How we became cat-owners: The story of Franny and Pepper

In the spirit of tying up loose ends and working on my 2015 goals (“write more!”), let me offer this story of one of the most significant changes in our household last year: the tale of a family who adopted two kittens, one mother’s reluctance, and the glorious craziness of pet-ownership that has ensued.

In the typical fashion of six- and eight-year-old girls, Rosie and Lucy have been begging for a pet for years. “But you have a pet, sweetie,” I would say. “We have our dear fish, Pearlio.” This is obviously not the same. Pearlio, although admired by all, is not cuddly.

Pearlio: a portrait.

A few years ago, I was inspired by my friend Tara who told her kids that, in order to get a dog, they would need to write an essay describing the ways they would care for it, and they would need to earn money to buy the dog and all the equipment. I love this, I thought. There’s no way the girls will be writing proper essays for at least a few more years.

I will take care of a puppy


I will take
care of
a little puppy
and I think
[it] is fair that
if we buy a little
puppy, I’ll take care of it.
P.S. I’m responsible.

Now, I wouldn’t call what Rosie wrote here a proper essay, but it certainly represented some serious commitment on the part of our six-year-old. And the adorable factor was putting some significant pressure on us to cave. Still, I resisted the idea of the dog and all it would entail — the walking, the poop-scooping, the house-training, and the challenges for travel. I suspected that the bulk of the pet-care burden would fall on me (since I’m the one most often at home), and that was a layer of complexity in which I was I definitely uninterested.

Kriss at Circle M Farmphoto: Sarah Anna Hansen

Fast forward several weeks. It’s August. It is gloriously hot. (Sigh. Remember?) We decided to stop at our dear friends’ farm after a family vacation in Wisconsin. I was looking forward to a relaxing visit filled with books and hand-picked raspberries. Little did I know that while I was enjoying this idyllic setting, Jon and the girls were falling in love with a couple of cats. The Marions had recently become known as the local repository for unwanted kittens, thus they had more farm cats than they really needed. Three litter-mates in particular showed themselves to be playful, friendly, and sweet.

That evening, Jon pulled me aside. “I think we should seriously consider asking Kriss if we can take two of these cats home.”

I stared at him. “Really?” I said. (“Have you lost your mind???” is what I meant.)

“These cats are fantastic,” he continued. “They are playful, they’re friendly with people, and they aren’t too rough with the girls. I think this might be the moment.”

I shivered. My spine started to get that anxious tightening I get whenever someone throws up. Apparently, this is my biological response to “losing control of the situation.”

That night, I wrestled with God. At 1 am, 2 am, and 4 am. “Seriously, God? Cats? Is this what we are doing now?” Not that I had anything against cats. My family had a cat growing up, and I enjoyed Priscilla — certainly preferring her over our two yippy toy poodles, Ginger and Cindy. Cats are sweet and cuddly and you don’t have to housebreak them.

But in my ideal world, we would have taken a decision like this slowly. We would have discussed it as a family, checked out some books from the library about cat-care, researched veterinarians, and saved some money for cat-expenses. We would have spent some time dreaming up names and building anticipation. And then, once we were truly ready, we would have purchased a litter box, stocked up on food, and gotten our cats. We would never just spontaneously decide to bring cats home. Certainly not after a long vacation and especially not when we had an incredibly busy weekend coming up. No, that wouldn’t happen in my ideal world.

God helped me to remember that this isn’t my ideal world. He also reminded me that this is a good thing, because he is in charge. He refreshed my memory about of all the things I’d been reading on Charlotte Mason education and how good it is for children to have a pet they can love. And then he told me, “I will teach you to love the cats.”

“Okay,” I said. “You’re the boss.” Then I got up from bed (remember, it’s 4:00 in the morning), walked to the bathroom, and nearly stepped in a pile of cat poop from the Marions’ one indoor cat. Hmmmm…ominous, I thought.

