Last Tuesday I witnessed the death of one of my cats at a veterinary hospital in Sileby. After a series of tests, results were inconclusive, but all the vets agreed that the cat was ‘not himself’, was suffering and should therefore be executed. This I found to be a surprisingly sorrowful experience, however, cat-mourning is far from a new phenomenon for me.
My family home has housed many cats over the years. At least ten since the millennium. Some of their tenures were much longer and their deaths/disappearances more tragic than others. I have never really had a connection with the cats themselves. I generally see them as passive, furry household ornaments. They aren’t intelligent, all they want from you is to give them food then they just do their own thing, whilst all the while looking like cats. I will give an account here of my family’s history of this pet, which I hope you will find at least mildly amusing.
When I was very young, and living at a previous house by the Soar with a massive garden, we lost our first feline. Ziggy, a kitten I seem to remember with white brown and black fur, disappeared one day and never returned. Speculation was that he/she may have been devoured by a fox.
I think there were more or less ten years of happy living for my cats following this omen. In this time we downsized to a three-storey on the new David Wilson estate. A shaggy black cat called Rowley, and nicknamed by my school friends as Dead-Cat (because he looked dead) was the next to go. He managed to survive until he was eighteen years old, two years my senior at the time. My father had a very intimate relationship with this cat, but as it approached senility and inevitable death, he lost interest, indifferently declaring ‘he is not the cat he once was.’ Rowley’s highlight for me was when at my sixteenth birthday party a friend of mine saw it lying on the sofa, went “awww a cat,” then went to stroke it and then famously recoiled in horror as his hand came into contact with its thick, dirty, matted fur.
Soon was a beautiful little cat called Maisie introduced to the family. She was black with a lovely little white patch on her chest. I was walked into the village one day, and I saw a congregation in the middle of the estate, they looked at me, then focused on something else on the grass by the roadside. I ignored them and walked on, and when I got home I soon discovered that she had been hit by a car. I remember her body on the sofa. I touched it, and it was here that I first understood what rigor mortis was, gaining hands on experience.
Next to disappear I believe was Daisy. She had an extremely thick black coat, with lots of brown hairs in and amongst it. Her disappearance is perhaps the most comic. The last time my family saw her was when she was on top of a neighbour’s car as it drove off. I can only hope it stopped at the destination she wanted to go to.
Another cat we once had was Dylan, who after pregnancy truly let herself go and became very overweight. She disappeared all of a sudden, and it was later discovered that she had moved to pastures new. A woman living at a house a few streets down had welcomed her in and satisfied her voracious appetite for food. She had no interest in coming back to visit her old home, or her son Barnaby, who is still with us today.
We had a cat named Cally for a very long time. She had a truly beautiful white and grey coat, and in her early days was named ‘the uncatchable cat’ for her lightning speed capabilities. I found her to be a particularly aloof and anti-social cat most of her life, but have an extremely fond memory of her. I got in after going to DBE whilst it was a good event in 2012, and couldn’t sleep, feeling pretty worn and torn. Cally came in to me and paid me a lot of affection, hugging me etc. It was very nice to have a reciprocated bond with such a soft and cuddly beast. She died about the age most cats should naturally expire.
Then we decided to pick a cat not based on aesthetic qualities, but perhaps a cat from a deprived background who nobody else would bother adopting, so as to give an undesirable, troubled cat a better life. The cat was originally found near the B+Q in Loughborough, which we were told is a particularly rough stomping ground for delinquent cats. Opinion on this cat was divided. It used to tear lumps out of an old and decrepit Cally. The screams were painful to hear. But I do remember once sitting in the lounge watching the television when a towering spider with terrifying goggly eyes thought it could casually dash across the lounge. Sydney cut it up with his claws and then devoured it piece by piece. He tragically died of AIDS, or some kind of cat equivalent that he’d has his whole life. Street life aint easy.
