How I chose the right pet for my family (and how I integrated current pets with my newborn!)

FullSizeRenderIn November 2013, I came across two little kittens roaming the streets of Hollywood, one of which begging for a hot dog outside the DMV office. I had been wanting pets, specifically a cat since I typically didn’t spend enough time at home for a dog, and just didn’t have the space a dog needed. I took this as a sign that those kittens were meant for me – so I swooped them up, questioned the local people, then took them to the shelter to check for a chip. To my relief, they didn’t belong to anyone! It was official – I was a new mommy of two 3-4-week-old kittens!

A few short months later, I realized that my Fiancé and I at the time were going to have a baby! All kinds of concerns arose regarding having cats around, especially since my significant other had a lot of superstitions rooting from his upbringing in South America.

The first thing that came up was the litter box and toxoplasmosis. I had never heard of this parasite before being pregnant, not having known I was exposed to it in several ways prior. The truth is, yes, the parasite known for causing toxoplasmosis is found in soiled cat litter (specifically your cat’s fecal matter) and hey, if you can get your husband or house mate to scoop the box for you then by all means, go with it!! Truthfully, it can only harm you if it is ingested. Not the litter, the fecal matter containing the parasite. There are also several other ways to contract toxoplasmosis including eating undercooked contaminated meat, eating food previously touched by contaminated meat or utensils / cross contamination while cooking, or even ingesting contaminated soil by eating unwashed fruits and vegetables from the garden. You must ingest something contaminated to contract the parasite, so while you’re scooping next time, just wear some gloves and a mask, and always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box.

My kitties loved being around me while I was pregnant. I always heard about dogs getting protective of their owners who are pregnant, but you know, cats are cats, so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from them. What I did notice was that they loved sleeping right on my little belly when I first ‘popped’ and all the way until the last day of my pregnancy. I’d imagine their purring was lulling my little one to sleep, and hoped that in the future they would be able to cuddle and play together well, and maybe those lulling purrs would one day soothe her on the outside as much as it seemed to on the inside.

I must admit, I was scared what things would look like once she was born and the cats were around. I had read articles on how to introduce new humans to animals, and watched some funny videos online where cats are reacting to babies for the first time. My cats, at first, they didn’t care. They knew they weren’t allowed in baby’s room, or to play with her toys, and frankly they didn’t care. Oscar, my cat with the mustache, is the biggest lovebug out there, so when he noticed I was constantly holding (and seemingly petting!) my baby, he became super jealous. He began sitting with us during feedings, seemingly not wanting to share any of my lap space with baby. Before long, he became my nursing pillow and I could totally rest my arm on him while nursing my baby!

As my daughter became more aware of her surroundings, we made sure to supervise any interaction with her and the kitties. I was happy to see just how calm and loving they were to her, even dealing with her grab reflex and consequently pulling out their fur! We were careful in explaining to her that the kitties were not toys, and we had to be nice to them. I showed her their claws and warned her about

scratching, and that when a kitty is scared, they might scratch. I also taught her about the sounds cats make, and the body language she should look out for to know when it’s time to stay away. To this day, they are still super loving, friendly, and seemingly understanding that she is not quite a big human like I am, so even when she sits on them like horses, they don’t care. It’s almost as if they’re just happy to have her around! I’m sure part of that is her newfound responsibility to feed them daily! Food aside, I can tell they genuinely do love her, as they sit outside her door in the morning when they know she’s awake, and even come to her when she’s upset.

Still… I needed more pets! But apartment living with a toddler and two cats was already a lot, so the only real option I had here was a fish! I reached out to my good friends at VPS and was recommended a Betta fish for my daughter’s room. Gradually we worked up to a 10-gallon tank, and are now adding in a 30-gallon tank! I was never much of a fish person (and honestly never pegged myself as one) but I quickly fell in love with the delicate process that is the world of fish. The tank in my daughter’s room serves as a good night light and white noise, two things she can’t sleep without, and the tank in my room makes it easier to see the personal interactions of the fish. If you’re not a fish person, you may not know that fish can be as responsive as any other pet. How sweet is it to see a beautiful Betta fish come welcome you home when they see you? Not to mention, my daughter is learning all about water, how fish live in water, what they eat, and how they survive! Even better, they helped give her confidence in the swimming pool, because if a little fish can swim, surely the big strong girl she is can too 😉

Choosing the right pets for your home comes with a lot of factors such as children (or expectation of future children), family size, other pets, allergies in the home, and home/yard size. While I’d LOVE to have a dog right now, it just isn’t ideal with my living situation. We must always consider the animal’s happiness and welfare when we bring them into our families – whether it’s a family of one, or a family of many. For me, cats and fish have a permanent reserved space in my heart, and my home, and the dream of having a home large enough for a dog lives on…

~ Kristen W

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