d understand.


“He going night, night,” I said.


And the more I waited, the more Aspen threw a fit, and eventually, I said, “If you are going to be part of the family, Vincent…”


I reached up, and Vincent paused for a moment. He gave me a sad look. Then he reluctantly crawled into my arms.


I held him for a moment, and he began to purr.


I’d always been too busy with my dislike of pets to feel empathy. This is not to say that I went out of my way to hurt animals. I didn’t. I just avoided them. But as I passed Vincent to Aspen, her arms open wide, I realized just how much of a sacrifice he was making.


“Don’t worry, buddy,” I said. “I’m keep her in check.”


“Aspen,” I said. “Be gentle.”


I carefully set Vincent in Aspen’s arms. And as I did, Aspen moved her legs side to side, excitedly. Then she placed her little hand between his hind legs and gripped.


Poor Vincent squealed and kicked his hind legs like a donkey, shoving Aspen to the ground. Then he ran back up the shelves. All I could think about was all the times Aspen had stomped on my crotch while I sat on the sofa.


I picked up Aspen, dusted her off, and calmed her down. I told her that she needed to be a little gentler with the cat, although I knew that would take time. She just didn’t get it, and suddenly I realized that Vincent and I were in this together.







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