Our backyard is a decent size and backs to woods. Every time a visitor steps onto our back deck, friend, family, and neighbor alike, we hear "What a yard! You need to get that kid a dog!" Apparently this is the natural progression here in Suburbia: house + yard + boy child + dog = happiness.
Now, it's one thing to hear about our need of dog from friends or family who know us, but coming from neighbors and relative strangers it gets a bit old. My first response is always, Why do you think so? Which makes people hem and haw because they don't want to insult me by saying what's really on their minds: Because you're depriving that child of a human sibling, and he needs a friend.
One problem: We're not dog people. I mean, we like other people's dogs, and I often think having a dog would be a major motivation to walk long distances regularly and get myself into shape. But a dog is like a toddler who will never grow up. They are needy, and they bark and poop in your yard.
We are, however, cat people. Our cat, Pitino, is one of the kindest souls on the planet, very patient and affectionate; he was my first love, truly, and he has been my constant companion for 12 years. But he's old and not as playful as he once was, and really, he can't be bothered with the little boy.
Last year, right before Thanksgiving, my friend at the animal shelter called to ask if we could foster a kitten who had been brought in and needed her leg amputated. The moment Sweet Boy saw her, all bony and timid, with that goofy cone on her head so she wouldn't pick at the stitches holding her 3-inch incision together, he said "Oh, mommy, that's my SallyCat!" (Of course, her name at the time was Princess -- which made me wonder if these two souls had known each other in a previous life.) His excitement was palpable...a new little creature to play with!
And SallyCat responded to Sweet Boy in kind. The first time we brought her out of her cage, she gimped right over to him, meowed, and rubbed her face on his leg. It was love, instantly. So we realized pretty quickly that this was more than a fostering scenario; SallyCat was here to stay. As she recuperated from her surgery, Sweet Boy fed her and wiped her with a washcloth each night while I cleaned out her litter box.
As her amputation healed and her remaining legs got stronger, Sweet Boy introduced Hot Wheels cars to Sally, and she would bat them around with her front paws. Now that she's full-speed, she chases him around the house and he falls to the ground to let her climb all over him; she licks his face while he yells "That tickles!"; he tosses a bouncy ball and she thumps across the living room after it. She pushes the buttons on his little music player and he dances around. Every night she sits by his bed (or under it) while we get jammies on, and she jumps up on his feet the second he's tucked in. Each morning, she cries outside his doorway until he gets up and lets her in to play.
Right now, as I type this, Sweet Boy is waving a ribbon in front of her and she is doing flips, and I'm sure in a couple minutes they will be cuddling on the sofa, Sweet Boy eating goldfish crackers, Sally licking cheesy salt off his fingertips. They are best buddies, Sweet Boy and SallyCat. Who needs a dog when you've got a three-legged kitten?