I am not an economist, and I’ve had plenty of free lunches, but I can tell you with great confidence that there is no such thing as a free cat.

In the summer of 2014, my family decided that our cat had been single for too long and purrrhaps needed a companion. My sister and I convinced our parents to go to the Coastal Humane Society to “just look.” Any parent who’s been dragged to an animal shelter to “just look” probably knows how this turned out.

My family has a genetic condition that causes us to only want the weird, more undesirable animals. For example, my aunt once had a dog that would urinate only when it was standing on its front two paws. So I bypassed the cute kittens, the lazy older adult cats and the fluffy Maine coon mixes at the shelter, and went straight for the scabby tabby in the back cage, with chunks of her gray and white fur missing. She’d been picked up off the street only the week before. Her name was Juno. And she was free. Mainers can’t resist free stuff. My parents couldn’t resist their kids. Juno came home with us. (My mother did make a $50 donation to the shelter.)

Around 1 on the morning after we got her, I awoke to a very strange thumping sound, followed by an eerie chewing noise. Assuming it was a wild animal, I turned on the light and found that Juno had dragged an entire chicken carcass up the stairs, down two hallways and into my bedroom, where she was enjoying her feast.

That was just the beginning. It turned out the scabs were not from fights, they were the result of skin allergies – now she has a prescription diet that costs $8 a pound. She was either hit by a car or attacked by a hawk (the doctor couldn’t tell; I personally think she tried to start a fight with the hawk) and required thousands of dollars of kitty ER care. She is fine now, and continues to rage at birds from behind the safe confines of the window. Once she punched a 90-pound Rottweiler mix in the face over a piece of chicken.

She requires cherry-flavored oral medication twice a year, because like people, cats’ allergies get worse when seasons change. What genius invented cherry-flavored medicine for cats? No cat in history has ever liked cherry. People barely like cherry.

The final insult? Juno didn’t cuddle. It was strange. I’d never met a cat who could resist a lap with a blanket on it. She clearly considered me “her” human – she spent most of her time in my room, shedding on my stuff – but she slept in my bed only when it was below freezing out. Was there something wrong with me?

Not long after Juno clambered into the family, I started dating men, after a lifetime of only dating women. (Anna Kendrick, if you’re reading this: I still date women, too. Call me.) As you can imagine, this was a bit of a culture shock. Despite the stereotype of women huffing “I’m fine” when something is clearly not fine, most women, I’ve found, are fairly good at articulating their feelings and expressing them verbally. Men, as it turns out – not so much.

So there I was, with a cat and a boyfriend I was pretty sure hung around with me only for the free food. And then I started to look at things differently. Maybe I was judging Juno’s behavior by the wrong standards. Juno’s not a dog, she’s a cat – although she does meet me at the door when I get home before running to her favorite rug with her favorite toy, waiting to play. She follows me from room to room when I’m home, even if she won’t make eye contact. She sits on my desk, next to my computer, for hours, staring out her window to the world while I stare into mine.

And once I figured out that Juno’s expressions of affection were just different from what I was used to, everything clicked. My boyfriend might not be chatty, but he has dinner ready when I get home from work. He picks my sister up from school when nobody else can. He shoveled out my car, at night, in minus-15-degree weather, while wearing sneakers. (Juno watched from the window.)

Cats aren’t free. Men aren’t easy. But I think I’ll keep them both around.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial

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