joepirilloThe pancake griddle was warming up, so I typed “funny cat videos” in the search box. Joseph and Grace raced into the kitchen and pulled their bar stools to the kitchen counter. Little John caught wind of the action and raced over as well. He began jumping up and down, struggling to look over his brother’s shoulder. The video began with a cat perched atop the couch. It was staring at a whirling cat toy that had been affixed to a ceiling fan.

“No, no, no, no, kitty,” the children cried out, though only the boys had smiles on their faces.

The kitty swatted at the tireless toy. Joseph’s eyes peeled wide open with every swat. Then the unthinkable happened. Its paw got caught on the mouse and the cat was, shall we say, raptured. He held on longer than I could have, about eight seconds – the threshold for bull riders on the rodeo circuit. Perhaps I should have censored the video, but I didn’t react quickly enough.

“Oh, poor kitty,” Grace cried out.

“Hey, Dad, let’s try it,” Joseph chimed in.

After shooting down Joseph’s suggestion, I reassured our two new cats, Clare and Francis, that they were safe in their new home.

I’m not sure how we recently became a cat family. Cats seemed like less work than other pets. One day I conceded that I’d be open to the idea of cats, and the next day I found myself standing at the humane society covered in cat hair. Then life got really interesting.

There’s the issue of titles. It’s slightly weird to refer to oneself as the mommy or daddy of an animal. That wasn’t going to happen.

“Go ask Teresa to feed you,” wouldn’t work either.

They quickly became more integrated into the family, than say, the plumber. I staked a middle ground: the cat daddy. It had paternal connotations and a funkadelic, ’70s vibe. Bring on the side burns and leisure suit, cat daddy is in the house.

Then there’s the issue of eccentric and unpredictable cat behavior. Cats are drawn to fireplaces. Clare watches the dancing flames as if beholding the beatific vision. If she gets too close, I spray her with the water bottle while humming the theme song to “Gunsmoke.”

One night, Clare and Francis were cuddling together on the couch, the picture of peace and tranquility. We left them alone and retired to bed. Three hours later, I wake up to Clare and Francis doing wind sprints, launching through walls, and practicing mixed martial arts drills. Their little bells rang from every direction. I looked around the bed. They were everywhere, but nowhere. Hey, only God is supposed to do that.

They, no doubt, feel freer when the children are asleep. During the day, it’s a little different.

Little John has taken to being the third cat – hopping on the couch, crouching by the food bowls, then expressing his abundant love by trying to pull their tails off. He reminds me of Lennie from, “Of Mice and Men”: “Tell me again how we gonna have a field of alfalfa and how I get to pet the pretty soft rabbits.”

We’re working on being gentle; it’s a process.

And there is the issue of the cat sub-culture.

Cat lovers came out of the woodwork. They began recommending their favorite brands of litter. One friend suggested I regularly place my index finger into the cats’ ears and mouths. The logic being that I will need to do this if they fall ill.  Another friend shared her cat’s Facebook page, where her cat confided to all her friends that she enjoys staring at the shower and eating plants.

I’ve read that roughly 30 percent of all Catholics have cats. Even, Pope Benedict’s pre-papacy biography was written by his good friend, Chico, the tabby cat.

So, what is with this fascination? Why are we so enthralled by our pets? The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers this sentence quite nicely, “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.”

Amidst all the new cat chaos in our house, this teaching rings true. The other day I saw Joseph take one of the cats upstairs, only to return a few minutes later with empty hands.

“Joseph, where did you take the cat?”

“Grace was sad, so I gave her Francis.”

I suppose that’s what God had in mind from the very beginning. 

(Joe is married to Teresa. They have three active children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)