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Whisker me away

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Joni Mitchell's old adage is, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" but sometimes, life can work the opposite way, too.

Every so often, you don't realize you were missing something until it's back.

I grew up with cats, first Misty, then Neechi and then Max.

But when I ventured out on my own to the wilds of Fort Frances, Ont., I opted to live entirely alone. Though I'd pondered picking up a furry friend for company, I was worried my work schedule might not allow me to give it proper care and attention, plus my employment in a fairly transient field (I've changed cities three times and apartments six times since moving to Ontario) might be stressful on the animal.

My latest move reunited me with a couple of kitties as my now-fiancee Kerilee and I found a place together in June. It's a great feeling to be welcomed home by a couple of fuzzy faces that are happy to see you, they dash across the apartment to greet you as you're fiddling with your keys, (even if their main point of order is yelling at you to feed them).

Though my animal interactions took a drastic spike upwards after moving to Whistler, as my former housemates had two dogs and pooches are a regular sight at the Pique offices, it's just not the same as waking up with a pet — or more accurately, being woken up by one.

When I moved in with Kerilee, and cats Patrick Stewart and Otis Redding, one of the first things I did was, obviously, create Instagram accounts for my feline friends. It sounds pretty silly and I certainly laughed at the concept of pets getting their own social media pages when I first heard about it years ago. But after looking at some other pages of some of the most-followed pets on the app, it seemed like a fun and harmless way to share a few pet pics a week while keeping them mostly off my personal feed for those who might feel inundated.

The best part of animal Instagram is that a lot of the most famous cats are appreciated for what they are, be they Princess Monster Truck (who sports an underbite), Lil Bub (who has feline dwarfism), Monty (who has chromosome abnormalities) Little Bunny Sueroux (who has no front legs) or BenBen, a New Westminster orange tabby dubbed "the saddest cat on the internet" who has a playful demeanour despite his sorrowful look.

Many of the accounts sell merchandise, but BenBen's page (@benbencatcat) supports the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A GoFundMe last year raised nearly $15,000 and I actually attended a meet-and-greet with him at a pet store in New Westminster in February where he and his family were collecting food for pets in need. BenBen's latest exploits include posing for Santa photos in support of New Westminster Animal Services and starring in his own calendar with some proceeds also going to animal charities.

But like any grab at celebrity, especially those made on another's behalf, you hope that child or animal star is in the hands of capable and caring parents. Certainly, those supporting charities and, especially, other animals, seem to have their hearts in the right place (a New Westminster Record story on BenBen from last December reports that one of his adoptive parents is a veterinary technician). As the trend progresses, though, the cynic in me worries some people with dollar signs in their eyes may bring home a pet for all the wrong reasons and fail to treat it with the love and care it deserves.

Certainly, local agencies like Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) have the animal's best interests in mind. As alluded to before, Whistler can be a difficult place to own a pet. Securing housing can be challenging at the best of times, and having a cat or dog with you can make it nearly impossible.

With these organizations already on the lookout for best fits for forever homes, one would expect they'd also be vigilant in weeding out undesirable owners as well.

And while there seems to be less pushback about adopting a pet as a Christmas gift these days, with a 2013 study by the American SPCA concluding pets are more likely to be surrendered to a shelter by their original owner than by someone receiving an "unwanted gift," anyone bringing an animal into their home should ensure they'll be able to provide it a place where it'll get the love and attention it needs.

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