In mid-September of 1994, I was walking from my apartment behind the Newport Music Hall towards campus when I saw it: outside of the local pet shop was a cage full of kittens nursing upon their mother. Orange tabbies, the lot of them, except for one. He was that beautiful steel grey that cat breeders call “blue”. As soon as I saw him, I knew that I had to have him. I vowed that if he were still there when I returned from class, that he would be mine. There was a sign by the cage, “free kitten with the purchase of a Kitten Kit”. The kit itself included: a litter box, kitty litter, cat food, a food bowl, and a water dish all for only $20.
I raced back from class and was pleased to see that he was there. I bought the kit and took him home right away. I put him in my bedroom and began to call out different names to see if he would respond to any of them.
“Here, Buddha!” Nothing.
“Here, Monkey!” Nada.
“Here, Tonto!” Zilch.
“Here, Fido!” In bounded the kitten as fast as his little legs would carry him.
Hmm. Interesting! Let’s try that again to make sure.
“Here, HG.” Nope.
“Here, Sabu.” No response.
“Here, Fido.” Once again, I was accosted by a kitten. This time with a quizzical look upon his face as if to say, “you keep calling me and then putting me in another room. Do you know what you are doing?”
I tested this five more times with many other names. In the end, it was obvious that Fido was his name.
Fido trained me to play fetch with him and to only buy the kind of toys that he liked. He liked items that were soft and fuzzy. Easy to pick up was another plus.
He was always there for me. Even when I was sick. He did not complain or beg for food, but would just curl up next to me until I felt better.
He liked the people that I liked and disliked people that I did not.
He was patient with kids.
When he was diagnosed with cancer a last autumn, I was heartbroken. Still, I did my best to make him comfortable. The vet said that he probably only had about a month to live, but we would try a few therapies to help him, just in case.
We kept him comfortable and he seemed to improve … at least for a while. But this weekend he could no longer jump into bed. He was listless. He barely moved. He has lost a lot of weight. He was obviously suffering.
I felt that I had to put him to sleep. I could barely feel any weight as I put him into the carrier. I felt a twinge of guilt that I had gained weight recently but he had lost so much. I drove him to the vet. He was quiet for the whole drive and the raingreyed skies echoed my mood.
He growled when he saw the vet. He recognized her and was not amused. I petted him as I told her what was going on. She agreed that he was suffering. It seemed like the only option.
They had me put him back in the carrier. He is not really a good patient at the vet’s office. So we had to give him an inhalant to calm him before they could euthanize him. I wrapped him in my jacket to put him in the cage, and though he was too tired and weak to fight, he still bit me through my coat. My index finger has two puncture wounds as a reminder of his fury. I did not cry out. I did not complain. All I could think was, “he is fighting for his life. He does not want to die.”
When I next saw him a few minutes later, he was asleep. I petted his fur and watched his labored breathing. I talked to him and prayed that he would forgive me. The vet gave him the injection and I watched as the little bit of light in his eyes sputtered out like the flame on a gas stove that had been shut off.
I have been crying on and off ever since. And I do not know if I did the right thing. What if he would have felt better after another day or two? He wanted to live! He had fought so hard. And I let him die. No, it is worse than that. I killed him.
I can rationalize it. I did not want him to be in pain. Quality of life and all of that. And there is truth in those words. But there is another truth. He wanted to live and I ignored that wish out of my own selfish desire not to see him in pain.
The drive back to Chicago will be very cold.