Of cats and compassion
The Finns have a saying that describes an event or ceremony of no importance and translated directly it’s ‘a cat’s christening’. I’m not sure if it’s a double edged critique of futile religious ceremonies as well as the purported low value of a cat’s life but it comes to mind because today I had to deal with the euthanasia of a dear old cat.
It’s not the first time round the block for this one — this is the fourth such occasion I have had to do so, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the death of a beloved pet is nothing to be dismissed — it has the same pain of separation, the same waves of grief and seemingly inconsolable longing as the loss of any other beloved individual in your life. It doesn’t hurt as bad right now but I’m sure it will come. Life can be measured in the lives of pets.
The war in Ukraine has shown in all its rawness, the bonds so many people have to their pets with many willing to risk their own lives to save them. I was particularly touched by the story of a 61 year old Ukrainian man who took his 9 year old mongrel on an epic 225 kilometer foot slog across a war zone to safety. Leaving his dog to its fate was never an option and I am sure that the success of their mission was only made possible by the bonds of companionship and love that took them through the worst dangers together.
I don’t wish to make light of the huge weight of human suffering the world is shouldering at the moment, with the school shootings in America and the war in Europe but it wrenches my heart to know that there is so much needless suffering wrought upon animals too, which have no voice and no one to defend them but the owners who love and nurture them until the last.
I can still remember reading the notice on the wall of a rescue center sixteen years ago of a litter of mixed breed kittens for sale. How on a summer’s day like today, we picked him up from his mother and brought him home where he was given the name Onni. My wife called him a mint licorice cat because of his black and white tuxedo markings and dainty white paws, I called him the local slayer because as a cat with free passage in and out of the house, his early rampages accounted for the final moments of many a rodent, squirrel or bird. Luckily, he calmed down over the years and was known and loved by family and friends alike for his gentle affectionate ways.
I always thought that his robust health and outdoor life would grant him a long and strong life and I suppose for the most part this was the case. For the sixteen years he was on the earth, he was a reliable guest in the morning kitchen demanding his cheese or cold cut tax and was mad for prawns and tuna all through.
The last three days of his life, he was overcome by a respiratory infection, lost his appetite completely, and became old and stiff as his coat lost its natural luster. In my heart, I knew the end was coming and I wondered if he would simply not return from his last forays into nature. But return he did, giving me the opportunity to accompany him on his final journey to the vet. Tests revealed a widespread cancer. Euthanasia was the kindest option and so it was to be.
I had the fortune to put his lovely big tom cat body over my shoulder as the vet administered first the sedative followed by the fatal dose, stroking him gently as his life receded. Having laid him out on the examination table and the vet confirming that he had gone, I closed the lids over his beautiful amber eyes and kissed his forehead for the last time.
Cats are wonderful creatures — far more companionable in their way than dogs. They never lose that streak of wildness which makes their acceptance and love of you as another species even more special.
Schopenhauer said “Since compassion for animals is so intimately associated with goodness of character, it may be confidently asserted that whoever is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” I make no claim to being a good man but I do claim that animals make us better human beings. They are great teachers in their selfless love, and their endless ability to forgive us our sins and cruelty as a species against them.
Our pets also teach us that death is not to be feared and that the end of life has as much dignity and worth as its feted counterpart, birth. Our pets also teach us of the brevity of life and the importance of being in the moment. I will miss the way he pressed his head into my chest when he sat in my lap and the way he affectionately nipped my finger if I petted him too hard — all precious intimate moments.
Farewell beautiful boy — thank you for all the years we had together. If there is such a thing as a multiverse, I hope you are still living your best life there, climbing trees and basking in the sun. Cats don’t need a christening but they do deserve our eternal respect and compassion for all the love and quiet moments of joy they bring. Thank you Onni — you were loved.