I Always Judged New Moms Who Gave Away Their Pets, & Now I Am One
I’ve been a cat person all my life. I remember crying tears of joy as a little kid when my mom surprised me with my first kitten; it was probably the first time I ever for-real cried out of happiness. As I got older, I wanted to save every cat I met, becoming adamant about “adopt, don’t shop,” and judging the hell out of people who were bad pet owners. One of the worst offenses, in my mind, was adopting an animal you probably couldn’t keep. Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and I looked down on those who made decisions without thinking long-term. Little did I know that I eventually would become someone who had to give away her pet, in what was one of the hardest decisions of my entire life.
He was, for all intents and purposes, our fur baby. But then we had a real, human baby. And everything changed.
My husband and I adopted our cat in March 2014. We named him Faramir, after our favorite character from Lord of the Rings, thinking that this fluffy orange feline had the “highest of quality” just like the young Captain of Gondor. To us, he instantly became a member of our family. We had no idea that we would be saying goodbye to him just three short years later, almost exactly the same way that we initially said hello.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on him. It was a brisk day, and we had already spent an hour at a shelter in Boston. We had met several cats that morning, but none of them quite captured our hearts. Toward the end of our visit, I heard a soft meow coming from a room we hadn’t yet explored. I remember looking in the direction of the sound, and seeing a handsome orange cat through a glass door, with an expression that could only be read as “Please take me home with you.”
I’m not a believer in love at first sight when it comes to humans (even in my own marriage, I’m pretty sure it took a few months for the L-word to actually take hold), but with Faramir, I can say unequivocally that we loved him from that very moment. Over the course of the next hour, we played with him, watched him climb his cat tower proudly, and scratched him behind the ears every time he came over to nuzzle our hands. We left the shelter that day with signed adoption paperwork and a date to pick him up later that week.
We weren’t given a lot of information about Faramir’s past, only that he had been found on the streets of Boston earlier that year. It had been an especially cruel winter, and I still cringe when I think about him living outside amid the snowstorms and icy temperatures. We weren’t sure if he had been abandoned as a kitten, or if he had always been feral. In our minds, we were prepared to give him the home that he deserved, and all the love we could muster.
From the start, there were warning signs and red flags about his aggression. On his very first night with us, he bit my leg, latching on with his claws and teeth. It caught me completely off guard, as I’ve owned cats all my life, and have never been bitten before. I had no idea that this would become a daily occurrence, and that my arms and legs would eventually become riddled with scars from his consistent attacks.
Over the years, my husband and I tried almost everything we could think of to manage his aggression. Where other people might have given up right from the start, we were determined to make it work. We gave Faramir endless amounts of playtime, encouraged him to “hunt” his toys instead of our limbs, and stocked up on treats to reward whatever good behavior he displayed. But nothing worked. Something had gone wrong in his life that made him this way, and it seemed as though the damage was irreversible.
Despite his bad behavior, we loved him unconditionally. I have so many good memories of sitting on the floor, waving his favorite wand toy that we named Rainbow Snake, watching him weave in and out of his cat tunnel. I have a slew of videos of him “capturing” his stuffed animals filled with catnip, with our laughter in the background as he performed what can only be called a “death kick” on the toy. Over time, he learned how to become affectionate, and would spend every evening curled up on my husband’s chest as we watched TV. He slept in our bed, made biscuits at our feet, and was always there to greet us when we walked through the door at the end of a long day. He was, for all intents and purposes, our fur baby.
But then we had a real, human baby. And everything changed.
The behavior that I was able to shrug off previously became almost intolerable when our daughter entered the picture. A few weeks ago, I would have been able to shake it off when Faramir lashed out at my ankles, but now that I was constantly carrying a newborn, I had her safety to worry about, not just mine. I started walking around our apartment as though the floor was lined with explosives; I watched my every move, constantly looking over my shoulder to see if Faramir was there. It was ridiculous, in a way, to be living in fear of a cat. But that was our reality.
I think, deep down, we knew the answer, but we were afraid to let our minds go there.
After one particular frightening incident where Faramir swiped at our daughter’s foot, my husband and I had the conversation we had been avoiding for months — a conversation that I think both of us knew was inevitable. During my pregnancy, we occasionally wondered aloud if Faramir would try to hurt the baby, but those discussions never went farther than that question. I think, deep down, we knew the answer, but we were afraid to let our minds go there. Over the course of a few tear-filled evenings, we came to the heartbreaking conclusion that ultimately, we were not going to be Faramir’s “forever home” after all.
Because of his aggression, we couldn’t just ask a family member to take him in, or offer him to a friend. We felt that we had no other choice but to contact the shelter where we adopted him three years ago, and see if they could take him back in the hopes of re-homing him to an experienced cat owner who could help manage his behavior. It was probably the hardest phone call we’ve had to make thus far, and my heart still aches with the guilt of simply admitting we weren’t able to keep him.
During his last few days with us, I cried more than I had in a long time. I cried while packing up his toys, knowing that we’d never play with Rainbow Snake again, hoping that someone else would. I cried while gathering his cans of food, realizing that the days of him nuzzling my ankles while I fed him were numbered. And I cried just looking at him, sitting on our windowsill peacefully, completely unsuspecting of what was to come.
I’m sure that someone will think that we are terrible people for abandoning our cat, that we shouldn't have adopted him in the first place if we were going to have a baby eventually.
I said my final goodbye to him on a Tuesday morning, through the mesh wall of his cat carrier. I lay down on the floor to get eye level with him and told him that I loved him, and that I was sorry. I wished desperately that he could understand English for just one minute, so that he could know how much we tried to make this home a permanent one for him. So that he could know how sad we were that it wasn’t. My last words to him were “I’ll never forget you,” while understanding that, in time, he will forget me.
Soon, his adoption profile will be on the internet, and his photos will start making the rounds on the shelter’s social media. I’m sure the description will say something like “My owners couldn’t keep me," just to pull at viewers' heartstrings. And I’m sure that someone will read it, thinking that we are terrible people for abandoning our cat, that we shouldn't have adopted him in the first place if we were going to have a baby eventually. I say this with firmness because it’s exactly what I would have thought several years ago. I would have judged myself.
However, I don't think we could have done anything differently. I don’t regret adopting him, because he brought us so much love and happiness — and I know we did the same for him. Ultimately, we had to do the best thing for our daughter; it was the first of many decisions that will be solely for her benefit. When you cross that bridge into parenthood, somehow you’re able to do the hardest things in the world, simply because you need to put your child first.
Faramir was a part of our family, and there is a quiet in our apartment now that’s absolutely gut-wrenching. The energy has shifted; something is lost that cannot be replaced. It hurts to think of him back in the shelter, back in that room where we met him so long ago, looking through the glass door at the people who might be his next family. He deserves a home that is forever; and I am so, so sorry that it wasn’t ours.
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