Elaine Ulsh is a second-year computer science and physics major and writes “The Occasional Observer” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
I have had cats throughout my entire life — around eight to be exact, not counting ones I haven’t directly lived with or fostered.
During my childhood, I had three cats. But the cat that affected me most was adopted after the original three had already passed.
Even though the cats that existed in my childhood passed away while I was in elementary and middle school, life still felt weird after they were gone. Something was suddenly “missing” from my life. I had a difficult time dealing with going from the pet-filled house I had grown up in to the eerily quiet one I had after they passed.
During this period where I had no cats, I felt my mental state worsen. I was frequently stressed, and I just felt alone.
My boyfriend’s aunt works at the Animal Care and Control in my hometown and was fostering some kittens the summer after my final childhood cat died. My love of cats drew me in, so I went to go visit them. And I fell in love.
Flash, an orange and white tabby, and Sila, a brown and white tabby, were a bonded pair. They were the cutest darn kittens you’d ever seen. I begged and begged my parents because I felt a longing for these cats. I felt like I couldn’t live without them.
And so, as you might have guessed, we adopted Flash and Sila — after all, you can’t break up a bonded pair. The companionship that I was missing in my life was there again. Life was as good as it gets in high school.
About three years went by. We moved houses, and suddenly Sila wasn’t acting right. I knew something was wrong, but we chalked it up to her not taking the move very well.
After a day or two of her not eating much, we took her to the vet only to discover that her bowels were obstructed.
There was a high likelihood that she would die during surgery, but the vet didn’t want to give up on her. To everyone’s surprise, she made it through. It was like everything was going to be OK again.
That’s what I thought. But turns out, I thought wrong.
I got a text from my mother about an hour or two after we picked her up after surgery simply saying, “Come home.” And Sila died shortly after I made it home.
It broke me. I have never gotten over her. I miss her constantly. It’s been over two years.
Flash didn’t take it very well either. He became depressed, lost too much weight and stopped playing as much.
Even though I still had Flash physically there, the void left by Sila’s passing was gaping. Her presence and companionship was missed. My mental state took a huge hit. I cried constantly and was stressed out all the time.
My mom felt that we could all use a distraction, so she signed up to foster some kittens. And we did. A mama kitty and her three babies found refuge at our home. She had two boys and one girl, who we named Little Bit. She was our foster “fail." She had a bad eye, and my mom couldn’t help but keep her.
To be honest, I didn’t really have an emotional connection to Little Bit at first. I was still grieving, and it wasn’t easy getting over what once was. But she had an amazing personality, and I fell in love. She helped me calm my stresses, and Flash became himself again too.
The point of mentioning my cat’s death is that it’s hard.
Dealing with the loss of a cat, or any pet in general, is very difficult. According to a study from Miami University of Ohio, 77 percent of pet owners view their pets as “full-fledged family members.” This means that grieving a pet can be just as or even more painful than grieving a human family member.
I have had people — after relaying my story to them — who would say, “Why do you continue to adopt if it hurts so bad when they die?” But the reason that it hurts so bad when they’re gone is because of the impact they have on our lives while they’re here.
However, I would rather push my hurt aside to give an animal a home than be stuck in my own grief. I do understand that there are some people who cannot deal with that grief and must eventually stop adopting, but I don’t see myself being like that any time soon.
When there is a cat in my life, I feel better. They bring me joy that is more apt than any television show, movie, hobby, class or even some people can bring me. And this isn’t just something that I feel either. I am not alone in this.
According to a study by the American Psychiatric Association, cat owners are more likely than dog owners to say their pets offer “companionship, provide a calming presence and help reduce stress and anxiety.” This means that the peace you feel when you own a cat is not just you liking your cat, it’s also that cats are proven to reduce the overwhelming feelings we all know too well.
In going away to college, I have noticed a void in my life in terms of companionship. Yes, I have my boyfriend, but he can only be around so much. When he is in class, the apartment feels lonely. And it doesn’t help that he will soon be gone for an entire semester for his required internship.
I struggled with managing my stress and found myself drowning in my own feelings multiple times throughout the last year.
A few weekends ago, I went to my hometown’s Animal Care and Control solely for the purpose of playing with some kittens. I have told people that while I want a cat, I want the cat — the one I feel like I just can’t live without.
I’ve also told people that I feel that adopting multiple cats at once, especially younger cats, is beneficial; they need a companion for when I’m gone too. I saw this firsthand with Flash and the toll Sila’s absence took on him before we got Little Bit.
At the shelter, I was looking through all the kittens when I saw these two adorable black kittens — siblings that had come to the shelter together. I audibly gasped when I saw the pair, one girl and one boy.
I was instantly torn. I hadn’t come with the intention of adopting kittens (at least that’s what I tell myself). And my boyfriend and I aren’t exactly swimming in cash right now.
But there was that feeling, that yearning to get them. I decided to adopt them. I named the boy Perseus (Percy) and the girl Beatrix (Bea). And they have offered me both companionship and stress relief already.
At their current age of around four months, they are already taking on their own personalities. I am in love with watching them become who they will be.
Because of this, I don’t regret making the decision to provide a home to these two adorable munchkins, and I doubt I ever will. According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million cats are brought to shelters across the U.S. each year, with only 2.1 million of them getting adopted. And if I can aid in reducing that number, even by two, I don’t regret that at all.
I do not want to make it seem that this is an article about how cats are better than dogs or anything. In fact, I don’t believe that to be true.
I have been around dogs nearly my whole life. But the joy that I get in caring for cats is unmistakable, and I really do not like living without it.
Giving a home to an animal, any animal in need, is so important. We are all they have. Even though I will forever feel the pain that the loss of my past pets has brought me, I am so happy to have found the space in my heart and my home for my new furry friends.
Contact Elaine Ulsh with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.