Yesterday, the Boy was given the chore to mow the lawn. It’s been raining a lot recently. Not as bad as the rain in the Carolinas; however, with the rain, the grass exploded in growth. I felt like we were about to start living on the prairie…I might have to grow out my hair just so I can start wearing braids. Heh…this might make for some really interesting chat tomorrow during the C-cubed hour (inside joke…sorry if you’re outside of it…).
So, anyhow, the Boy’s mowing the lawn. I’m doing something of absolute no consequence other than biding my time until it’s time to go to church which is in about twenty or so minutes. Not that big a deal. Sit back, relax, do some writing, pretend like I’m grading. Yup. All is well.
And then, the Boy comes into the house and shouts up the stairs, “Mom, you need to come down and see this.”
From his voice, I knew something was wrong. I immediately went through the list of what could-be-wrong’s and couldn’t think of anything. His voice was concerned, not terrified, not in pain.
I go downstairs, step outside, and notice the new cat standing on the dog-crate, happily eating cat food. For a moment, the cat turned its head, looked at me, and I was immediately struck by how straggly she (I looked under her tail and could tell on this one) looked. The fur under her chin was wet and pulled together in little points, reminding me of the scruffy cats that are frequently shown on Loony Tunes shows, especially anything involving Sylvester and Tweety.
The cat was a tabby cat, generally my favorite cat, but I was struck by the wrongness of it all. Her head looked huge, like someone had done the Kylie-Jenner-lip thing (you know, suck a cap around your lips and then suck some more so that your lips get huge and look like you have butt cheeks on your face…disproportionate lip-o-suck-tion) to the cat’s head. Skinny little body…MASSIVE HEAD.
I figured I was just being over-dramatic, seeing everything wrong. So I reached out and pet the cat, ran my hand down her back and was horrified.
The cat was emaciated. I don’t mean thin. I don’t mean skinny. I mean her hip bones stood out like two pincher points under her skin. I mean that I could count her ribs and use her vertebrae as a rosary.
Something was horribly wrong. Just horribly wrong.
Turns out, the Boy saw her coming out of the woods behind our house, the woods that separate our house/subdivision from the neighboring subdivision/golf course. And without a thought, he went over, scooped her up, and brought her to our cat’s food bowl.
Yes, he should have been more cautious. He should have thought about rabies and kitty diseases which can jump to humans. He should have done a lot of things.
But I really am proud of him, which is easy to write because he isn’t sick. He’s outside playing basketball with his sister and our neighbor’s kids. The Boy didn’t get bitten or scratched or turn into a cat-zombie so he could initiate the zombie apocalypse.
He identified a problem and set out to fix the issue.
“Can we adopt her?” he asked.
And, God help me, I almost said yes. Because this poor animal gave the concept of “skin and bones” a run for its money. I held her on my lap, ran my fingers over the pointy angles of this animal’s body, angles that should have been couched in a little bit of fat or, if anything, muscle. But, instead, she was a sad sack of anatomy and misery.
I gently leaned the cat back so that her belly was visible. Did she have kittens? Her belly was bloated, another sign something was wrong. The Boy and I examined her more closely, checking to see that she was not lactating so that we weren’t separating kittens from their mother. And then I noticed it, the pus discharge. I will leave you to figure out where it was coming from. Either the cat had suffered a horrible miscarriage and never passed the kittens or she had a urinary tract infection gone psycho.
“Can we adopt her?” he asked again, his voice quiet, low with emotion and need.
He needed to help her. He needed to do something, anything to give this animal a chance at a better life, a good life.
“She’s sick,” I explained to him, the cat slowly and painfully arching herself out of my lap in order to walk down the stairs and go about her miserable adventure towards…healing? death?
“Can we take her to the vet?” the Boy asked.
I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t meet his eyes. Just looking at this cat, I knew we were looking at a vet bill in the thousands, money we didn’t have. But as she walked away, her tail crooked (it felt like her tail might have been broken at one point), her gait slow as she walked into the gutter and away from our house, I knew I couldn’t resign this animal to what could be a horrible, slow, painful death.
“Get my wallet and my keys,” I said.
God help me, we were going to take her to the vet. If anything, maybe they would be willing to treat her and put her up for adoption at some point. Or, if she needed to be put down, I would pay for that because it was the right thing to do.
I hate going to the vet or, at least the emergency vet. We used to take our dog there but I learned that the vet we used was the most expensive in the area. And they thrived on guilt. When the recession hit, I stopped getting raises. Money became a very tight issue and the subject of many prayers. Pat and I worked, cut out luxuries, and budgeted. But the dog became a financial issue as well. He ripped one knee and required surgery. A good-faith estimate was a thousand dollars. The surgery cost us two thousand.
