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Madam: You Are Not Fit to Own a Cat

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.

÷ ÷ ÷

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

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Portland Stairs Book
    Used Trade Paper $8.95
  2. Portland Hill Walks: Twenty...
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  3. Portland City Walks: Twenty...
    Used Trade Paper $11.95
  4. Lake Oswego (Images of America) Used Trade Paper $11.50

Laura Foster is the author of The Portland Stairs Book

15 Responses to "Madam: You Are Not Fit to Own a Cat"

    charlotte October 4th, 2006 at 9:56 am

    "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."

    So I guess this means that you sent the $370 you didn't spend on your cat to an African charity, right?

    Bolton October 4th, 2006 at 10:27 am

    As someone who recently plunked down a little over two grand for his cat to have bladder surgery, I empathize with your plight.

    I just couldn't say no. Mine's an inside cat, but he doesn't seem to mind — he more or less pretends the inside is the outside, and treats it accordingly. And I don't think I could stand the apartment without him.

    I'm glad your cat's repair only cost $65.

    Laura (Post Author) October 4th, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Charlotte, actually yes, I do contribute every month to Mercy Corps, which works to improve conditions for children and their families, whether they're suffering the effects of tsunamis, earthquakes or war. That's one reason I can't justify spending so much on an animal. my money goes to where I think there's a greater need

    Colleen October 4th, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I don't know Laura - I think you come off sounding pretty unsympathetic in this column. I understand that pets are expensive but basically you are saying that you will have the cat only if it doesn't cost you money and you will not take any responsibility for keeping track of it, looking after it or even noticing if it is dead or alive.

    If you hadn't seen it in days I couldn't help but wonder how you knew it was being fed.

    I mean - do you even get it vaccinated or give it flea medicine? Probably you do all of these things, but for a reader it sounds almost like you just want the cat to work for you and the minute it gets a little slow or hurt then it needs to die so you can get another one to do the job. And you seem to be justifying that attitude by pointing to suffering children on the other side of the world.

    I'm sure you're not heartless but that's what this column makes you seem.

    Theresa October 4th, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Wow, just wow. The doctor's behavior was inexcusable, but it's kind of sad that it took this for you to finally bond with your cat. Sure, they're just animals, but ultimately, loyal companions and those things are rare in life. So, kudos to you and shame on the doctor's emotional blackmail scheme.

    Julia October 4th, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    I'm with you on this one, Laura. Our country has a pretty twisted fixation on pets and pet products. My childless sister's dog is more pampered and coddled than my eight children. Some days ol' Reenie eats better than they do, too! I don't think you sound heartless -- pets are pets, people are people. There is a difference. Thanks for reminding some folk.

    Kurt October 4th, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Ah, Ms. Foster, you are a brave woman. In past times kids grew up playing with calves and pups and kittens knowing that these were livestock, not family members. Of course, mom used soap and water, maybe some Iodine on things that happened to us as kids that for "city folks" today would mean $1000 trip to the minor emergency clinic. Glad you found a country vet.

    KyleRanger October 4th, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    Granted, I've gone to extreme lengths to keep a pet alive, but that's me. Colleen, you're welcome to your opinion -- you seem reasonable enough -- but it doesn't sound like you give cats a whole lot of credit. They're smart animals. If a cat is starving, it goes home to its full bowl of food. My cat eats in three different houses on my street. He's got it figured out better than most people I know.

    What I really take out of Laura's post is the vet's asinine treatment of a customer. If there was a $65 alternative, he should have made that clear immediately. Instead, he tried to guilt a woman into spending six times that much money for unnecessary surgery. Which is complete bullshit.

    Patty October 4th, 2006 at 3:59 pm


    You don't treat your own children as well as your sister treats her dog? It's obvious which one of you has her priorities straight.

    Laura (Post Author) October 4th, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Colleen, I neuter/spay my cats, give them flea meds every month and worm them. But have you ever tried to keep track of a barn cat on a large rural property? It's a hunter; it's not trying to be found when it's hunting. My cats have 24/7 access to food , but they prefer mice, and their bowls rarely need refilling. If I don't see one for a few days, there's not much I can do but hope she's having a good time. Interesting, the inferences you have made. If, as you say, I won't "take any responsibility for it" why do you suppose I took the kitty to the vet the morning she turned up hurting? But I have limits, both financial and philosophical, to how much money I will devote to a pet when it means less for other priorities. In that, I think I'm no different than anyone. All of us make choices that can seem heartless to others who view the world from a different perspective. But thanks for the input, becuase it keeps me on my toes.

    Colleen October 4th, 2006 at 6:13 pm


    You know this is kind of odd. As you say, you love your cat, you do spay/neuter, give flea meds and all that but your first thought was euthanizing when the estimate was presented as too high. (Maybe that wasn't your first thought, but the piece made it sound like that...again, it's the piece I've commenting on - not you directly.)

