2nd May 1990. I got a phonecall from my best friend. Her cat was having kittens, literally, and so – metaphorically – was she. I arrived when they were only a few hours old, and I looked down at the litter and pointed out the one I wanted. Eight weeks later I took her home.
She was my cat in a way no other cat ever was or ever will be. She rode on my shoulder. She came to greet me when I came home, lifting her head to have her nose petted and, if I picked her up, twisting round in my arms to clamber on to her favourite resting place, couched like a cat out of heraldry across my shoulders: all my t-shirts had holes in them. Once she was out of kittenhood she never once clawed my bare skin. She hated vets, and would sit growling on the table as I held her with my face down by hers, assuring her that the nice man with the big needle wasn’t going to hurt her. (Once or twice vets warned me I shouldn’t have my face so close to her when she was growling like that: I assured them she wasn’t going to go for me.) She wasn’t a lapcat, but a few times in my life when I was emotionally distraught, she came and sat on me sympathetically. I could look over at her and say her name and she would start purring, even across the other side of the room.
She was beautiful and elegant and intelligent and I was her human and she was my cat.
She was getting older and more fragile, but still herself; playing dominance games with the neighborhood cats though they outweighed her (she used to be a fighter: a ragged ear and a ragged eye from the times she couldn’t get away , but both healed clean). But one day in August 2005 she didn’t come to the door to greet me. I went to find her, and she was curled up on my bed, looking as if moving was too much for her. I took her to the vet, and the vet x-rayed her and told me:
She had a tumour in the wall of her stomach. Inoperable.
“You can take her home. But don’t take too long.”
I don’t know how to tell you the next part. I killed her. I paid a vet to do it, but I did it.
I paid the housecall fee for a vet to come round: the day after the day after they told me. She spent the last morning of her life in the garden, in the sun, and once or twice she looked the way she had even six months ago, even a year ago: and I wished it wasn’t true but I knew it was. I’d called my manager and got the day off work: he was sympathetic.
The vet injected her with a sedative. I held her on my lap until she went to sleep. Then we put her on a towel and the other injection went in: she died after a few minutes.
I still think, sometimes: could I have done something if I’d known about the tumour earlier? By that time I was taking her to the vet for checkups every couple of months, and the vet hadn’t found the tumour last time. Could I have kept her alive longer? Did I have to kill her then?
I’ve been having arguments online with people who think late-term abortions shouldn’t happen for about as long as I’ve been online. They tell me a natural death is better, that it’s wrong to kill, that women who make the decision to kill a fetus that’ll never live or live a brief life in excruciating pain, are cowards and irresponsible – that they ought to want to give birth and watch as their baby dies in pain, because that’s the pro-life thing to do.
I know that deciding to kill my cat, after she’d had fifteen years of life, was not a decision on a par with having to decide about a late-term abortion. But I also know that decision was the one that caused me about the worst pain I’ve ever felt, that I still can’t write or talk about it without crying. It wasn’t easy. It was hard to decide, hard to do, it hurt to do.
I don’t even know if it was the right decision. I don’t think it was: I think that I had been put in a place where there were no right decisions to make. I had a cat, I loved her, she was going to die, and if I left making the decision too long, she was going to suffer horribly. The decision had to be made. I was the only person who could make it. There were no right decisions to make. So I decided to do what I knew would mean the least suffering for my cat: I had her put to sleep, then killed, when I was holding her.
And you can call that decision whatever you like. But all my cat knew was that she’d spent a morning in the sun, that I held her on my lap, that she went to sleep on the human she’d trusted almost since her eyes were open. I killed her. I was not pro-life. I chose for her to die, because she was my cat, and I was her human, and it was my choice to make.