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by Abigail Van Buren

Loving Families Make Room for Old Cats and New Babies

DEAR ABBY: How can people still believe those totally absurd stories about cats smothering babies! Obviously, they don't know cats.

My husband and I had three cats for 10 years before our daughter appeared on the scene. She was born two months premature, and when we brought her home from the hospital, she weighed a whopping 4 pounds. Each of our cats was more than three times her size and weight.

They gently sniffed her, checked her out, and found her to be a nonthreatening creature (just a bit noisy and smelly at times). I'm assuming that because she was neither furry nor feathery, they considered her to be no fun at all, so they ignored her.

Once in a while, I would find one of the cats curled up in a cozy corner of her crib, but only when she wasn't in it. As she got older and more mobile, she considered the cats her "brothers" and dressed those who were willing in her old baby clothes. They seemed to understand that she was just a "kitten" and were very patient with her.

Our daughter is now 15 and would like to volunteer at our local humane society one day -- helping to care for cats, of course.

Let's hope someday soon those silly myths about cats will come to an end. Abby, I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that those wild rumors may have been started by a jealous dog. -- CAROL A. RICHARDS, NASHUA, N.H.

DEAR CAROL: Your defense of our feline friends is a lovely story. I must, however, report that many of my readers wrote to explain why cats may have been accused of smothering babies -- and it seems to make sense.

Babies drink milk, cats love milk, and many cats have been seen sniffing or licking around a baby's mouth -- probably trying to get a taste of the milk residue. To a panicked parent, this could appear that the cat was trying to smother the baby. Read on for another insight:

DEAR ABBY: Although I have never written to you before, the letter from "Concerned," whose niece is pregnant and has three cats, caught my attention. "Concerned" stated that her niece believes that her cats don't care what is going on around them.

I, too, am pregnant with my first baby. My husband and I also have three cats. They were our "babies" for many years, and to think that they won't notice any change in our home when the new baby arrives is simply ludicrous! We are acutely aware of the emotional upheaval that may occur when we bring the baby home, and having compassion and respect for our pets as well as our new child, we discussed this issue with our doctor, our veterinarian, and a friend who volunteers at a local animal shelter.

Jealousy occurs when you simply abandon your pets in favor of the new child. While never leaving your child unattended with any pet is good advice, it doesn't begin to address the emotional needs of both the child and the animals. It takes a definite plan and awareness to handle it, and it takes both parents (and any other caretaker in the home) to help.

Many steps can be taken to assure a smooth, happy transition. For example, my husband will bring a blanket home from the hospital with the baby's scent for the cats to get used to. Additionally, and most important, my husband and I will provide our cats with as much love and attention as we can.

We want our child to grow up loving animals as much as we do. We consider ourselves blessed to have the unconditional love our cats give us, and we want to return that love to them. If you print this letter, I hope it brings new insight to families with pets and new babies. -- RESPECTFUL OF ALL LIVING BEINGS

DEAR RESPECTFUL: It brought new insight to me, and I'm sure it will to my animal-loving readers. A child who is raised in a home as loving as yours is certain to follow the parents' footsteps. I wish you much success.