My cat was limping severely on a Saturday, with her front leg swollen. I brought her to the vet. When our turn came, the vet squeezed my kitty's leg, spurting blood and pus onto my white sweater, and diagnosed an abscess.
"Do you let your cat out?" A loaded question that has tripped me up before. Once, on a cat-seeking mission, I had to leave the Humane Society catless because I admitted my cats use the doors, just like the rest of us. These days, in some quarters, it's bad form to let a cat outside — the world is a deadly place, and not only should your children be restrained to the indoors, where they can be observed at all times, so should your domestic
Personally, I'd rather forfeit twenty years than be denied access to the outdoors. I live in the country and it's beautiful. My cats climb trees, tag along with us on our trails, dig in the dirt, loll under the raspberries when I'm weeding the garden, and soak up the sun on the lawn furniture. Their enjoyment of life is palpable. Cruelty would be to sentence them to a few decades of my home's not-that-interesting interior landscape while I'm outside having all sorts of fun. Besides, I refuse to buy those ugly carpet covered faux tree stumps when there's perfectly good Douglas fir right outside the door.
But I skipped the back story and went into a lame defensive spiel about how we're an outdoors family, propping doors open as long as the weather's warm. Silence. No "Oh sure, I know how it is, cats love to lie in the sun, don't they?" Just silence.
Then he said, "Well, she's been bitten by another cat, and it probably happened several days ago." Another silent accusation: Don't you notice when your cat is injured?
No. we have four children coming and going, meals to cook, jobs, a large garden and lots of just, plain living to do. The cat has a job: keep the field mice out of the house. We love her, but she has to pull her weight. And I haven't actually even seen her lately, until this morning.
I didn't say that.
So he told me the cat would require surgery and general anesthesia.
I inquired, "Can you give me an estimate?" That brought his head up sharply from the chart he was notating.
"You want an estimate?"
Yes. This is a cat.
That's not what I said. I swallowed the desire to explain myself and just nodded.
He disappeared with a semi-anguished look thrown back at me and soon emerged with an estimate for $370, which might go higher if she had to be kept until Monday, due to any complications or a slow recovery from the anesthesia.
"Three hundred-seventy dollars?" I said, "Wow, I don't know about that." And then I got apologetic: "It's not that I don't think your services are worth it, but $370, or more? I might not want to do this. I mean, the cat kills mice."
The way I see it, I'm humane: using a cat rather than toxic chemicals to kill rodents — at least that's what those little buggers have been used to for billions of years, not dying by asphyxiation or whatever gruesome death is meted out by rat poison. My cat is great at her job. But I'm not paying a $370 medical bill so she can keep doing it when there are about 18 kajillion cats who could do the same. And millions of kids who will never have $370 spent on their medical care in their entire life. Hell, I think twice before spending $370 on me.
He asked me to accompany him back to the inner sanctum, the surgery room, where a revolting-looking, 30-pound cat was resting in a cage, its face swollen and stitched like George Foreman after Ali had had his way with him. This cat was also in a cat fight, the doctor said, and his owners have paid $600 for his surgery, emphasis on the six, just like an overwrought local news anchor.
Well. Does one asinine decision require another?
Again, I withheld the sarcasm. I stared in awe at the $600 cat and thought of people in Africa I'd read about who, for lack of a $6 mosquito net, die from malaria.
"Well, I don't think I want surgery," I said. "How much is it to euthanize the cat?"
"You want to put a cat down for an abscess?" was the incredulous reply.
No, I want to put her down to avoid paying you $370.
"No one has ever done that before," he said accusingly. Yes, that's me, Hitler reborn. Kill the infirm, the odd, the different.
"Is there any option?" I asked, ignoring his now-obvious extreme distaste for me. I really love that cat but I was way beyond sharing that with him.
There was. For $65, he sent me home with a cat whose paw he shaved, and a week's worth of oral and topical antibiotics. The cat and I bonded mightily as I doctored her. She's fine now and I have a new vet, one out in the boonies who knows a farm animal when she sees one.
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Laura O. Foster is a writer and expert on the history of Portland, Oregon, and the small towns around it. She is the author of The Portland Stairs Book, Portland Hill Walks, Portland City Walks, Lake Oswego (Images of America), and the writer/editor of Walk There! 50 Treks In and Around Portland and Vancouver. When not writing about Portland, Foster is busy creating new urban adventures or leading walks for local governments, civic groups, and nonprofits. She blogs at portlandwalking.blogspot.com.
Books mentioned in this post
Laura Foster is the author of The Portland Stairs Book