But Loki’s body rejected the metal implant and he now has weeping wounds because his body will not be nice to me. And to remove the implant would cost me at least another two thousand dollars in addition to relegating my dog to a hell of a lot of pain in addition to removing his ability to have a quasi-sound leg.
Go ahead, judge me. However, when the choice is food for my kids or a potential two to three thousand dollar surgery for my dog whose life expectancy is ten to twelve years…oh, and the dog is ten, well….sorry poochie. I love you and will do everything in my power to give you a quiet, peaceful, comfortable life. But, in the end, the kids win out.
I sound harsh. It’s the only way that I can keep the nauseating sense of guilt and anxiety from over-taking my sense of judgment. It destroys me that I have to make these decisions. But even though the recession might be over for some people, my husband and I are still six years behind everyone else.
And the Boy is three years from starting college.
And the Girl is two years from getting braces.
So, yeah, we used to go to the most expensive veterinarian in the area. And they were great. And they really treated my dog well. And they made me feel like complete and utter crap.
Because, we used to have a cat named John. She (yes, John was a girl…and she was named for Jesus’s favorite apostle) was hurt while the kids and I were in Florida for Christmas. One neighbor swore up and down that Loki had attacked John. Here’s what I think happened.
I think John was hit by a car. Because she loved to play chicken with cars. In addition, she had no external wounds on her body; however, her entire right-front leg was crushed. Loki had a scratch on his nose from trying to get the cat. Because I think Loki broke through the electric fence to get to John because he knew she was hurt. And when she hissed and scratched at him, he would have growled. But I really think that Loki was trying to get her to bring her back to the house so she could be home.
But the neighbors saw Loki break through the fence and then John hissing and shrieking and Loki barking and growling. I wasn’t there. I am merely reporting information that’s at least four years old.
Regardless, John was hurt. And the Boy and I took her to the [expensive] vet only to learn that the injury was likely caused by a car hitting her and definitely not a dog. And the injury was devastating and would require surgery. And I was still paying off the two thousand dollar surgery for Loki.
I made the horrible decision to put John down. She hated being indoors. We were looking at amputating her leg and she was an outdoor cat. This wasn’t the right way for an animal to live.
As the Boy and I were leaving, sobbing, I turned and asked the vet if there was anything else I should do. Her response: “Don’t get your dog another cat.”
And she had just said five minutes earlier that Loki hadn’t done the damage. What a blessed woman.
She is the main reason (and the money) that I left that vet.
So, back to yesterday. the Boy sat in the back of the car, cradling the cat, quietly keeping her still and hoping against hope that she was going to be fine. We arrived at the vet, were instructed to call Animal Control so that the county could surrender the cat to the vet and, therefore, the county could pay the animal’s hospital bills.
For thirty or so minutes, we cradled the cat and just rocked her, our hands cupping bones and a bloated belly. I noticed just how hot the poor animal was, another indication that she was horribly sick.
And then, finally, the phone rang and the receptionist chatted and I knew that this was the Animal Control saying something. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a nurse approached us with a towel and took the cat.
She was walked out of our lives. And the Boy stood with glistening eyes, watching the cat be taken to the back. We know that she will receive good medical care. We know that she has a chance at a life or, at least, a humane, painless ending.
But for a brief hour, she was ours. She was his. She was his moment of compassion as he cradled her in his arms and stared down at her, trying his best to keep her comfortable and safe. For a brief hour, he was walking compassion to a stray, sick animal that slipped out of someone else’s home and came to ours.
I called the hospital last night. Because we surrendered her, she has become the county’s property and, thereby, the county is the owner. We can call Animal Control to learn about the cat’s well-being, but the veterinarian can not tell us anything.
The Boy’s had a good transition to high school, but he still has a shadow hanging over his head, a shadow created by his decisions and actions. But when we were dealing with his actions, I always told him that, in the end, I was (and still am) proud of the man he is, that I still love him. I have grown from that experience. I have learned to hold my anger in check and let people retain their dignity. I have learned to step aside from that anger which likes to bang its head inside of me and make me into a horrible person. Most of all, I have seen the power of separating the action from the person. The Boy caused pain and I could have chosen to hold that pain over his head.
But I didn’t. And, yesterday, when a sweet tabby cat was in pain, my son did the right thing. He reached out to help without fear, without concern of rejection. And then he came to me and let me help him show compassion.