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I got my first pet for Christmas in 1976. That was the year of the Bicentennial, and when I saw the tall ships tooling around New York harbor with fireworks going off I had it in my mind they were all Pequods heading out to settle the score with Moby Dick. Anyway, I was so smitten with the idea that I asked Santa for a whale.

I wasn’t stupid, I knew it had to be a baby whale since we had a small house. Sadly though,  I got a kitten instead. Whaley and I had a fantastic winter and spring. We’d roll around on the floor after a ball of yarn, cuddle ‘till noon on a Sunday reading the funny pages, and fall asleep connected by our joie de vivre and a thin rope.

As spring turned to summer however, Whaley escaped. I never saw him (her?) again but I never forgot that magical time we shared and how much I learned about cats.

Since I've become an adult, I've always had a kitten to help me remember those wonderful childhood days; and that brings me to the Dumb Friends League. They sell kittens - and I just got a new best friend. It’s the cutest grey and white fluffy ball of energy - I’m calling it Tiger.

I just know we’re going to have a “whale” of a time playing together when I’m not at work. I’ll come home and Tiger will pounce at me when I pop the lid off his his blue Rubbermaid tote  or “den” as the experts call it. We’ll chase strings and fake wrestle (but still a little bit serious because that’s how cats learn to fight for real) and fall exhausted to the floor laughing. And being experienced now, I know not to leave its chain too loose.

My last kitten - Igor I called him because he (she maybe?) would arch its back whenever I hit it with a rolled up newspaper for not listening – stayed with me for about 5 months. As you probably know though, that’s about as long as someone can have a kitten before it turns into a bigger, less cute cat that doesn’t like you and is afraid of paper. Anyway, Igor ended up in a whisky box one drizzly Friday night – and that Saturday morning I got Tiger.

I was anxious to get a less scratchy cat and, since they look down on people who bring in defective animals, I took Igor back to the shelter late Friday night instead of saving gas and just making the one trip Saturday morning. They prefer you put your faulty pet in a cardboard box you can get from the alley behind the liquor store as long as you jam a pen through the side a few times. Anonymously returning cats seem to work out better for everyone; or at least for me it does because my life is too full of judgmental churchies as it is.

They have a puppy section too which is great for dog lovers but, not being one myself, I’ve never tried it. If you’ve ever wanted a Great Dane but worry about how big they can get, this is a nice way to enjoy owning one without the inconvienience of a giant dog that wants to walk all the time. With proper planning, you can always have a Great Dane puppy; and chicks dig guys who love animals.

If  there’s no Dumb Friends League near you, your town might have what they call a “Pound.” It sounds like it would be a boxing club but trust me, they don’t let you punch anything. What they do have is a wide variety of baby animals you can take home for as long as you want. It costs a few bucks each time, but  it's worth it to keep your kittens fresh.

Doctors say that having a pet is healthy because they make us laugh. Some people say laughing is the best medicine. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want to keep taking your penicillin anyway. Penicillin AND laughing is probably ideal, but I've never been to hospital school so don't "quote" me on that.

Anyhow, we cat-lovers are lucky to have this kind of trade-in service, so take advantage of it.  I don't know if there's a limit on how many kittens you can get, maybe they have a one-per-quarter rule or something, but I've found it's best not to ask. As long as you take back a live cat every time you get a kitten you're probably doing the right thing. 

And if you do decide to go down there keep Bob Barker’s advice in mind and “Don’t forget to pay for your pets.”

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