Strictly, I took Gilbert to the Vet to put him out of his misery, even though today was a good day for him. I’m tearing up as I write, sitting in Borders using their new free wi-fi. Most days in the last three or four months have been hard for him. But today he took the time to lick his coat, sit in the sunshine, play with the other cats. Over the last few months they had begun to ignore him for the most part since he was so nearly lifeless sitting in his chair or lying still on the floor, but today they noticed him a little more.
Lois treated him with special kindness this morning. I came home from seeing my friends at Panera at 9:15 a.m. to find him walking around the house, happy. She let him out of his room when she left for work knowing it was his last day in the light. I don’t want to rehearse the whole story of his kidney failure here, but suffice it to say that he was incontinent and lost his training for using the cat box persistently. I remember reading of a book once that described the moral characters of our pets. The author said that they reflect the moral character of their owners. He would act guilty when he peed on the carpet, but he also couldn’t square away what he should have been doing. He was miserable that he couldn’t fix this problem.
I am a little angry that I became angry with him, but I used a little negative reinforcement to retrain him. His kidney failure assured that his bloodstream was swimming with his own poison, and he just couldn’t remember what to do. We put him in the laundry room at night and during the day when we left the house. He usually remembered while we were home to confine his potty to the box. But he began to forget even when we were home. We couldn’t keep him locked up in that room forever. He would cry pitifully. So we let him out and he would usually find his way to the middle of the floor or to his chair where he would stay most of the time.
On his happy days he would rub up against us or even get on our laps, visit us when we took a shower or do any of his usual happy things like pawing my book bag or any new backpack or luggage.
Today, he walked over to the laundry room stood inside the door and meowed to let me know he knew I wanted him to use the potty there, to let me know what a good cat he was. I petted him then cried a bit, making sure he had enough food and water, his last nibble. He didn’t eat anything then but followed me out into the living room. I cuddled him a bit and when I put him down he went to the window and sat in the sunshine. Eden arrived at about twenty minutes till ten. She cuddled him and held him, and after taking care of some business, she followed me out of the house with him.
In the car, he cried as he normally does, but we let him walk around. He gravitated to my lap, but Eden helped me drive safely. We arrived at the Gentle Care Animal place in Nixa. We had been crying all the way, and telling stories about Gilbert. When we walked in the door, somebody at the front counter chuckled because Gilbert had his front paws around Eden’s neck, and was holding her tight. He was comforting himself. They saw then that Eden was crying and acted more respectfully. I gave them my name and paid the fee. In a moment we were ushered into a quiet clean room and were shortly visited by an attendant who told us what was going to happen. The doctor would anesthetize him. Gilbert would fall asleep in about five minutes. Then they would administer the barbiturate OD that would shut him down.
We touched him and held him while the Vet gave him the anesthesia near his spine just forward of the hip. Though he was usually scared at the Vet’s, he trusted us and was a good patient. The Vet and her assistant left for the five minutes and Eden and I took turns holding him while he slowly relaxed. His eyes dilated. He fell asleep. The Vet came in and administered the barbiturate in the femoral artery, he bled a little, but within seconds, he was gone. We wrapped him in the hot-air balloon beach towel I bought in the early 1980s, and took him to the car. Needless to say we were weeping.
His final dignity was that he didn’t release his bodily fluids until I handed him to Eden after she got out of the car. We wiped him off a bit then took him downstairs and placed him in the middle of the carpet. Jake, our youngest cat came by and licked Gilbert. Licked his head and his coat behind the head and the rear leg. He even tried to rouse Gilbert to play and wrestle. Jake gave up and went to sit in the sunshine. Jody came by and sniffed Gilbert and then walked over to me on the couch.
Lois came home and we sat, sighed, and cried. Jake tried to rouse Gilbert again, and gave up again. We talked to each other for a while, then as Gilbert became increasingly cold, I went to get the shovel. I began to dig a hole on the east of our young tree in the back yard. Eden finished. I wrapped Gilbert snugly in the towel and placed him in the hole. I took pictures. Eden read something she wrote, and Lois and I prayed. We started to fill the hole with dirt, then I got one of the stuffed mice all the cats played with and put it in the hole with him, you know, for the afterlife. We filled the hole in and went inside.
We sat and talked about him and thought that someone should bring a casserole. We all ate together. Eden and I ate grilled cheese and tomato soup. A little while later our friend Melanie brought over flowers and a lasagna. It was good to see her. Thanks Melanie. Melanie left and shortly after that, Eden left for school, I for Borders. Lois was still at home. I have been weeping in this public place until a short while ago. Maybe my mourning is over for the moment.
I am a patternist.
This is a view of what the soul is. It is not a substance, but rather, roughly data written on structured media. Humans are the structured media, while our experiences of people and the world we all live in is the data. I mention this because the pattern of my cat has been written for the last ten years or so on my body. I will remember him. What I am, what my soul has become is partly due to his little animal character. His little intelligence impressing itself on my greater intelligence and mine on his. We form together. We experience the world through each other’s eyes, through each other’s experience.
What I learned.
I have learned that rescuing a poor and terrorized animal from its former owners was a noble deed that came with a price. It cost me something of my natural self to learn patience with an animal whose only look at the universe was through the violence of his former environment. I have become less violent with the universe. I have learned some small measure of peace. I have learned to treat others with less violence than I had before. I have not, unfortunately, learned this lesson fully. I am hoping Gilbert’s pattern continues the work of pacifying me. I thank God for this gift of grace. Even though I am imperfect, I know Gilbert trusted me, and in his way made me part of his life. I hope I can learn to trust God at least as much as my cat trusted me. I hope I can save others at least as much as my cat saved me.