It starts innocently. Generously, even. Your roommate’s dog dies, and you want to help find a new little puppy to return joy to her life. So you google “portland puppies dogs oregon,” in your best robot syntax. Unsurprisingly, Craigslist is the top result.
At first you stay on task. You click on dog-sounding entries like “Lady” and “Atari.” You’re a little baffled by “Cowboy Biscuit,” but it’s not for sure not a dog a name, so why not. But then you notice “Grumpzilla” and “mini-tigers.” This is feline territory. Your resistance, never strong to begin with, wavers dangerously.
It’s “free kittens,” though — of course it is — that dooms you; that chucks you, squealing, down the digital rabbit hole.
There are so many cats on Craigslist. There are cats who hail from the past millennium and some just hardly born. There are tabbies and fluffies and spotties and minxes. You don’t know if you’ve seen enough minxes in one place before to pluralize the breed, and wonder if it’s minxes or just minx, like deer or fish. There are half-tailed cats, cats without ears. Cancer survivors. Cuddlers. Cranks. And kittens. FREE KITTENS.
You remind yourself you already have one cat, and that is the limit at your house, which you share with several roommates who are all stupidly opinionated about pets. Dog people, the lot of them.
You remind yourself that your cat is big and cute and fluffy, so demandingly fluffy that you have to vacuum your rug (you know, the black one, which you bought earlier this year, fully knowing you lived with a white cat and a white dog with a pale, flaking skin condition) every other day. You remind yourself that you hate cleaning the litter box, and you’ll already have to replace most of the scratched-up window screens when you move. No need to compound the poop and expenses with another needy furball.
“But kittens,” the computer hums, you swear it does (if that’s how the robopocalypse begins, then all hail this welcome doomsday). “FREE kittens!”
You remember the glee of adopting your one cat. You imagine the euphoria of adopting a second. You pull out paper and pen, start rearranging your budget. You could afford to live alone, yes? Portland is doomed anyway, the prophecies say — why not move east into the suburbs, or out beyond? Remember when you wanted to have a country home with goats? You could raise them together, the cats and the goats. You could knit little sweaters, yarnbomb them all. Maybe they’d really like each other. Maybe they’d cuddle, like in those Unexpected Animal Pals calendars. Maybe the kittens would ride around on the goats, all of them besweatered, and that’d earn 2 million views on YouTube. You could monetize your pets! You could quit your job and become a professional animal vlogger, and have so much time to write novels. These are your dreams, the ones you harbored before working in a fluorescent-lit office and commuting 30 miles each day on the slow, burning asphalt in your air-conditionless car. This isn’t about kittens (free kittens!) anymore. This is about living the life you’re meant to during your short sweet time on this good, green Earth. This is the stuff of fate.
Your futile resistance has evaporated.
“Lila is One Cool Cat” — Yes, she is!
“Siamese kittens” — I’ll take both. Are they free?
“Statistically speaking, we are friendlier than other cats.” — Seems mathy.
“Maine Coon or Norwegian Forest Kitten” — Surely the most beautiful phrase in the English language.
It becomes too much, though; there are too many options. How will you choose? Even you have limits, after all. Three or four at most (plus the goats). You remember the old lady from whom you got your first kitten (for free!). She was a stereotype horrifically personified, with her picturesque country house overrun by sixty or seventy wildcats all fighting for the dry food she dumped on the garage floor. Among the sickly chaos, you noticed the smallest kitten. After years of begging and waiting, you knew this was finally your cat, your first beloved cat, poking her tiny head over the lip of a cardboard box, mewing pitifully. She had no chance of getting any dinner; the bigger, fiercer cats would eat it all. So you scooped her up and took her home and loved her despite the meanness she didn’t escape and never outgrew.
You notice the scars from her scratching still mar the back of your left hand, and you feel grateful for your one current cat, fluffy and friendly, who only scratches window screens. He’s a good cat, overall; kinda lazy, sure, but not feral. One cat is better than zero cats, and even betterer than sixty, even if they rode around on sixty goats.
Goats smell kind of gross. They’d probably chew up your novels. And you never were good at knitting, though you tried during your training-to-be-a-good-housewife phase of adolescence. So maybe you don’t need the countryside. Your cat could just be Unexpected Pals with your roommate’s new puppy, instead. He could wear a sweater! And people on YouTube like dogs, right? Yeah, this seems like a safer plan. All you need is the puppy.
But you’ll leave the Craigslisting to your roommate.