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May 10, 2016

Preparing my pet for my new infant

Grappling with the decision to declaw my fur baby

Children's Health Katie's Baby
Katie_Gagnon_05 Ryan Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie hopes the steps she's taking now to prepare her cat Lucy for the arrival of her son in September will allow for a smooth transition and a happy home.

My cat, Lucy, has been my best friend for nearly 12 years. To say I adore her is an understatement. She’s my fur baby and her companionship has been paramount to my happiness.

My love for her does not blind me to the issue that Lucy is mean to almost everyone. She was trusting and sweet as a kitten, and still is to me, but around 4 years old her personality changed toward others. She scratches. She bites. She’s downright aggressive. My sister used to wear galoshes to my apartment as protection because Lucy would hide under a table cloth, jump out and attack Kerry’s legs when she would walk by.

  • When you're pregnant, ask your partner, friend or neighbor to clean your cat's litter box to reduce your chance of contracting toxoplasmosis, a rare parasitic disease that can cause birth defects. If you must change the litter yourself, be sure to wear gloves and a mask, and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

My husband jokes that when we first started dating he was relieved to hear me say that he should stay away from Lucy because it meant he didn’t have to pretend to like cats. Nearly 10 years later, they have a sweet and slightly guarded relationship that has allowed us to live in harmony.

I never declawed Lucy. She was born on a farm and I wasn’t sure if one day when I left Rittenhouse Square she would want to go outside again. I thought she would need her talons for play and protection. I thought declawing was cruel. But knowing we will soon bring an infant home meant we had to address Lucy and her claws.

Our first priority is our son, and we won’t put him in a dangerous situation. His health and safety are most important. We discussed giving Lucy away, which we ruled out pretty quickly because she would probably hate a new family and end up in a shelter. I couldn’t bear the thought of that. We talked about euthanizing her. Not a chance. Ryan was clear that Lucy cannot pose any threat to our child or she won’t be welcome in our home, to which I agree. He also told me that her fate was ultimately in my hands. I decided that we have to give her the opportunity to adjust to our son.

We scheduled the declawing surgery so she would have many months to recover before the baby arrived. It was tough to see her in pain, but she handled the surgery like a champ. Afterward, she wasn’t mad. She just wanted to be around me for comfort and cuddles. Within a couple of weeks she was back to normal: walking without trepidation, jumping and playing.

Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Halfway through her pregnancy at 20 weeks, Katie spends much of her time planning for the arrival of her son in September.

If you have a pet at home, I recommend that you talk to experts and do some research about how to prepare your fur baby for your infant. Talking to Lucy’s veterinarian during the beginning of my pregnancy was incredibly helpful in making the decision to declaw her and in developing a game plan for introducing her to our son. The Humane Society has been a great resource for me, offering a lot of tips and advice like how to adjust your pet to baby-related noises. Ryan has started playing videos of babies laughing and crying, to accustom Lucy to the sounds. At first, she was really freaked out, but now she doesn’t seem to notice it. The Humane Society also recommends carrying a baby doll around the house, so Lucy will get used to a small human in our arms, taking our attention. Though that seems a little extreme, I’m willing to try anything to make this work.

My love for my cat is unending, but the safety of our son trumps all else. We’ve removed Lucy’s greatest weapons and are now crossing our fingers that she will love our baby as much as she loves me. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but we’re doing all we can to ensure a good outcome. I’m realistic, and hopeful.

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