I was raised in a cat household. My first word was "kiki," for kitty. In my memory we had 15 cats at once but my mom says it was actually three.
The next door neighbors had dogs: Benji the Basenji, and then later, Fritz. The next door dad wasn’t the nicest guy in the world and the dogs were “his,” so I really didn't get a great first impression of canines though Benji and Fritz were benign enough.
Our cats, meanwhile, rocked. The one I best remember is Shadow, who was pitch black and very sweet.
After my parents split, my dad got two cats of his own. But when he remarried those cats were placed in other homes. My stepmom Shelly had an enormous black standard poodle, Josh. My little brother and I didn’t really quite know what to make of him.
Shelly had been really influenced by "Travels with Charley: In Search of America" by John Steinbeck, and she has been a black standard poodle owner for decades now. (Charlie, Josh, Max, Sammy, Zach). Black standard poodles are something of a religion in that house.
When my younger brother and I moved in together in D.C. in 1996, we got two kittens from a shelter. My brother was full-on allergic to cats by this point, but he didn't care, and Pink (named after the character “Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd” from the movie “Dazed and Confused”) and Scout (from Harper Lee’s "To Kill A Mockingbird") were a treasured part of our lives. I cannot even begin to imagine what that hovel smelled like.
This was an era when I began to realize that cats, however sweet and adorable, put hair all over your clothes. As a kid, the logic of cats over dogs (less work, you don't have to walk them in the winter) was glaringly obvious, but that litterbox is more onerous when you're in charge of it.
It was also an era when it was made clear to me that having cats in some circles is considered less than manly, regardless of Hemingway or Kerouac. I didn't really care, but that was strange to learn.
The complicated nature of cat ownership was also exacerbated by Scout, who would make her position clear on my absences (during campaign 2000) or new girlfriends. Cat pee is toxic, and when left in strategic amounts on suitcases or women's coats, her point was made. I loved Scout, but her pointed liquid editorials were unwelcome.
Scout died of lymphoma a year after my then-girlfriend, now-wife, and I met. Seeking to replace the loss, Jennifer brought another shelter animal into our lives: Fat Walter. But Walter ultimately fought too much with Pink and we found another home for him.
Last year, after a great deal of research on breeds and temperaments and shedding, my wife bought an Australian terrier, the first non-shelter animal I've ever owned. Winston is a delight and our two children adore him.
Winston was named after Winston Churchill, though the kids say he’s named after Winnie the Pooh. He’s pure sweetness. I recommend the breed highly. He follows us all around and curls up with the kids at night.
Winston and Pink, now 17, and kind of the crazy old aunt of the family, don't really have much of a relationship. Kind of a détente.
Pink really only deals with me; my wife and kids aren’t really into her anyway. We've kind of become a dog family. I don't think we'll ever get another cat. The litter box is too difficult to justify; we have friends who can't come over to our house because of allergies.
I still like cats better, though. Winston excepted.