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Friday, April 29, 2005

Why I don't have a pet any more, part three

I'd had a roving bassplayer boyfriend for several years and in hopes of keeping him with me had built him a studio across the driveway. About a month before he moved in he said: "I do want a cat, but I won't look for one. The right cat will find me."

A week or two later we started seeing an extremely bony young white-and-orange cat roaming the neighborhood on long skinny legs. He thought he lived in the yellow house - we saw him taking small wriggly mouthfuls up that lawn - but we knew, though he didn't seem to, that the people who lived there had moved and the house was empty. Maybe they abandoned him intentionally, or maybe when the moving van came he was nowhere to be found.

A few days later this cat started hanging around my place. He ran after Digit (she of the matted grey fur and dull eyes) again and again, trying to chase her off. She outweighed him by a factor of three, but he outsmarted her by a great deal more.

He was cute, and crafty. He sat outside our glass doors grooming himself, showing off his fine feline features. I said I wouldn't feed him, but he was so skinny I couldn't resist. He soon was glossy. He had handsome orange eyes. He got my jokes.

Then I insisted I would never feed him in the house. But then, somehow, he was inside, chasing Digit from her chair and foodbowl.

The dilemma: he suddenly became old enough to spray, and he methodically sprayed everything in our vicinity. Every doorway, the trash cans, the mail box, every car that parked near the house. Over and over again. Everything stank. The only ways we could think of to stop this were (a) to kill him; or (b) to neuter him.

So it seemed this would be the bassplayer's cat, because once you've neutered a cat you're stuck with him. Surely, somehow, this had been the young cat's intention all along. The bassplayer named him Alex.

Right after Alex moved in he went to visit our next door neighbor and ate her kitten's food. He scratched that lady when she tried to stop him. So she sicced Animal Control on us. Animal Control wanted to take Alex off to quarantine (in case he had rabies) but I persuaded them our newly acquired half-feral cat would never be civilized if he spent ten days in a cage.

They let me keep him on house arrest, during which time he bounced off the walls at breakneck speed for hours every day.

Alex was the perfect cat. Not that he was perfect, but that he was, perfectly, all the things a cat should be. He played uproarious games of soccer up and down the hall. He was very smart and very selfish. He was sly. He magically transformed little birds into little piles of feathers.

He would often hide behind a tree when Melina was coming down the driveway. Then, dashing out from his hiding place, swatting her and making her scream, he would lope off in triumph, tail raised high like a monkey's.

He was an alpha male, even after his neutering, afraid of nothing. I even saw him leap up onto a deer and sink his claws into its haunches. What did he think, he was going to take it down?

He got in bad fights and, as he did not always win (some of these fights were with dogs, raccoons, and snakes), he was no stranger to the vet.

Unsurprisingly, when the bassplayer moved out after a few short months, I was stuck with the cat.

Supreme exasperation: I had just spent ten hours in the hospital with my son, who was recuperating (we hoped) from brain surgery. I drove home, weary to death, and found Alex lying in the driveway with a suppurating abscess from one of his fights.

I decided that letting him die while my son was in the hospital was not an option. What would Zed think when he got home? So after ten hours in the pediatric intensive care unit I had to bundle the damn cat into a box and take him to the vet!!

I sat in the vet's waiting room sobbing with fear and grief for my son and fury at this cat. Realizing the other people probably thought I was crying for poor little Fluffy made me even madder.

Alex cost me hundreds of dollars that time and it was the first time (but not the last) he would wear the little Elizabethan collar around his neck to keep him from biting at his wounds. He did not accept this indignity with grace.

He was finally, fatally, laid low by a urinary blockage, probably brought on by bad cat food. I paid $400 for a speculative and ultimately unsuccessful fix. The surgeon then said he could probably (but not surely) solve the problem with another ($800) operation.

I was in torment over this decision, and when I finally decided not to do the surgery, but to have Alex put to sleep instead, my misery made me decide, no more pets.

The problem is, they've figured out how to do just about everything for animals that they can do for people. You can get any kind of surgery (even plastic surgery), chemotherapy, anything. But a fundamental precept comes into play here: "Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should."

How much surgery is appropriate for an animal?

It seems I've internalized, to some extent, my father's pragmatic farmer's view of animals. His people would be utterly amused and astonished, as I am, to see
  • My friend Sharon feeding one of her dogs FOURTEEN pills every day and keeping a standing account with a doggie acupuncturist who makes house calls;

  • the pet psychologist who is making an excellent living ministering to pets and pet owners suffering from disfunctional relationships;

  • The $28,000 elevator pictured in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, installed in a home because a 13 year old dog was having trouble getting up the stairs;

  • People who leave their fortunes to their parakeets;

  • Surgery for fish. (Here's information about goldfish surgery at our own North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh.)
I have to admit, I loved Alex. I still miss him. His insouciance gave great pleasure. But after he died, I was able to put up birdfeeders without feeling like his pimp.

I buried him under a decorative cement step where he used to lie in wait for his prey. He can watch his feathered friends till the trumpet sounds.


At 6:43 AM, Blogger phoenix said...

Hello. Michele sent me :)

I also agree with you. At some point you have to say enough is enough. When you have children to feed, they must come before expensive and elective surgery. Now I know alot of poeple would go off on me saying that the family pet is a member of the family. I understand this. But the way I see it, my child comes first. If I am struggling to pay normal bills and keep food on the table... well I think you got my point :)

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Craig said...

My niece will be attending Hofstra this fall on a softball scholarship, so I checked out the history of the place. The Jewish widow of a Dutch pulp and paper baron, who had built an epic estate on Long Island during the Gatsby era, left her entire fortune to her sizable collection of cats. Fiorello LaGuardia somehow got ahold of the place during the Depression and diverted the bequest, founding a university, initially run by NYU, on premises originally designated as a kitty campus.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger kenju said...

Boy do I ever agree. I have had pets since I was 5 years old, but I draw the line at expensive treatments (which may not work) for an animal, including teeth cleaning. I had 3 kids to feed, clothe and educate and they came first. But I do understand it for someone whose animal is their "child", such as a man in my circle who paid $1200 for surgery to remove a hairball from his cat's intestine.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Miriam Jones said...

Lovely series of posts. You sound so affectionate, even about the incontinent fur ball.

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Ron Hudson said...

Well, I am rethinking writing a post about the blind, three-legged, diabetic, cancer-surviving transexual schnauzer that I had who lived to be 15 years is a true story and he was a metaphor for my own survival, but, ah, nevermind for now....;-)


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