What the cat’s dragged in

A new kitten enriches family’s life and mental health

By Jill Chappell

The pandemic has brought so many challenges. For my family, it was the loss of our two cats, Odin and Loki, in the span of ten months. Their deaths left a void in our household that we filled with making the most of the sunshine and warmth of the summer months. But as the crisp fall mornings returned, we found ourselves again missing the comfort of curling up with a four-legged friend. Then came Ruby.

To combat the loneliness, we decided to adopt a kitten from SHAID Animal Shelter in Lunenburg County. I made the trip alone to meet Ruby, then named Pretzel, who was one of four siblings from the “Junk Food Litter” (the shelter names littler groups). All grey with a tiny patch of white under her chin, she was sweet, curious and friendly; twisting her way into our hearts with ease.  

We welcomed Ruby into our home the week of Halloween. It was busier than usual, but she settled in effortlessly. As we bundled our two boys transformed for the night as Yoshi and Kid Chaos into their raingear for trick or treating, our little fluffball slipped out of view. After an exhaustive search of the attic, basement, and everywhere in between, there was still no sign of Ruby. Feeling worried and defeated, I sat on the floor of the living room to sort through candy with the kids. I lifted my head and there she was curled up on the shelf of our side table, fast asleep on a pile of books.

It’s no wonder nearly one million Canadians have welcomed new pets into their homes since the pandemic began. It doesn’t take a registered therapy animal to have a positive impact on your life. Pets bring an incredible amount of comfort, joy and companionship. Research shows there are many mental health benefits of pet ownership including emotional support, a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms, and improved quality of life.

“They’ve learned compassion and how to be gentle with animals, and what happens if you’re not.
They gave her the nickname, Meow Meow, that’s stuck”

Our family can attest to that. Our house quickly became a playground for our 10-week old kitten (who our boys desperately wanted to name Squishy Paws.) We obsessed over her cuteness, laughed at her antics, and marveled at how she played fetch with pom poms. We fawned over her like first-time parents of a new baby. We fell in love with Ruby.

It’s been rewarding to see our children develop a bond with our pet. They each share their own special connection and take on varying degrees of responsibility with her chores, depending on the day. They play games with her and try to sneak her into their beds at night. They’ve learned compassion and how to be gentle with animals, and what happens if you’re not. They gave her the nickname, Meow Meow, that’s stuck.

“Meow Meow is hilarious. She does funny things like crawls under my bed and sneaks up on me,” says Xander. “When I’m sad she comes up to my room and snuggles with me. It makes me feel great.”

“One night I was deep asleep, and Meow Meow knocked over my craft kit and I had to clean it up all by myself. So big, so messy,” says Max.

Xander is all smiles with his favourite feline. Photo courtesy of Jill Chappell

We’ve grown closer as a family, too. Cats are hilarious and we love to laugh at the silly things she does and watch cat videos together. She makes us excited to get home when we’ve been out for the day and gives us something to look forward to. At Christmas my son picked out his own special gift for me at his school’s holiday shop- a pewter picture frame in the shape of a cat.

Meow Meow is a constant companion since we’re still primarily working from home. Most days she sits on my lap as I type away and she often makes appearances on our Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia Zoom calls. At the end of a long day when she lays on my chest and starts purring, my worries seem to melt away.

There are so many ways Ruby has enhanced our mental health and well-being. That’s not to say it’s all perfectly rosy. There’s a spray bottle on hand for when she claws the furniture and regularly steals aways with Max’s pom poms and pipe cleaners. I’ve also had to clean up the remnants of our potted plants on several occasions. Dirt and all, we couldn’t imagine life without her and are incredibly grateful for what the cat dragged in.  

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