Then there was the cat in question- Dexy, an adorable cat, pictured looking into the camera above on the featured image, whilst spooning with a morbidly obese relatively recent acquisition called Marcy. She was seven years old when last week she stopped moving. We took her in to the hospital and in a couple of days it was declared that the best option would be to terminate her existence.
My mother, the archetypal ‘crazy cat lady’, had visited the cat every day since she was in the hospital, and said that she didn’t wish to go and see her final minutes. Myself and her husband John then resolved to go together. The evening was growing dark, and as we drove I was stuck by the gravity of the fact that these minutes now were to be her last ever experience of life on this Earth. We got in and he was in a cage, with a drip attached to his leg. He seemed quite fidgety when he saw us, but not altogether that bad. The vet asked us if we wanted her to leave us so we could ‘say goodbyes’.
We did and alternated at stroking her belly and neck.
“You’ve not had any of your water Dexy,” said John.
“I don’t think he’ll be needing that John,” I replied.
Strangely he started to eat his food at this point, which the nurse said was the first time since his stay began. There was a worry in the back of my mind that he might actually have been fine, but I soon extinguished this fear with the knowledge that the person with the degree in veterinary whatever will most likely know best.
Watching the cat eating had a powerful effect- here was a creature that had absolutely no idea that it was about to die, just going by the script, trying to protect its life, doing what life does best according to natural selection- soldiering on until the jaws of death come crushing down and leave it with no other option but to throw the cards away and let nature take its course.
The ten minutes or so was soon up, and the nurse came through. She asked if we would like to hold it during the process, we immediately dismissed this as excessive. I hoped that the cat might look at us both one last time, and as the lady came closer he looked at both me and John in turn, then sadly looked at the ground, defeated. It was like he knew it was the end. But I’m anthopomorphising…
Then it was absolutely, irrevocably, conclusively time to go. The vet got her syringe, plugged it into the tube, and pressed the plunger. The cat made no sound, and in an instant was reclining forward, paws stretched out, eyes stopping at half-closed. Then before we knew it, the vet said he’s gone.
By this point I was crying and I think John was too. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the death of a mammal. I never thought I would cry, its only a cat man, but it seemed so tragic. I barely knew the cat, it just happened to dine and sleep in the same house as me, but it was a real tragedy to watch it die. When I got home and was left on my own, I got very upset about it. I searched through the photos on my phone and set one as my wallpaper. This was perhaps most uncharacteristic of me, but the whole thing took on a deeper meaning and purpose.
I had just had the experience of a microcosm of death. A miniature, taster experience of death. The unavoidable truth that came bearing down was this- If I felt so sad about the death of this cat I barely ever associated myself with, and with whom I had very few experiences, how would I feel when I am confronted with the imminent deaths of my family members and later, friends? Everything will be amplified tenfold, the crying, the memories, the regrets. The intensity will be unprecedented and inescapable.
We have to benefit from these experiences, by contemplation and unfaltering engagement with the reality of it. What should naturally follow is that we prepare for it every day, by showing love and appreciation as much as possible, and undergoing new, unique and valuable experiences together with all those whom we love. With the inevitable distractions of our personal lives, this will oftentimes be highly elusive and impossible to achieve, but if we are aware of it, and we think about it, we can at least do as best as we can.
Death can not be overturned, it is coming and it’s final. To come face to face with death and endure the sadness that inevitably follows, is to realise the value of life is itself. Something we as humans struggle to appreciate, whilst tacitly believing that the time we are spending now is a rehearsal for some future main event, when all of our pressing desires are met and as a logical result of this will subsequently be in a state of complete and utter content.
You and I both know its all a load of bollocks. If we dare to peer beneath the surface.
Time is running out. Appreciate your family, friends and even your cats now, because one day they will disappear for all eternity and you alone will be left to ruminate on just how thoughtful, and charitable and brave you might have been.
There is no room for cowardice. Cowards will be due to pay a hefty price in later life. We must ask ourselves, is this a price we can afford to pay? And act accordingly.