We have too many cats. I knew it the moment we crossed the half-dozen mark. And I remember the moment vividly. Jenn was inside the veterinarian’s office to ensure the latest stray, a calico named Chloe, would not spread disease and pestilence to our existing herd. I told Jenn “This is a bad idea. Think about it, when are we going to stop. We have too many already.” It didn’t matter though. Jenn had an insatiable cat sized hole in her heart.
I did what any man would do. I called my mother. “This is not how I thought my life would turn out” I said. My mom, no stranger to disappointments and surprises, had nothing to offer but confirmation that yes, that’s the way life goes. My complaint would have carried more weight if I actually knew what direction I should be going, but I had no idea.
I never had a cat when I was growing up. Dogs, yes, and lots of them. By the time I moved out my mother was up to eight, mostly Shar Peis. You can’t have that many dogs and not make some adjustments. Like removing the carpet and putting down tile. Installing a doggie door so you don’t have to hire a doorman to keep letting the dogs in and out. And putting an electric fence around the Christmas tree so the presents would be opened by the appropriate family members.
There I was, standing outside the vet’s, talking to my mother and feeling the shock of a world gone wrong through zealous animal rescue. I gave up that evening and decided to play along, to accept my fate. A year later when I rescued a black kitten off the Mobile Bay bridge I wouldn’t think of giving her up. “I risked my life for this cat!”. To some degree I had, pulling over to the right shoulder and waiting for cars and tractor trailers to go by so I could cross over to the side wall where a scared and bloody cat clung to the concrete. I threw my jacket over the cat and held it tightly, crossed back over and threw the cat into my truck. I drove directly to the vet’s office, calling Jenn on the way. “We’re keeping this one. I’m already attached.”
That was over ten years ago. Jenn and I have awoke from our cat collecting binge feeling hung over. Maybe we took in a few too many strays.
This week we thought our herd was going to thin out. Chloe, a notoriously picky and high-strung creature, stopped eating. She seemed fine in all other respects. She groomed herself and remained affectionate. But two days without eating warranted a vet visit. Within moments the vet knew the problem. She had cavities. He pointed out the pink and swollen gums to Jenn and explained one or more teeth would have to come out. This is what we were afraid of.
I was driving home from work when Jenn called to tell me the diagnosis and read the treatment plan to me. As she spoke I attached dollar amounts to her words, hearing “blood work” as “a hundred dollars or more” and “tooth extraction” as “another hundred and fifty”. By the time she finished reading the treatment plan I felt tense. “How much is it going to cost?” I asked, knowing full well how much it was going to cost. “Between $350 and $400” she said. “And that doesn’t include the cost of the visit today.” I was defeated. Angry. Helpless.
I imagined all of our cats, their filthy mouths full of rotting teeth with no desire to brush or floss. I wondered what we would do if they all got cavities. Thousands of dollars we don’t have going to dental work for the pets. I don’t spend that much on my own teeth. “You should ask him how much to euthanize her” I said, not actually thinking we would do it, but that maybe he would have some leniency and reduce some or all the prices on the bill. She wouldn’t do it but I knew this before I said anything. I also knew our vet’s prices were reasonable, and it was I who was being foolish to propose such a stunt.
I simmered for the rest of my drive home. At Jenn for rescuing this cat so many years ago and at myself for not having enough sense to keep the number of pets low. Low enough to stay somewhere overnight without worrying constantly about whether the cats were fighting, eating too much or not enough, or destroying something in the house. I knew we had two options; euthanize or get the teeth extracted. We decided to have the teeth extracted.
The next day Jenn and Penelope dropped Chloe off at the vets. From morning till night Penelope asked when Chloe was coming home. In the back of our minds Jenn and I thought of the waiver vets insist you sign before administering anesthesia-“if your pet dies as a result the vet will not be held liable.” We thought of how weak Chloe was having withered away to six pounds, the pain she must be experiencing due to the cavities, and as we found out later, a urinary tract infection.
We expected to get Chloe back the day of her surgery. Due to an emergency at the clinic her surgery was delayed. That evening we found out Chloe was OK but hadn’t eaten yet. “They placed a warm blanket in her cage. I guess because she’s so thin.” “How many teeth did they have to take out?” I asked. “Three. The vet said two of them disintegrated when he tried to take them out” Jenn said. How could that be? Wouldn’t a tooth that fragile just fall apart with one bite of hard kibble? Did the vet place his surgical pliers on the tooth and clamp with the slightest pressure only to have it crack and chip like an eggshell? The thought haunted me. Chloe’s condition must have been severe for a long time to get to this point. Yet she didn’t act any different, never indicated she was afflicted with an ungodly toothache.
I wasn’t home when Jenn returned from the vets with Chloe. Jenn said when the cat carrier door opened Chloe stepped out and nearly collapsed as her legs splayed, barely able to support her meager weight. Later when she tried to jump onto a small cat perch she tumbled back. “It was so sad” Jenn said.
It’s been several days since the surgery and Chloe seems normal, shuffling from room to room in search of affection and a meal. It’s good to have her back. I’m still concerned about the future of all our pets, fretting about the next emergency and how we’re going to pay for it. Or worse yet, if several of the pets are stricken simultaneously and need life-saving treatment. For now our fingers are crossed, hoping the storm has passed so we can pick up the pieces of our finances and put conversations about how we’ll deal with one of our beloved pets passing to the back of our minds. And while Chloe’s with us, our hands will pass over her silky coat with a lighter, more appreciative touch.