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Romeo the Cat Gets to Join a Book Club

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Yep. That's the happy ending to today's cat story. When a neighbor became unexpectedly too ill to remain in her own home, family willingly and lovingly moved her to their home. The glitch? The family dogs hate cats. Not wanting Romeo the cat to find out exactly how much the dogs hated cats, the neighbor asked us to feed Romeo while she worked things out. Working things out turned out to be impossible as the now-former neighbor's health went from crisis to crisis. While she appears stable right now, she is not able to even consider how to find a loving home for Romeo the cat. "Will you please take Romeo to a shelter?" she asked, clearly distraught by this turn of events.

So off we went one recent morning with Romeo the cat to the local humane society. This was not an easy trip for any of us, though Romeo appeared to settle down quicker than did we.

Things changed completely when we got to the shelter. Up until we walked into it, I thought we were marching Romeo to some terrible end. Not the case. We came to find out the Glendale (California) Humane Society's shelter never euthanizes an animal. Two little dogs were helping out behind the counter, so it does appear that all able-bodied "guests" are expected to pull their own weight, which, in the case of those two little dogs, isn't necessarily much. And the humans at the shelter, in addition to loving dogs, love cats. They even have volunteers who come in and read to the cats. Romeo is hoping for an evening of Shakespeare but said he will be happy with just about anything as long as it's not a Lilian Jackson Braun cat mystery. As desperate as Romeo was earlier this day, he said that would just be asking too much.

According to an abstract of the American Pet Products Association's 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, "the number of U.S. households owning a pet has increased by 2.1 percent to an all time high of 72.9 million. In total, there are approximately 78 million dogs [and] 86.4 million cats." And according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), "Approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year."

As it works out, Romeo the cat is pretty lucky. His former human companion, though weak and ill and displaced, was able to contact willing neighbors and ask for help. She did not simply abandon him to fend for himself. And luckily for him, Romeo did wind up in a "no kill" shelter. Also, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "approximately 3 million to 4 million are (dogs and cats) euthanized each year."

Okay. We get that life happens. Pet owners become ill and, yes, sometimes die. Hopefully arrangements have been made before such crises occur. We also get that life happens in other ways, such as natural disaster or unemployment or relocation to faraway lands. Few circumstances, though, warrant irresponsibility or cruelty to our pets.

In the words of the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed." [1]

We tame our dogs and our cats by inviting them into our lives, by feeding them, by sheltering them and, yes, by loving them. By so doing we become responsible for them -- forever. Let's try not to forget that forever responsibility.

1. The Little Prince, ISBN-13: 9780547978840 - Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt