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Blind devotion to needy pets not the best path for everyone

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A brain scan because a seizure means the hound could be epileptic?

Ka-ching. (He was.)

Surgery after busting through a plate-glass window because the thunderstorm scared them?

Ka-ching.

Extensive heartworm treatment for the one we rescued two months before our wedding?

Goodbye, flowers and fancy photographer. Hello, disposable cameras.

We loved those dogs madly.

And when these dogs began to decline, we were the parents of two young sons. Two years ago, we learned that the older dog, 16, had cancer. It was a slow, messy death. And we went through it again earlier this year, when the second one died, dropping from 65 pounds to 28 pounds in a matter of months. My older boy learned to wipe up bloody vomit, and both children learned to be gentle, to pet him where it didn't hurt.

Was I ready for even a remote possibility of a sick animal again?

I asked myself that when my older son fell in love with the FIV kittens, Malcolm and Maguire, at the Washington Animal Rescue League. The staff there was wonderful in explaining the virus, that it doesn't mean a death sentence for a cats, that it's not transmittable to humans, that they can have a normal, healthy life span, and that there's even a chance they will eventually test negative, once their mom's antibodies leave their blood.

They even have a program that will provide lifetime, free medical care for them, as FIV-positive cats will be more vulnerable to ordinary illness and need to be taken in every six months.

I took the boys home and researched FIV, reading papers by various veterinary schools and discussing it all night with my husband.

In principle, given that we stuck with those dogs and did right by them every time, we should stick with these kittens, right?

But there was the possibility that we were not the best family for these cats. I haven't had time to schedule my own physical since I last gave birth. I've had a pair of pants at the dry cleaners since Bush was in office. I don't have time to take care of myself, let alone two needier souls.

The shelter said they would have to be indoor kittens. With two boys, two bikes, 28 balls, a scooter and a neighbor's cat who is always visiting, the risks are high. One reader summed up our decision well: "You were right to walk. Two kids, two ill cats, too much!"

So we wound up finding a kitten on Craigslist, where a family that had found a stray and her kittens under their porch were trying to avoid taking the brood to the shelter, which might not have been a no-kill center, as the Washington rescue league is. We figured we were still rescuing a homeless creature.

But I wondered what others would have done. I ended that column asking readers whether they would've adopted the kittens. I'm still getting angry e-mails from those who said they would -- about 250 so far.

There were some who thought I did FIV-positive cats a disservice by exaggerating their potential health risks. Others called me "vile" and said they hope my children abandon me if I become ill.

"You have my vote for the stupidest person on the planet! You should not have any animals in your care. If your child contracts AIDS will you get rid of it? Karma is gonna rectify this for so many. You are just an idiot. Shame on the Washington Post for running the article," one reader said.

As for Malcolm and Maguire, I was sure that at least one of those 250 people went to the shelter and adopted them. So I called the shelter to see whether I could meet the person who did right by them.

Turns out, they are still there, waiting for a home.

E-mail me at dvorakp@washpost.com.


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