My cats are not pampered palace cats, stalking gilded halls or sleeping on tasseled pillows. They are barn cats, given for a time the run of the old house but now at the new one relegated again to their own quarters, which, short a barn, means the kitchen. Outside all day and in for the night. All they have to do for access is present themselves at the window. If I’m not around to let them in, they have a very deep sill where they can shelter from the weather while they wait. I put a rug and a bowl of water there as soon as I moved in. I smiled at my handiwork. How easy everything was going to be!
Within a week, Louie, the male, was sick. He quit eating, and not gradually but suddenly, going from scarfing his dinner in the usual manner on a Friday evening to eating none of his breakfast on Saturday. Nor anything else the whole day. He wasn’t drinking either. He was lethargic, dopey. I opened a can of tuna on Sunday and held a forkful in front of him, akin to passing smelling salts beneath someone’s nose. He didn’t snap to but simply, slowly, turned away as I went from concerned to worried.
My usual response to sickness is to ignore it and hope it goes away. That’s what I do for myself. I almost never go to the doctor. And when I do, my conclusion is that I should have waited a little longer for the situation to resolve itself on its own. And if that strategy works for me, it’ll work for my pets. And it has. Until now. But as the hours ticked by and Louie was not moved by cheese, yogurt, butter, tuna pooled in olive oil, or milk, I grew ever more worried. At four o’clock on that Sunday afternoon, I looked up the nearest vet, called the emergency number, and made an appointment to meet at the clinic. I wrapped Louie in a towel and put him in a backpack, in which I carried him cradled in my arms the 10 blocks to the vet’s. I didn’t own a cat carrier.
Talking to the vet, I stressed that my cats were outdoor cats, street cats, tough cats. This was my coded message that I was not going to take out a loan or mortgage my house to pay for extravagant state-of-the-art tests and procedures. I had read of people who did that, and I could see how it happened: the more you spent, the greater your investment in a cure, and after one big operation, not paying for the second made an absurdity of the decision to have the first. Better to pay $2,000 to cure your pet than pay $1,000 to not cure it. And so the bill grows. The more you gamble, the more you gamble. I didn’t want to get started. The clinic looked new and expensive, and I wished the vet well, but my plan was to avoid subsidizing the fancy equipment I imagined was housed there.
But the vet had met my kind before, and she didn’t have to work hard to talk me into the X-ray, the blood test, and when those two procedures did not show what was ailing my cat, an overnight stay and intravenous fluids to treat his symptoms. That was all I’d wanted—treat his symptoms. I had been prepared to say no to exploratory procedures. I would not be pushed into it. But the vet didn’t tell me I ought to do one thing or another. She said that it was the correct thing. And so she had me.
In addition to the tests and hospitalization, Louie got handfuls of pills. Then different pills. Also a couple of injections. Then an hour in a mist tent. “Let’s see if this helps,” said the vet. “It’s the correct thing.”
Six weeks later, with Louie’s sister, Ella, becoming mildly sick and recovering and still not entirely well, and biweekly visits for Louie (in a new carrier) to assess his progress, the vet essentially set me free. “Call,” she instructed after the last visit, “and let us know how he’s getting on.”
I refrained from asking if he’d been cured because I could see he wasn’t himself yet. But I waited, thinking something was still to come. Would she praise my diligence? Urge patience and tell me I would just have to wait this one out? She did not. She’s a busy woman. I’m an adult. The cats are cats. She did not even seal the dismissal with an official goodbye, perhaps because she wasn’t certain it was goodbye. Although I didn’t at first, I now liked her.
Getting to know my vet has cost plenty but has not required a mortgage. She was right when she told me that she believed I could afford the overnight stay. And, on the up side, spending money on the cats made me determined to spend some on myself too. I didn’t hesitate to buy a new cookie jar and a new bookcase. I didn’t know—I still don’t—whether I did so on the pretext of celebration or consolation. It’s a sad thought, but I might have to live without my cats. Books and cookies though—how can you live without them?
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