Pet Parting Pain

June 17th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Cracker became one of us. We even got used to that name she arrived bearing.

Today, we stroked and spoke to the aged and very sick cat as the vet killed her. That experience was of course sad, but less so than continuing to force medicine and food into her. Her mouth cancer made eating impossible and the only treatments would have been agonizing and deforming, as well as only slightly delaying her death.

We finally learned the lesson that vets had tried drum into us with two previous old, sick cats. Today though was about her and not us.

In her last couple of years, she had to come to terms with much. As an outdoor cat down South, she seems to have been tortured by more than her name. Coincidentally, the two young girls in her house named the first cat Ritz for its tan color and the next one Cracker to complete the trope, even though this one was all white. Her real color statement was unintentional, having two different color eyes, green and yellow. Her other physical oddity was an ear deformed years before from a mite infection. Her anomalies provided the attractiveness of slight imperfection.

When her owner family got a transfer to England for two years or who knows how long in reality, bringing a pet for a six-month quarantine was beyond awkward. Instead, we were pressed into service and Cracker arrived with one of the daughters bringing her in a pickup truck. She came into a life of being an indoor cat in a new climate and house, a house that already had a resident feline.

That start was ugly, very ugly. The much younger existing cat was beside herself in anger. Cracker was indifferent to Chi’s threats and only defended herself if directly attacked, but for the first time in my life, I had to get used to prolonged, regular hissing as background noise.

For her part, Cracker was much rougher on humans. We quickly realized that even touching her tail brought scratches and bites. We suspected that one or both of the daughters might not have been as kind as young girls in Disney cartoons. Cracker was not interested in laps or petting or even being picked up.

Yet it all came. She chose our then 17-year-old son as her person, sleeping by him and letting him rub her. She had a weird yet endearing trait of forcing open a bathroom door to rub against a person and get touched when anyone was seated on a toilet. She would hop up on the bed at night and get an 8 or 10 stroke rubdown before scurrying away. Eventually, she allowed petting and particularly combing. Long-haired Chi hates getting brushed but Cracker would likely sit under a comb for hours.

So as Cracker bonded more with us and we with her, we were reaching stasis and better. She adapted quickly to our new house, her second with us. That actually worked better for Chi as well. The new, larger house was like being territorial in the outback. Go ahead. There were lots of rooms, duplicate cat boxes and sauntering space for all.Cracker

So then it was that the aged Cracker became sick and then got the fatal diagnosis. I’m not a true cat person, but my wife came with cats and we’ve always had one or more. Becoming attached and then attempting detachment as they sicken and die really doesn’t get any easier.

I admit that it was harder with the previous cat, Tang, a Maine Coon. We had her for about 15 years. She was dog-like in her friendliness, gentleness and patience with humans.

Today, the vet was pretty plain about euthanasia being the right thing to do. As with Tang, it was in fact a good death, a quick and painless few seconds. Cracker’s only complaint was weak because of her malnourished state, but she was not happy about having a square inch of leg shaved with an electric razor to find a good spot for the barbiturate injection.

A few more words, a few more strokes and the needle. She was gone before you could have started to count.

How odd that I had just seen an online piece in Slate on human lethal injections. It included that the typical uncomplicated process there takes 9 minutes. I asked the clearly compassionate vet — after confessing that I was opposed to human capital punishment — why states could not or would not do the same for people. He said they could but chose to make a show out of it instead.

That seems all too plausible.

Back at home, Cracker’s corpse has an arboreal place in the back. Her remains went down classic style, deep, in a shroud, and covered with soil and a flagstone. The plan is to put shade-loving plants nearby, likely hosta. Tang got a dwarf cherry tree in the sunny spot.

Here, we’re at neither pet extreme. None of us dismisses our furred companions as just animals. Neither does any of us say, “This is my baby.” Yet, we attach to those who choose to sleep next to us or sit in our laps, who come to us for affection as well as food, who scold us if we have been away for days leaving them the help of visiting caregivers.

I can certainly see a life without a cat. After all, I had 27 years like that before I met my wife. However, I confess that I also enjoy the seemingly random, indecipherable chatter a cat can perform. I don’t anthropomorphize them, but I have always found them often affectionate familiars who mean me no harm.

Cracker got used to us and two new houses. We got used to her. I’ll miss Cracker with her old two-toned eyes.

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