Why I wanted to kill a cat

9 Jan

I love animals. I especially love other people’s animals. I’m a one cat/one dog kind of person. Or maybe two cats and one dog. But that soon leads to two cats and two dogs and then boundaries get blurred.

House/animal sitting is something I used to do occasionally, and it was the perfect way to experience multiple-animal ownership without the permanent responsibility. It’s like babysitting, but easier.

On this 10-day sitting adventure, I cared for two dogs and two cats. Dog #1 (let’s call her Squirrel!) was a hyper, 2-year-old golden lab  mix who jumped up to your neck every time you approached her. Dog #2 (let’s call her Ruby) was an elderly, arthritic black lab mix who only jumped up to your waist.

Cat #1 (Let’s call him Morpheus) was an orange tabby who I was afraid of. He didn’t like strangers, yet wanted to be in the room with me when he was inside. Just so he could stare at me. Or meow in a mournful Siamese yelp.

Morpheus was never relaxed, and neither was I. He would sit at my feet staring at me, but I was terrified to pet him. Does he want me to or is this a trap? Cats can smell fear. If I stood up, Morpheus wanted to go outside, and I happily obliged, allowing him to stay out all night. I feared there could be a Stephen King Cat’s Eye situation if I forced Morpheus to stay inside against his will.

This brings me to Cat #2. Let’s call her Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Or Walking Dead.  DQMW/WD was a bazillion years old and just trying to die. But her owners were not ready to let go, so I had to assist the neighbor in giving her kitty dialysis. Cut to me in a shower stall holding down DQMW/WD while the neighbor (who was also my friend) injects an IV bag of saline into her kitty veins.

If that treatment had rejuvenated DQMW/WD and caused her to chase a feather around the house, I’d be in full support of these life-continuation efforts. However, it did little more than enable locomotion. So I spent the rest of my days in that house praying this fur skeleton did not die on my watch.

The dogs were sweet and affectionate, but stressful. They were jumpers. They stayed outside in their doggie garden during the day, and when I got home they pummeled the gate in excitement. Squirrel! jumped straight up, leading with his nose. Ruby’s arthritic knees wouldn’t let her leap that high so she compensated by barking louder than Squirrel!, which I didn’t think was possible until I heard it. Once I entered the doggie garden, they were relentless, throwing themselves at me like defensive players scrambling for a fumbled football. I was the loose ball.

Squirrel!: You’re here! You’re here! Did you miss me? I missed you. Do you love me? I love you. Please don’t leave again. Food! Do you have food? I need to lick you. I NEED TO LICK YOU! It rained here! I have muddy paws! Smell my mildew!

Ruby: It’s been 8 hours. Here. With this. Go ahead, I’ll look the other way when you crush up that powder into my food. I’ll pretend not to taste its bitterness. Just love me now!

Then I go inside for the elaborate feeding ritual. Squirrel! had to be fed outside separately from Ruby, but I can’t completely remember why. It was a combination of Ruby eating Squirrel!’s food and the potential for Squirrel! to eat Ruby’s arthritic medicine food as a result. Older dog takes what she wants.

While the dogs are eating voraciously in separate chambers, I check on the cats. Morpheus is happy to use me for food, only after giving me a howl to terrify me as I set down his food dish. But I can’t find DQMW/WD. *Heart starts pounding.* I pace the house searching for the potential cat corpse, flashing back to when I found my childhood cat dead in our backyard when I was 10. Please don’t let this cat die on my watch!

I finally leave her food out and take a break from the search. Later that evening I’m seated in the living room with the dogs, who were finally exhausted enough from our nightly walk to sit still on the floor and chew on tupperware. Morpheus was safely outside and I was starting to relax a bit.

That’s when I hear it. The sound of un-retracted claws hammering the hardwood floor down the stairs. My whole body tensed up like a blood clot. DQMW/WD looked like a crippled ghost being hurled down the staircase in slow motion. She let out a death cry that made me ache inside. It was as if she were screaming “Kill me! Please just kill me!” I pitied her as she lurched forward to get to her food and water bowls. But she was technically alive. Not on my watch indeed.

We survived another few days like this, and I even trained the dogs to sit and wait for me to come inside the gate before they got some affection. All that stress of the jumping coupled with the dead cat anxiety was too much: the dogs’ behavior seemed fixable since they were so eager to please. So that evening, I was much more at ease, having stopped the dogs from trying to knock me down upon arrival.

Before bed, I went down to the basement to get more dog food (which was housed in a giant metal trashcan with a shovel scoop). I look to my right and I see DQMW/WD asleep in her litterbox. Curled up next to her own clumped urine and feces. Now I’m no veterinarian, but even I know death is imminent in this situation. *Dead cat anxiety increases tenfold.* Very likely on my watch! I start brainstorming explanations for the owners when I have to call them to say DQMW/WD is sleeping-in-the-litterbox dead. Not walking, just dead.

To my great surprise, that cat lived to see another day, which was fortunately my last day inside that house. She did not die under my care, although I kind of wanted to mercy-kill her.

I love my own cat like a family member. I understand DQMW/WD’s owners loved their cat so much they would do anything to keep it alive. It’s emotional. It’s hard to let go of something you love so much. But in the end that cat was not happy, just suffering, begging her humans to let her go. They just weren’t ready to read the signs.

I understand the owners’ perspective and the cat’s perspective. I’m so emotional when I think about leaving teaching because it’s something I considered doing for the rest of my life. And something I did truly love. Then the last couple of years when a part of me was open to new things, instead of truly investigating those possibilities, I kept trying to resuscitate my teaching career. Because it’s what I know. It’s almost a safety net. It’s the kind of job I know how to get. So when I moved to Florida, I went back to my roots–I wasn’t ready to jump yet. I was giving myself saline.

This year I feel more like the cat: I just want to move on to the next life. At least for a while. It doesn’t have to be permanent: Cats have 9 lives, remember.

There is a third possibility, though: I’m just a mean lady who wants to kill a cat.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

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