My son: Adopting an orphan demands care

"Your son needs a therapist," I told my husband when we returned home from the doctor.

"That's what she said, he needs a therapist?"

"A behavioral therapist."

We were not that surprised. Just last week, my husband called me at work to tell me what a time he had getting into the house. "Your son knocked over the lamp, and it blocked the front door like a barricade. I had to go in through the back door. And the stereo speakers were knocked off the cabinet."

Again, I was not surprised. He has also knocked a Pyrex tray of brownies off the kitchen counter, broken four sugar bowls, two glasses, a telephone, a pasta pot, and a half dozen plates and saucers. If he can reach themРand somehow he does­­ he swings the paintings and bulletin boards on the wall until they come crashing down. Entire jars of spaghetti sauce have gone flying. I rush into the kitchen to find glass marinara.

I don't know why he's destroying our house when we have been only the best parents to him. He was a three-week old orphan, near death, when we took him in. We spared no expense nursing him back to health. He sleeps in our bed with us, entwined in our hair.

He demands and receives three to four cans of whipped cream a week, and it cannot be the cheap brand. It must be Reddiwip, the extra creamy with the blue top. What better life could a cat want?

As I seriously consider the expense of an animal behavioral therapist, it reminds me of an article I read recently in The New Yorker. Pets are the new children.

The article chronicled a day in the life of a vet who specializes in kidney transplants for cats. The vet said human doctors, on hearing her specialty, are amused. They think the only transplant necessary for a seriously sick pet is a collar transplant. Just get a new one.

But, for whatever reason, some people will take extraordinary measures to keep their pets alive. This vet maintains a menagerie of donor animals in-house, animals collected from shelters to serve as on-call blood and kidney donors. Part of the deal is if you want a kidney transplant for your cat, you must also adopt the donor cat. Once a cat has given up one kidney, its usefulness as an organ donor is over.

Can we safely assume that anyone who adores their pet enough to shell out for a transplant operation will have a soft spot in their heart for the donor animal as well? Probably.

So two cats live happily ever after, but you have to wonder if cats care that their owners have gone to this much expense on their behalf. Obviously, we do it for us, not for them.

Our resident bad boy, Neelix the Cat, joined a family that already had three rescued cats in residence. The girls hate him and won't have anything to do with him, which makes me think what Neelix needs is not a behavioral therapist but another cat to match his energy level and wear him out.

Because what is a therapist going to tell me?

I doubt pet therapy is Freudian. Neelix doesn't have mother issues. She abandoned him and all his siblings on a loading dock. The siblings were killed by flea bites and neglect. Granted, that's a horrible death, but I doubt Neelix dwells on it or suffers from survivor guilt. Maybe he does, and his frantic activity is all false bravado. Maybe he's trying to live the life of a whole litter in one big burst of energy. Elvis Presley's identical twin was stillborn, and look how Elvis turned out.

As for father issues, does any cat have a good relationship with its father?

Maybe it's a sexual problem. Prior to being fixed, Neelix had developed a rather intense relationship with a stuffed orange pig doll. Orange Pig was willing but not able. That didn't stop Neelix from trying to get some piggy action. We thought his operation would end that, but he still brings Orange Pig upstairs every night and tries to mount her in our bed until my husband finally takes piggy away and tosses her across the room.

This could be very traumatizing, maybe even more traumatizing than being abandoned in a loading dock. This might even have Oedipal overtones.

"How would you like it if Neelix pulled me away from you and tossed me across the room every night?" I asked my husband.

"Let him try."

Could Neelix be taking out his sexual frustration on my husband's Pyrex tray of toffee brownies or his carefully positioned stereo speakers?

Imagine what a behavioral therapist would make of this.

But why bother? What's the cure? We can't give him his testicles back. And we've tried water pistols. We have water pistols all over the house. If we don't come running when we hear a crash, he peeks around the corner to see why we haven't responded yet.

And if we do come running, water pistol in hand, he blinks a few times and then starts darting around like a Krazy Kat so it becomes a State Fair midway game. Months of water pistol battles have resulted only in a cat who thinks he might win a Kewpie doll... or better yet, a more accommodating orange pig.

The therapist may suggest shaking a can full of marbles as aversion therapy. That would work if Neelix had an aversion to noise, but he doesn't. He follows the vacuum cleaner around, chews on the stereo speakers when music plays, and tries to answer the phone when it rings.

What could a therapist do? Since she can't reason with Neelix or modify his behavior without voodoo, it's probably my behavior that's going to be modified.

Sometimes, as I'm cleaning up yet another broken plate, I sigh to my husband that perhaps we should find another home for Neelix.

"How could we inflict him on anyone else?" he says. "It's like giving a weapon of mass destruction as a gift."

And then we remember this is the only one of our rescued fleet of cats that lifts his arms up when we come home and literally hugs us around the neck. This is the only one who sleeps with us, wrapped around our heads, purring like a motorized fur hat.

You wouldn't give away a bad child, and pets are indeed the new children. For better or worse, Neelix is our son.

At least I don't have to save for his college education.

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