"Home" Is Defined By Furry Friends
By Jade Walker

My life, while relatively complete, seems to be missing something.

Cats.

For the past 10 years, I've lived with a variety of felines -- Princess, Sox, Jordan, Julia, Eastman, AP, TJ Dakota, Gizmo, Loki, Noelle and Lily. Though a few have died or been placed with other loving homes, I still have several of these animals.

Together, they have outlasted jobs, boyfriends, family ties. They've traveled across the country and grown fat with good food and plenty of affection. And they've earned me a reputation as "The Cat Lady." Yes, I'm that witchy woman in every neighborhood who will care for any stray cat that's hungry or abandoned.

Since I moved to New York in February, it's been difficult to live without my cats. I've been staying in a Manhattan hotel, searching for an apartment, and they've been staying with two kindhearted friends.

In the meantime, I am lonely. No one is there to demand feeding on a twice-daily basis. In fact, without the cats' constant presence in my life, I sometimes forget to eat at all.

When I sleep, I lay the second pillow provided by the hotel next to my body rather than under my head. Still, it's a poor substitute to one of my cats, curled up next to me, purring softly and sleeping the whole night by my side.

I see those silly Advantage commercials on TV, where the puppies and kittens frolic while singing with computerized mouth movements, and I get weepy.

People say that home is where your heart is. I used to believe that home is where your clothes can be found. My home, however, is where my cats live. Having them more than a thousand miles away leaves me feeling homeless.

For those of you with animals, you know what I'm talking about. Pets are a lot of work, sure, but they also give back unlimited amounts of love and comfort. All they ask for in return is food, shelter and the occasional tummy rub.

For those without pets, I ask you...why not get one today? Other than allergies or picky landlords, there's really no reason to miss out on this great experience.

Children learn lessons in responsibility when taking care of a pet. Older generations benefit from a pet's constant companionship. Scientists say that owning a pet will help you live a longer, less stressful life.

If you're single, a pet will greet you without fail whenever you return home from work, thus making you feel welcome and missed. Married couples can certainly practice their "parenting" skills by caring for an animal on a daily basis.

The disabled can be helped in numerous ways by obtaining a "guide" animal. These pets are more than just companions -- they're well-trained and provide services that are quite useful to the blind, the deaf or the handicapped.

Some animals even have a knack for helping out with basic household chores. Case in point, my cats are protectors. If there's a lizard, palmetto bug or mouse in the house, my cats will hunt it down, torture and kill it. They're very proud when they perform this duty because they know I hate doing it myself. Particularly the torture part (tell me, who hasn't used half a can of Raid on a flying palmetto bug?).

Interested in becoming the owner of a devoted cat, dog, bird, fish or pig? Then visit Petfinder.org. This Website offers information on over 10,000 adoptable pets from shelters all over the U.S.

A Quick Pet search engine allows you to pick the type of animal you want, the age, size and gender, and the animal's location. You can even see pictures of animals waiting for adoption.

The Resource Center has discussion forums where you can share your adoption and pet owning experiences with others. It has a useful library of articles that cover anything you may want to know about owning a pet. Learn how to choose a vet, perform behavior modification or obtain the ASPCA's suggested reading list for cat and dog care and training.

My cats have become such a part of my life that I feel at a loss without them. Instead of reveling in the pleasure of hotel-living (i.e., free cable, queen-sized bed, daily housekeeping), I have pushed myself extra hard to find an apartment as quickly as possible.

Luckily, I finally found one in Brooklyn. I move in this weekend, but I know one thing for sure. It won't feel like "home" until my cats arrive.