    And you're right - I was confused about how you take care of the cat. You take it to the vet (so clearly you want it helped) but then balked at the cost - so you only want it helped to a certain financial point.

    I have to tell you the thing that really bothered me though and prompted me to comment (and might have bothered the vet as well - who knows his motivations) was when you asked for the cost of euthanizing an animal that was clearly saveable - that was injured but not suffering hugely (like from cancer), etc. I guess what most people would assume is that when you adopt a pet you are taking on the potential costs that pet might incur and for a vet it might have seemed odd that you cared enough to bring her in but could so calmly suggest euthanization as a financial alternative.

    Again though - this is just how the piece seems from reading it. But hey, it made me think and anything that can prompt that is always great. (And I do think it is odd that surgery was the first suggestion from the vet - that has not been my experience when my dog has faced infections from cuts.)

    Ann October 5th, 2006 at 8:04 am

    I found it refreshing to read your article and discover someone who treats her pets like animals, not like her children. The voice of reason is so rarely heard these days when it comes to pets. I appreciated and agree with your point of view, and I'm very glad you found a different vet.

    Wendy October 5th, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Wow! For all the folks who commented that purport to love their animals more than Laura, I was surprised that no one noticed that a vet suggested surgery with anesthisia when a non-surgical approach could be tried. Don't y'all know how risky putting an animal under can be? Then the guy tried guilt tripping her. Smooth.....As I always ask my vet, "Just how many children do you need to send to college?"

    This so called vet clearly did not have the best interest of the animal in mind. Part of being a good vet is helping your "patient" find a solution that is workable for both patient and owner. After all, can't we assume that a person who takes the time and trouble to get their animal to a vet must really care? Laura would have had a vet bill regardless of the choice she made. When the vet proposed a solution that didn't work for her, Laura persisted until she found one that would. She clearly cared more for her animal than the self-righteous doctor. Or did I miss the part where he offered to do the work for free and find the cat a home more suitable to his standards?

    Love and relationships are subjective and usually an evolving process - with humans and animals. I have many friends who love their animals dearly, and each has a different approach in the way they do that. That doesn't mean one loves more or less - just differently. And as far as bonding with an animal after you;ve had it a while - anyone who has had an animal a long time knows that the relationship often changes over time.

    We are down to one cat now - having had many animals over the years. And yes, we're the nutty folks on the block who took in all the strays and spent thousands to care for them. Our relationship with our cat is very different now than it was in the past. It has changed as she and we and our household have changed. She talks loudly, sleeps at our feet, stays close and rarely hunts. As a younger feline, she rarely had time for us, wasn't affectionate and would rather be alone or with other animals. But we have always loved her and I think - if she could - she'd tell you the same.

    BobKat October 5th, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    In my experience, some vets (the bad ones!) often use guilt to manipulate animal owners. I had a cat whose kidneys failed last year, and was presented with the "good person" really expensive surgery option and the "bad person" palliative therapy option. I love my animals very much, and I strongly believe that when you adopt one, you agree to whatever expenses that might ensue. However, in this case, I wasn't about to ruin myself financially, and so cared for her for a month as she was dying, until she got to the point when she was in obvious pain, when I euthanized her.

    My other cats pretty routinely get in fights and get abcesses. That is what cats do. I think that paying a vet $65 to shave some fur and squeeze some pus is pretty ridiculous, and usually do it myself if the injury isn't too bad. I am actually surprised that you don't take on some of the doctoring yourself, having "farm" animals as you do. I have found that both in the caring for my dying cat and the routine grooming and minor medical treatment of my others to be wonderful bonding.

    Sue October 5th, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    I knew I was crazy to get 2 kittens at the age of 50. With my history I'll need to include them in my retirement plans. but I love cats & always had them, and they lived well beyond seniority. That said, I always had outdoor cats, but now there's some stigma around that. My cat-loving friends demand I'd be a terrible mother if I allowed them to encounter the dangers of suburban life on a cul-de-sac. Even my dog-loving friends request that I keep them indoors, so their cat-eating dogs won't devour them. It seemed fine until these growing adolescents began to climb the screens, dash between feet, and otherwise do what any teen would do - leave! They are spayed & neutered, and just want to go after the birds & eat grass, I think. My husband wants them to hunt the scorpions inside & outside, and they're adept at that, seems reasonable. My mother, of farm days, is ready to "accidentally" allow them outside. We tried compromising with leashes & harnesses, but that just gave them more incentive to dash out. Large unreasonable vet bills aside, I'm ready to release them to their natures.

    But accepting the reality that cars can hit them, and they may roam into dog-worlds has stopped my hand...oh, what to do?!

    And cat boxes still stink, even the automatic scraping kind!!!!

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