Friday, 12 March 2010

Death of a Little Cat

Why do we do this? Why are we motivated to take these little animals into our homes, teaching them how to be clean, letting them learn the warmest places, the most comfortable places, feeding them, entertaining them while they entertain us?

Why do we let them into our hearts?

There is no sense in it, but we do it over and over again.

Each time one of my dogs has died I have said, 'Never again!' and given away the beds and bowls, collars, leads and waterproof coats. And sooner or later (generally later) I have gone out and bought more. A new dog has moved in.
My last two dogs both came to me for an allegedly short time, at the end of their lives, to have a comfortable death. The current one snores loudly in the kitchen as I write this, two and a half years after she came here.

In their childhoods my sons experienced so many pet deaths that my younger son kept a Book of Woe, recording the loss of dogs, gold-fish, rabbits, guinea-pigs and stick insects. Each loss was painful, each as bad as the one before, but I thought I was doing the right thing in letting them have pets at the cost of losing them. I thought it was right for children to experience death, that the death of a pet might somehow make it easier to cope with human deaths, when they arrived, as they surely would.

We did not have cats because of family allergies, and I was aware of feeling relieved. Goldfish generally stay in their tanks (although we did have one who persistently leapt for freedom and subsequently swam backwards after spending some time, unnoticed, on the carpet). Dogs have to be under control. The rabbits and guinea-pigs were in a walled garden and couldn't get out (although predators could get in, sadly and messily). Stick insects stayed put, and it was not always easy to tell if they were dead or not.

Cats are different, independent, free spirits. They bestow their favours upon us when they choose, and withdraw them when they choose. They are fearless, able to squeeze into tight corners, through narrow gaps, climb dangerous ledges, clamber on to slippery roofs. They are terribly vulnerable. The emotional cost of cat ownership is great.

So this is not my cat, but a little cat very like it lived with people I love until a couple of days ago. She brought them so much pleasure for a few short months.
I met her only once, recently. I felt extraordinarily privileged that she bestowed her favours on me, giving me toys to play with, carrying a leaf from the garden all the way upstairs and giving it to me in the bedroom. I thought she liked me, and I was perplexed by how important that thought was to me. She was charming, fearless, entertaining, inquisitive and determined.

A few days later and the little cat is dead, the saddest of accidents, the terrible cost of freedom.
Her life was short, but full of meaning and she will not be forgotten.
But the experience of death does not get easier.

This is for S., E. and K.


Zhoen said...


leslee said...

It is very sad. After my last dog died, I looked for a housemate who came with dogs so I wouldn't have to get one of my own! I lived near a veterinary school, so this was easy. But my veterinarian friends have to deal with the suffering and death of animals all the time (of course they're happy when they can heal them, and see the healthy ones come in for shots and such), but it's gotta be tough.

Anyway, I can't have pets where I live now, but my eye always goes to them wherever I see them. My houseplants, at least, thrive!

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: Thank you.

Leslee: I was dog-walking at a local rescue, specifically to stop myself from having another dog. It didn't work. She still snoring in the kitchen.
You have to believe that the pain of loss is balanced by giving an animal a happy life. But Little Cat's life was terribly short.

pohanginapete said...

I find death incomprehensible. Someone or something that was alive, was there, no longer is. And the world goes on.

Two cats I knew well died recently. They'd lived long, rich lives — but does this make it harder or easier to bear? Anyway, my condolences. (o)

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: thank you, and I'll pass on your condolences to the still-stunned owners.
Yes, incomprehensible that so much vitality can be exterminated in a split second.

Mouse said...

One of the memories that still tears at my heartstrings is of the Rags coping with the sudden death of one of their kittens

No amount of nurturing, of protecting, of wrapping them in cotton wool can protect those we love and that is one of the hardest lessons of life

Relatively Retiring said...

Mouse: Yes, I totally agree with you. Setting people (and cats) free is the only way to live life with dignity......and it's hard!

persiflage said...

Dear RR, It is so good to have you back on air. Although petless for the last ten years or so, I do miss cats.
I love your post on the Old Hand and the rings. It is amazing what turns up in handbags, and as for putting things sway so carefully that they cannot be found except quite accidentally, how aggravating that is.

Molly said...

So sad.....and such a sweet little thing too. Thank you for your visit and comment! I've had a lovely time browsing among your posts. You write so beautifully, and on subjects I think about too. I lost my wedding ring several years ago and sometimes feel a little weird about my bare finger! As soon as I get another, the old one is bound to turn up. My son and his partner also have an allotment, south of you a ways. Great invention! Well, no need to write a book today---I'll be back!

Relatively Retiring said...

Persiflage: Thank you so much for your kind comments. I've been reading a sympathising all the way - I think we share quite a few problems.

Molly: thank you for visiting and commenting. You're an enjoyable new find!

herhimnbryn said...

You made me catch my breath at the thought of the cat carrying a leaf upstairs to you.
Such losses do tear at the heart. I hope your friends are managing and will maybe allow another cat to find them oneday.

Relatively Retiring said...

HHnB: Yes, a dear little cat who was extra special in many ways. Because of allergy problems her owners had to try and find a hypoallergenic cat, so she was Siberian. Much as they would love another cat to adopt them it would also have to be hypoallergenic. These beautiful cats (or at least this one) do not seem to cause the severe reactions triggered by 'normal' cats.

riseoutofme said...

Such a pleasure to read your writing ....

Relatively Retiring said...

riseoutofme: thank you! I return the compliment - great lizards you've got there!

Isabelle said...

Ah... lovely post and so true,

Relatively Retiring said...

Isabelle: thank you - I appreciate the comment from a cat-connoisseur.