Please don’t call PETA on me

“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood

I killed our cat.

It was an accident. I promise.

It’s true that in the past I have hated cats, and I suppose I still do, to some extent. And it’s not just cats. I have always had a general dislike for most animals.

But killing Cucha wasn’t on purpose. Honest. And in the last two years since that horrific incident, my feelings have changed. Drastically.

Case in point: as I was driving home last week, I popped up over a hill and came upon a mama rabbit and her baby bunny right in the middle of my lane. I braked, but it was too late. I hit the mother. And a moment later I had tears rushing down my cheeks, wondering what that tiny baby bunny was going to do now, thinking about poor Bambi and that voice saying “Your mother can’t be with you any more.”

A few years ago, it wouldn’t have phased me in the least. I would’ve thought, Circle of Life, and gone about my way.

But not now. The real beginning of this story, however, actually began during my childhood, when my mom wouldn’t let us have any pets. Not even a goldfish.

She grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, so I didn’t understand. But I guess I really didn’t care, either, because at a very young age I was terrified of them, especially dogs. I have a vague memory of an incident where one jumped up on me, knocked me over and licked my face.

As for cats, my intense dislike for them has always been because of two reasons. The smell. And the hair. It’s that OCD part of me.

So when the Wood family moved out into the country in 2007 and discussion about pets was held among its members, I began to get a real uneasy feeling growing deep inside me.

The clan had valid reasons. A cat could take care of the mice (which I hate even more than cats but not quite as much as opossums — but that’s a whole other story) and a dog would help protect the home. Still, I wasn’t ready to jump on their bandwagon.

But, one day, unbeknownst to me, they brought home a dog, one that some friends had given to them for free.

And so we welcomed Nishnabotna (Nishna for short, named after the river because I like how it sounds) into our family. And I became a pet owner. An outdoor pet owner.

Nishna started making his personality known right away. Tearing up this and chewing on that. He did it all so playfully, though, and his big dark eyes always got the better of me.

He destroyed the screen on our back porch, ripping it to shreds. He also demolished numerous shoes, one of Hunter’s jackets, a baseball glove, a couple of packages left by the UPS guy, his water and food bowls and a CD case and the CDs inside. He’s gnawed on our backyard swing, the boards on the porch and door, scattered trash mistakenly left out and dug up numerous holes in our yard trying to get at various critters… Just being a typical playful little puppy.

Through it all, though, I found myself still loving him more than I ever thought I would or could. And he and I have a unique relationship. I generally don’t touch him or pet him, although I can’t say that I haven’t ever. I know, that sounds really weird, but remember, OCD. I love to play fetch with him, with frisbees and tennis balls. And I also love to crouch down at our patio door, look through the glass at him and talk to him. He sometimes licks the window, which I believe is his way of showing me he understands how much I care about him.

And then there’s Cucha, the cat I killed.

About a month after Larry and the kids brought Nishna home, they surprised me with another pet.

I wasn’t nearly as happy with this pet. After all, it was a cat and I hate cats. They stink, they shed hair, they hiss, they scratch, they get under your feet, and they are, well, catty. Like girls in junior high. Ugh!

Now I’ll admit that Cucha (which is Chilean slang for cat) was tiny and cute, with her black coat and white paws. She and Nishna, who was a still a puppy back then, were playful together, although sometimes I felt he was too rough with her and I was afraid he might get a little too excited and accidentally kill her.

But in the end, I did that.

It had been just a couple of months since she had joined our family. I was outside, getting something out of the car, and Nishna started jumping inside. So while I was trying to get him down with my left hand, I slammed the door shut with my right. And as soon as I let go of the door, I saw a black and white streak out of the corner of my eye heading into the car.

I tried to catch the door. But it was too late.

Curiosity — with a little help from me — killed our cat.

We eventually got another kitten from the same mother, but I mourned her for a long time.

It’s a little difficult for me to admit that our pets have changed me, but they have. I find myself always looking carefully before slamming car doors shut and I’m trying to slow down when I pop up over hills on country roads.

But it’s even more than that.

Anatole France once said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

I feel like I’ve finally started to awaken.

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