The valuable lessons our ‘fur babies’ teach us

A special family pet showed James Gordon’s sons what kindness, empathy was

My cats never liked kids.


It’s understandable – cats can be pretty jumpy to begin with. Throw in a new baby’s screams (tough on the ears!) or toddlers who can’t help but try to grab sensitive tails and ears, and you can understand why our feline friends would rather avoid children at all costs.


Especially our cats, who lived in a nice, quiet apartment with my wife and I while we were attending university and starting out in our careers. When our nieces or nephews were around, Meelo and Orange Boy (don’t ask about the names) usually chose one of two options: hiss or hide.


But when we brought our eldest son, Owen, home from the hospital for the first time, something changed.


As I’m sure many people can attest to, when real babies enter the home, fur babies suddenly take a back seat. It’s not that we neglect them or take them for granted, but priorities naturally shift toward the new, far more complicated and time-consuming tiny creatures in our lives


“Uh oh,” we could almost hear our cats thinking. “This one is different.”


At first, they were just kind of “around,” but at least the hostility was gone. Then, as Owen got mobile, they would, with increasing patience, let him try to pet them or crawl closely behind.


Meelo died about a year after Owen was born, but by the time William showed up three years later, being around kids was old hat to Orange Boy. In fact, I think he came to love being around them as much as they loved him.


And boy did they love him. William, in particular, benefited from Orange’s veteran status. William would chase him, “pet” him in the non-gentle way little kids do, climb on him, hug him. Orange wasn’t fazed at all.


Given how much more my wife and I had to do with two young boys around and how much less enamoured we became with being covered in cat hair with each passing year, the kids were an easy source of cuddles and attention.


When we first got our cats, we were just kids ourselves. What we didn’t know is that they would one day teach our kids so much.


I’m a firm believer that things like empathy and kindness aren’t inherent – they’re learned. Having a cat taught the boys about caring for something smaller and more vulnerable than they are.


They would help to get him water when he was thirsty, or food when he was hungry. They would snuggle him when he was sick, and vice-versa. When Orange, an indoor cat, snuck outside and disappeared for a couple of days, it was the sound of the boys’ voices while playing street hockey in the driveway that brought him home.


They’d laugh when he did something funny. They’d draw pictures of him at school and write “I love you Orange Boy.”


And they wept when I told them a few months ago that Orange Boy, who’d lived a long and full life, was gone, which is one of the tougher lessons we all have to learn about love and loss.


We haven’t gotten another pet since Orange Boy died. Now that our boys are older, hockey takes up most of our evenings and weekends and we’d really like to do some more travelling.


But I know my sons will forever cherish the time they got to spend with their fluffy friend, and I’ll always cherish the memory of their bond with him and the lessons they learned from having him in our lives.