“You really should get pregnant – and soon. You’re not getting any younger!” my mom’s friend told me.

I smiled. I knew she meant well and I was used to the teasing. “I already have kids, ma’am. They’re not my own flesh and blood, but I love them like my own kids all the same.” I showed her a picture of my three furry children: a grumpy black cat named Merlin, a cat-friendly Chihuahua named Topper, and a mischievous kitten named Mimi.

“You are so like my niece. I told her that one day, I would throw out all her darned cats!” she quipped, chuckling.

My smile faded.

I was in the Intensive Care Unit, watching over my dad when it happened. My mom’s friend continued the one-sided debate, pointing out that because my father chose to have human kids and not feline ones, he had me to take care of him while he was ill.Too bad I wouldn’t have kids do the same for me, she said with a measure of ridicule. The really awful timing of her go-be-like-the-rest-of-society diatribe aside, I wondered what was worse: that she thought cats were a big nuisance, or that she considered children precious because they were some sort of a healthcare benefit.

UNPLANNED CHILDREN – Because of the choices I have made, I unfortunately have yet to have my very own child. However, I have been blessed with three animals whom I treat not as pets but as members of the family.

I did not plan or expect to be part of some Familia Balbon. If you told me six years ago that I would end up with two cats and one dog, I would have laughed. I would have thought you were crazy.

But for some reason only providence was privy to, one furry creature after another crept its way into my life and, soon enough, into my heart.

First came Merlin, whom I adopted at a time when I knew absolutely nothing about cats. He taught me many things, including patience and an exclusive language of love that only the both of us could understand.

Next came Topper who, for some strange twist of fate, hated other dogs but loved all cats!

Then there was Mimi who, despite already having had a human, chose to live her life with me.

“When it comes to animals, you know nothing about family planning,” my boyfriend, who adored all three, would tell me in jest. I never intended to have such a big, furry family!

Of course, I also did not intend to be childless at 36.

Crazy cat lady: the stereotype and the stigma. 

I’m sure you’ve heard many stories about crazy cat ladies—they don’t have kids, they end up hoarding dozens of cats, and they’re pretty much insane.

Of course, these stories are both inaccurate and ignorant. I have several cat lady friends, many of whom have their own (human) children. I also have several single friends, none of whom own a cat.

I wonder, why doesn’t having several dogs carry the same stigma? I have yet to hear people talk of a dog lady in the same disparaging way they would a cat lady.

Is there something utterly horrific about having a few felines at home, especially for someone who’s unmarried?

Harmless as the cat-lady stereotype may seem, it’s heartbreaking to the many women—childless or otherwise—who dedicate their lives to rescuing, fostering, and adopting cats. More importantly, it puts many feline lives in harm’s way.

Sustaining such a stereotype is not just an insult to the ladies who care selflessly for other living creatures, but also a threat to the many cats out there who just want to spend the rest of their lives loving a human family.

Did you know that cats get euthanized in shelters if they don’t get adopted? If more people stopped subscribing to the stereotype of crazy cat ladies, more people will open their doors to cats in need of a home.

DEFINING FAMILY – Whether or not I do have a child in the future, I hope and pray others will realize that my three fur-kids are worth calling family.

I cannot give you a dictionary meaning of the family I have in mind. Many definitions will refer to families as groups of people. There will be no mention of dogs, more so of cats.

It came as an epiphany to me—during those moments when I waited anxiously for Merlin to get better after he vomited repeatedly, during that time I thought Topper had a stroke when his pupils weren’t of the same size, during that fateful Christmas Eve when I thought Mimi would die in my arms after we found her motionless on the ground—that the word ‘family’ was better defined by love.

The people—and yes, animals—we love without condition are our family. It holds true whether we like it or not, whether we are capable of fathoming it or not.

Although we often don’t get to choose whom we call family, once in a while, if we are ever so fortunate, we do.

BEING A MOM – I don’t know if being a fur-mom is just like being a regular mom. I don’t know if I should compare your kids to my kids.

That’s not even where I want to go.

I just want to give cats—and their humans—a chance. I want to thank them for choosing to love children they did not give birth to. I want to thank them for loving children not just of another bloodline, but of another species.

While I have only three, many of them have dozens of cats. Their sacrifice is unbelievable. Their love is worth commending.

I’m not saying I will never have human kids. Who knows? Perhaps my alleged bad luck with family planning applies to all my children—animal or human, past or future.

Speaking of having kids, my very own mother has been hounding me about giving her a grandchild. Just like her friends, she is looking forward to seeing me as a mother—not just to two cats and a dog, but also to a human child.

However, unlike her friends, my mom is gracious enough to accept my three fur-kids as part of our family.

“Kumusta na ang mga apo ko? (How are my grandkids?)” my mom would ask me whenever we talked on the phone. I would smile, telling her how much trouble my youngest cat, Mimi, got herself into yet again.

She craved for a human grandchild. She loved her furry grandchildren, anyway. When it came to family, I was born lucky.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s July 2016 issue.