In the morning, Jon drove to the local general store and acquired a used pet-carrier. The girls were overjoyed at the news that we would be taking two cats home with us — Pepper and Franny. I grinned optimistically and just tried to go with the flow. But I had to admit, these kittens were irresistibly cute.

Franny the Kitten
Here is Franny, more formally known as “Lady Frances.”

Pepper the Kitten
And this is Pepper, aka “Sir Pepper the Gray.”

And so we traveled home with two kittens. One mewed, and one slept. We stopped at our favorite frozen custard spot — Kopp’s in Milwaukee — and brought the cat carrier out in the open-air courtyard with us.

With the kittens at Kopps

We didn’t give the kittens any custard. It didn’t seem wise.

Now, it may or may not be true that we were traveling in a rental car…and that we had signed a “no pets” clause when we picked up that rental car at the beginning of our trip. And it may or may not be true that we stopped at a local park in Milwaukee where the girls and I harbored illegal kittens while Jon returned the car. You’ll never know for sure…

But I can say it is true that we had absolutely no cat equipment in our house, so we picked that up on the way home. How incredibly spontaneous of us! PetSmart hooked us up with a litter box, some cat food, and a bag of kitty treats. When we got home, the kittens took right to the litter box (much to my relief).

Over the next several weeks, we got to know our cats.

Lucy and Franny.

Franny (above, with Lucy) is on the quiet side (except when she is hungry) and she tends to like a little bit of personal space.

Rosie and Pepper.

Pepper is a bit more extraverted. He loves to have his neck scratched and he is constantly trying to escape into the great outdoors.

The Hugging Kitty Nap.

A cat-loving friend of ours called them “a bonded pair,” which sounds just right — litter-mates who love one another, which they show by snuggling and grooming each other. When they need some comfort, they grab hold of this knit blanket with their teeth and knead it with their paws, just as if they are nursing the blanket.

There have been a few moments of chaos…

Kittens in a basket.
Who, us?

  • The cats ate our fish while we were out of town one weekend. RIP Pearlio.
  • Franny barfed on my cowboy boots.
  • Pepper jumped into a bathtub full of water and then ran, alarmed and dripping, through the house.
  • They seem to have a standing (er, chasing) playdate every night at 11:00 pm.
  • Pepper has a tendency to lick butter, drink our cereal milk, steal dinner rolls, step in chocolate cake, and knock over perfectly beautiful baked pie-crusts to the floor. Not that I’m holding it against him.
  • And let’s not even talk about the Christmas tree.
    In the Christmas tree.

But even with all of the chaos they bring, we love them. I think the moment came for me in that first week. I was about to stand up from my seat and wash the dishes, but Pepper jumped on my lap and started purring. He gave me a gift I rarely give myself — sitting and enjoying the moment, doing nothing. When our friend Mike met our cats, he shared a piece of wisdom he has learned. “Cats have the ministry of presence,” he said. There is so much truth in this, and it is just what we need in our house.


I love the way our cats help the girls wake up each morning with a purring cuddle.

Girls and cats.

They are excellent nappers, models of peacefulness.
In the greenhouse window.

They are incredibly cute and playful, especially when they climb into boxes or wrestle with each other.

Franny in a pumpkin

They don’t seem to mind when the girls involve them in a game of make-believe that includes feats of gymnastic strength and flexibility, or dressing them up with hats and pearls. They’re completely adorable.

The Amazing Pepper!

Jesus was right. He said he would teach me to the love the cats, and he has done it. I love these crazy cats! Who wouldn’t?


4 Replies to “How we became cat-owners: The story of Franny and Pepper”

  1. Great job mama! I love my three and can share in the giggles, tears and frustration they bring. But my most favorite part of them is how they know what I need. I am sick they are there, I am tired they get me to relax and pet them, I am in a hurry….they are out of sight. And the girls love them to pieces….perfect! thanks for the giggles this morning!

    1. Katrina, your kittens sound more perceptive than ours! I keep tripping over them when I’m in a hurry, but they are cute anyway. And Pepper has a knack for trying to sit on my computer while I’m typing. Hmmm, maybe he is telling me something… :)

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