Friday, July 09, 2010
Elvis was a sweet-natured stray who showed up shortly after my sister moved to this neighborhood well over a decade ago. How he wound up here, nobody knows. Did he wander away from a nearby house? Was he abandoned by somebody departing the area? Did he travel a long way before having the good fortune to cross paths with my sister, a longtime animal lover who quickly took pity on the wary gray cat that turned up in her shed one day? Wherever he came from, Elvis found the closest thing to a home that he may ever have known, hanging out behind a neighborhood's house for the most part but almost becoming an "inside cat" in recent years, coming in for food, staying in on occasional cold nights, and getting locked in the garage during the occasional hurricane. He never quite got litterbox-trained, though, and rarely seemed to want to stay inside for very long. Recently he'd started looking pretty bad: skin problems, change in gait, increasing difficulty in jumping—and he was making an odd meeping noise a lot, whereas for the past decade he'd been a very quiet cat, hardly ever so much as meowing. He went to the vet this morning, mainly to see about the skin problem, but as I'd feared, the vet found a mass in his abdomen of the sort that old cats don't really recover from. So Elvis got put down this morning.
It's a bit ironic that I'm writing about Elvis now, as my elderly uncle died a couple of weeks ago and I still haven't written about that. I've been trying to, and at some point, hopefully, a reasonably decent post will come together. (The last couple of months have been rough, both practically and emotionally.) He was 94, and he was quite ready to go, and while there's much, much more to say about him, I feel oddly less sad about his death than I do about Elvis's. I mean, I'm very sad that my uncle is gone, and I wish that his last weeks of life had been better than they were (to hospital, to nursing home, back to hospital), but I know that he understood what was happening to him, and I know that he was not afraid. For Elvis, on the other hand, today must have dawned like pretty much any other; he could not have known that he'd be getting stuck into a cat carrier at 8:00 in the morning and that his still-warm but limp, lifeless body would be getting dropped into a hole in the backyard by 10:00. It's that horrible facticity that gets me, I think: one minute he's looking forward to another dayful of whatever joys he managed to get from this place that was more or less home for him, and the next he's locked in a cage, traveling in a car to an unfamiliar room where he'll wind up dying in the hands of strangers. His last hours of life must have been full of fear. It's that, as much as missing the animal and regretting the joys that it will no longer know, that makes me miserable when something like this happens. We humans may live in dread of death, but at least we can sometimes know when it's coming, and prepare for it, and make our peace with it. For animals, I fear, it is merely a nothingness that follows a time of strangeness and terror.
Elvis, old friend, I know that you didn't have many years left in you, and I'm glad that you found something like a home, and a reliable food source, and humans you could trust, and I thank you for all the times you did things like hop up on the hood of the car to say hi (and, of course, to put yourself in better petting range), and I'm very, very sorry that your last hours weren't kinder, and I hope with all my heart that you understood to some extent what we were trying to do for you and that you knew that we loved you and that this gave you some comfort as the darkness closed in on you. I don't know where you came from, and I don't believe that you're someplace better than this now, but I do know that you were a source of joy to the humans who knew you while you were here, and I know that the universe will always seem a little emptier without you in it. Goodbye, old friend, and thank you for crossing my path.
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