The family cat died after 20 years of doing really nothing besides working her way inside the family’s heart. She seemed fine Friday and was gone Monday. I had to flee the room before the veterinarian’s associate injected the phenobarbital into the tiny green IV catheter taped to the cat’s fur. If the county issued death certificates for cats, this one would have cited kidney failure as primary cause of death.
More than 35 years had disappeared since the last time I faced a pet’s demise. I wasn’t ready. The morning began with a panicked trip to a vet we’d never met—there was no need for a vet, as the cat wasn’t sick a day in her life—followed by a brief exam and consultation and authorization for expensive lab work.
The vet people used the same vocabulary you hear from nurses and doctors at human hospitals, and the words flew over my head just as they did when my father was enduring the world of geriatric health care. Indeed, the cat and my father inspired almost identical comments from their physicians: “There’s not much we can do; we could try one thing but, well, the truth is . . . ”
There has been much discussion about the sway pets hold over their humans, about the benefits of a dog’s unconditional loyalty and the inspiration that comes from a cat purring on your lap. I’ve glanced at that stuff and never paid much attention.
But animals do work their way into your heart. Our cat was adopted from the Sacramento County animal shelter. The idea was to provide feline companionship for my father. It worked. The cat and my father became buddies. I inherited the cat when Dad died 11 years ago.
Now what do I do? People suggest a new cat, but I’m not interested. The heart is closed for now. Four days after the cat died, we went to Paris. It didn’t help us forget. I saw a pet shop on rue des Halles and thought about the cat. I passed a cafe called Le Chat Noir—Black Cat.
At Le Bon Marché department store, I saw a Borsalino motorcycle helmet, imported from Italy. It was unique and beautiful, a model not sold in the U.S. The helmet was too expensive and I didn’t exactly need it, but it was silvery gray, same as the cat. Today, the helmet’s mine. You see, people do strange things when there’s a heart to fill.
R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news weekdays with Kitty O’Neal on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports for CBS 13 news.