OPINION: The burden of house pets - or not

Feb. 25—I really don't like to gloat by saying, "I told you so" to anyone, much less my sister Lisa. But she really deserves it in this case.

My husband and I have always had pets, and so have my brother and my youngest sister. We've had a various assortment of beasts among us: cats, dogs, fish, and for one brief period in college, I had a hamster named Spazz. Until the past year or so, Lisa hadn't had a pet for years. The last one was a black cat named Charlotte, which belonged to my niece, Amber. Charlotte moved from Oklahoma to Florida and lived to the ripe old age of 17. Too ripe, as far as Lisa was concerned. She said animals were too much trouble, and I can't argue with any success. They're expensive, needy, noisy and messy, and they rarely do what they're told. Lisa said she would rather have another kid than another animal, although age precludes her from opting for the former. Then, a year or so ago, her oldest son, Trevor, brought home a cat from one of those rescue places. She's a long-haired, orange and white variety, and he aptly named her Pumpkin. I call her "Punkin Holler," but he doesn't get it. And by Lisa's behavior, you'd think this moggie was a human child. A few weeks ago, she sent a photo showing how the beast had clawed up her legs. The cat is still alive and tearing up the drapes.

Cats can pretty much be left to their own devices; they do not become depressed or psychotic without ample attention, as dogs often do. But still, although automatic feeding and watering bowls can relieve some of the human burden, the litter box must be regularly scooped, or the cat will send messages in the form of unwelcome brown eggs, deposited in the path most frequently trodden by the remiss humans — and occasionally, in the middle of a bed. These are not the eggs for which you've been paying $5 a carton lately. Automatic litter scoopers are expensive and usually don't work, and avoiding the conundrum by forcing the cat outside to do its business usually results in hostile neighbors with befouled flowerbeds or sandboxes rendered unfit for children.

We only have one cantankerous, 17-year-old "whitecat" named Zeus, and as far as he's concerned, he's in charge -and he will brook no dissent from the humanoids. If he deems his litter box too full of clumps, he will make a statement of the aforementioned variety. Last weekend, our son Cole and his fiancée visited, and the whitecat did not appreciate it. The animal scowled the whole time, ears hooked back like horns, and at one point began hissing and yowling like a — well, like a scalded cat.

We don't have a dog, and I'm not sure we ever will again, because Chris was overly fond of the German shepherd with whom Cole grew up. Dogs are not as tidy as cats, and one day, Max got into a skunk, so it was consign him to the yard, the adjacent woods and the possibility of being pancaked on the highway by a Walmart truck, or try to rid him of the odor. We'd heard a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dishwashing liquid — the kind that takes the grease away — would work, so we decided to try. This had to take place outside, with a bucket, a scrub brush and a garden hose. It was a cold March day, and Chris had to hold down the dog while I washed his fur. The dog was so freaked out the whites of his eyes showed, and he wailed the entire time.

The whitecat, as he's known on social media, has lived longer than any animal my husband and I have ever had in our nearly 36 years of marriage. His longevity could be a sign our luck is improving. Normally, our dogs have been taken out by trucks jake-braking their way down Highway 10, although the shepherd died of a seizure, which we believe was caused by Frontline. The cats develop bladder issues or tumors. While I was in college, I had the aforementioned hamster, but its demise wasn't my fault. My youngest sister, then about 5, overfed it with Rice Krispies when I brought it home for the holidays. The next morning, it was deceased, with cheeks puffed as wide as the rodent was long. I tried keeping a fish tank sometime after that, but the Betta fish always went belly up.

You know how men get to looking like frogs in their dotage, all shriveled with skinny legs and no butt? The whitecat is the equivalent of the stereotypical little old man. About a year and a half ago, he went OCD and began pulling out his fur when we were absent for about two weeks. He still picks his fur, has bald patches, and he's scrawny, having gone from a robust 17 pounds in his prime to what now must be 10 pounds or less. But he still intermittently yowls and races up and down the stairs, yelling "WARP!" with the inflection appropriate according to whether he's ascending or descending.

We know the whitecat won't last much longer, so we're trying to prepare ourselves. Friends involved with rescue outfits are standing by with any number of kittens to choose from. And it has begun to occur to me — especially if our luck holds out — that the next animal to come our way might live longer than we do, and have to figure out how to survive. I have to admit the thought of getting eaten by a hungry cat after one's demise is not a pleasant one.