I had to put the cat down on Saturday afternoon. It was a sad thing, of course, as it always is when you have to say goodbye to a pet. The cat was diagnosed as a diabetic a few weeks back, which is not unusual with dogs and cats these days. It is a treatable condition, that is easier to manage in animals than humans. Your animal is not going to cheat on its diet or forget to take its insulin. With a little discipline and the willingness to master a few medical skills, you can manage a diabetic pet with little trouble.
On Friday night, the cat took a turn for the worse, so I went into the vet not entirely sure what to expect. They took blood and sent me home with some instructions. I figured they were humoring me, so I spent the night making my peace with what I expected was coming. The next day I learned, after further examination, that the cat had a rare type of cancer that was the real cause of the diabetes. They found tumors on his pancreas, which is not treatable, so I made the decision to put the poor thing out of his suffering.
While waiting to see the vet on Saturday, a woman I know came into the office. She was there to say goodbye to her dog. Apparently they called her with the bad news and she came into to complete the process. That was my guess anyway. The girl at the desk seemed to know what to do, despite the fact the woman was sobbing uncontrollably. She sat down on the bench next to me. Out of instinct, I guess, I don’t know, I slid over and put my arm around her. She collapsed against me into a mess of tears and wailing.
I don’t know what it is, but the sound of a woman crying touches some unexamined part of my being. It’s crazy, I’m sure, but that sound reminds me why a man is willing to fight another man to the death or leave his lands to sack the city of some bastard who insulted his people. My grandfather always said that a man protects those who need protection and defends those who need defending. Maybe that’s all there is to it and the sound of a woman crying just triggers those lessons I heard a million times as a kid.
There was nothing I could do for her, obviously, other than to be a shoulder to cry on, as she waited to say goodbye to her dog. Sitting there, being kind to a neighbor, my burden felt a bit lighter. There are always others worse off than you. That’s something I always try to keep in the front of mind. My life is not a walk in the park, but it is not an endless stream of misery either. Most people, it seems, carry around a lot more baggage than me, or they are less able to carry the load than me. Either way, I’m a pretty lucky guy.
Coming home, alone with my thoughts, I thought about how serendipity had intervened to make a tough situation a bit less difficult. My first pet, as an adult, was a cat. Growing up, we had dogs, so I had a bias against cats. The women I was dating at the time thought I needed a pet and she suggested a cat. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but a man does what he must at that age, so I got a cat. It turned out that cats are just like dogs, in that they are what you make of them. Me and the cat went on great adventures together.
At the end of his time, he got sick and I did the back and forth with the vet as you do with pets. It was new to me as an adult, so I got caught up in the process, thinking that there was a potentially good result. When it was time to put an end to it all, I struggled with the decision. I just couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. Then one night the cat staggered down the hall with his old toy in his mouth. He could barely walk, but to the very end he was going to be all the cat he was ever going to be. I was quite touching.
That night, I could not help but think that maybe I just learned a great truth. That cat was just a cat, but he was never cheated. Who knows what goes on in the head of a pet, but they are here to be our pets. It is literally what they are made for and they are that fully and completely. We lose sight of that as people. Our point in life is to use all of our time completely. There are no do overs or restarts. You just have the time you have and you better use all of it being all the you possible. Life is for living. Don’t cheat yourself.
Perhaps that’s why we keep pets. Long ago, domesticating dogs for work or allowing cats to live among us to keep down the rodent population made practical sense. Keeping animals solely as pets has no obvious purpose, other than to make the time we have more enjoyable. Maybe seeing these little critters come into the world and become their purpose fully and completely makes understanding our own purpose easier. It’s a lot easier to grasp the purpose of a dog or cat than the purpose of that crazy relative in the family.
I will say, that this time was a bit more difficult than other last trips to the vet. I’ve had a lot of animals over the years. Some were better than others. This was a good one. Just about every post I’ve written was done with him lying behind the keyboard. Every podcast was done with him lying next to the microphone. For over a dozen years he was a comforting fixture in my life. He was there at the door when I got home and at the door when I went off to work every day. As pets go, he was a good one and I will miss him.