Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Decline of Catboy
My male cat is now almost fifteen years old. Despite his geriatric state, he is sleek, active and animated most of the time. His glossy, black and white fur feels like satin, and his green eyes still shine. He is busy much of the time, watching the birds through the window pane, nibbling on my houseplants or dodging Rigby the dog, as she makes clumsy attempts to play with him.
He has always had a ravenous appetite, but last year he became insatiable, crying and begging for food immediately after eating his meals. He started following me around from room to room, wailing and reaching out to me with his giant, polydactyl paws, stroking the side of my face to direct my attention. Clearly, something had changed.
A trip to the vet revealed something that neither I, nor the doctor expected; Catboy has diabetes. The vet spent some time showing me how to inject him with insulin, which I must do twice a day, right after he eats his breakfast and dinner.
We bought him a special food for diabetic felines, which he ate with gusto at first. It was a case of large cans, but before the last ten cans were consumed, he'd rejected it completely. Back to the tiny, expensive cans that he had come to favor early in his life with us. A discerning gourmet of a feline he is, his birth in a dumpster aside.
His appearance has changed drastically in the past few months. The flesh has disappeared from his huge, multi-toed paws, leaving them thin and skeletal looking. His face is gaunt and thinner than that of a siamese. His spine protrudes from his back, the bones now prominent as he continues to lose weight.
Catboy’s life is approaching it’s natural end now- I know this. I have reached the mature age when romantic, overly sentimental notions of life and death have long since fallen by the wayside. I look upon the death of the body in old age as necessary and not something to be dreaded or staved off. All things must pass…It is the natural turn of events, but as it draws closer for him, I have been thinking lately about Catboy’s life.
If I had not intervened and left him to live his life as a feral cat, his life would have been much shorter. I have seen statistics that claim that a cat living outside has an average life expectancy of about three years. Feline Immune Deficiency Syndrome-the cat version of HIV/AIDS apparently rages through the feral population, and those cats whose owners let them roam out of doors are frequently exposed to it. Coyotes and fishers roam the backyards and vacant lots of suburbia, hunting small pets for food. Throw in speeding cars, ticks and fleas and the diseases they cause, and the outer world seems like a deathtrap for domestic cats. That’s why I have kept Catboy and Ceecee inside for their entire lives with me: for their own well-being.
But, what about the quality of that life? Would they have been happier outside? Chasing chickadees and bumble bees, rather than watching them from a window ledge, through a screen? Seeking out a sunny spot to sleep on the grass, rather than on my living room carpet? Climbing trees instead of bureaus? Would a shorter life outside have meant a more satisfying life for the cats, even with the risk of an early and perhaps violent end? Do I have the right to make this decision for them? These are the questions that nip at the edges of my mind now as I watch his decline. I think about these things, as I run my hand down his back and feel the vertebrae, now prominent, as the muscles and fat melt away from his bony frame.
I wanted him to be safe and sound, and that was the life I created for him, but he had no say in any of it. I wonder whether he resents me for keeping him a prisoner inside, even though my intentions were good. I believe I made the right decision. He has enjoyed a long life. I wonder whether he would say he has had a good life.
I sure hope so.