Yesterday, as I mentioned I would, I took our cat, Teddy, to the vet to get his ear checked out. Because his ears are fashioned in a very adorable, but very problematic, shape (folded over, like little tortellinis), he tends to get ear infections often. I'm supposed to clean his ears - get down in there and get everything out - regularly. But I don't do this. If you want to chastise me for not doing this, that's fine, but please, come over here and try it yourself. Come over to my house, get the cat, hold him in your lap, and try to stick something down in his ear, while he howls and displays his sharp talons, and then escapes from your lap before you've even gotten anywhere near his ear. You come over hear and try that and see if you wouldn't rather just let him be, turn on the television, and call it a day. I am generally on edge when I go to the vet, although I don't really need to be as I now go to a good, sensible place, where no one yells at you, and although you never actually say it, you feel it might be alright to admit that, "No, I don't brush my dog's teeth, because why the hell would I do that?" At my vet's office, no one ever tells me what I should and should not be doing. I feel they'd like to, but they don't. I wonder if vets the world over have been trained recently in this practice - of realizing their customers don't treat their pets like humans - because I remember taking our family dog and cat to the vet growing up, and my mother mercifully making fun of the veterinarians on the way home in the car for being too sensitive to the animal's needs. "It's a cat," she'd say. "They seem to think it's a PERSON."
Yesterday I was particularly on edge, because not only was I running a little late, but I'd grabbed the cat carrier out of the car port to find - surprise, surprise - that in the, oh, two years or so since I'd last used it, it had become dirty. Really dirty. With spiderwebs clinging to the bottom and a rusty spring to hold it shut. But, since I was late, I got Teddy inside and was off. It didn't really occur to me that I'd be embarrassed until I walked in the office door and was confronted by the ultra-cheerful techs in their brightly colored scrubs - at atmosphere so clean it almost didn't seem right...shouldn't I be taking these animals to a barn? With hay? And old shed to see a guy in overalls who really knows his animals because, well, he lives right amongst them? It was then, upon entering, that I thought about the cobwebs trailing along the floor, compliments of me and my cat carrier. I thought about my car with his dirty ear, rubbed raw by his relentless stratching. It was then that I almost turned around, ready to tell them I'd go ahead and call animal welfare on myself.
Unfortunately, the rusty carrier was the least of my worries. Over the next two hours Teddy, who had not one, but two ear infections, of differing sorts - one in each ear - was prodded and poked, given shots and cleaned up, while he screamed to the high heavens. In between takes he was his old friendly self, purring and chatting up the ladies, but the exam part was apparently too much for him to bear. I suppose because he was already in a lot of pain and this just caused him more. And caused me more. Because in addition to the ears, said the vet, Teddy has a heart murmur, which can be of some concern in older cats, as well as a mass on one side of his face. A mass that could be related to the ear infection and, in that case, would go away once he was treated, or a mass that could be a tumor, which would naturally be a far more difficult problem to solve. At one point she just sighed and said, "He has a lot of health problems," and it was like she was saying "you'd better get ready," and "you'd better get out your wallet" and "you'd better not skip his yearly exam ever again."
As I sat, waiting for the vet to return to the room once she'd retreated to fetch Teddy's ultra expensive medications (four total, which must be crushed in foot and placed in ear canals and trickily squirted into the mouth) I wasn't thinking any of the normal things I think when I go to the vet, things like, "You must be crazy," and "Yeah, he's cute, let's get on with it," and the obvious, "Don't give me that chicken-flavored toothpaste. I promise you, I'm not going to brush the animal's teeth." Instead I was thinking much more philosophically about why we do this. I sat, with this cat, purring and piercing my legs with his little claws, this cat who had infections galore and who didn't smell too good because of it, and I didn't feel sad or anything (as long as he's still eating - which he is, plenty - and moving around, I have high hopes for the little guy) but I felt, I don't know, worn out, perhaps, is the way to put it, and found myself thinking these somewhat awful things, like, "I didn't even want a cat," and then, over $200 later, after leaving the office, feeling even more resentful - not at the cat, who I really do like a lot - but maybe just at the entire system. This crazy scheme where we've made these wild animals house pets, creatures that we can diagnose with very specific, complicated health issues, ones you thought only applied to humans. That we've gotten ourselves into this situation where we have to ask ourselves horrible questions like, "Does my cat REALLY need an EKG?" - horrible both because cat EKGs even exist and because we're forced to ask, when you really get down to it, how much we are going to pay to keep these things alive.
It only starts to really matter when they get old. When the docs suggest something called an "adolescent bloodwork panel" for Cecilia, I look at her, with her bright eyes and shiny coat and thumping tail and say, "No thanks." But when they get old, and they need you, how many steps do you take to ensure they keep on living? And how long do they want to keep living, themselves. So you make what you believe is the best decision at the time, and you don't spend too much time questioning why you chose to take this thing - this woodland creature - into your home.
I'm over analyzing the matter because, at this point, Teddy is fine. Great, even. His normal, cranky, loving self. When I was home today, wrapping presents, all three pets surrounded me, Cecilia, licking Mina's head obsessively, her tail like a neverending drumbeat against the carpet and Mina, pretending she didn't like all the attention from the other dog even though I could tell that she totally did, and Teddy, purring, constant purring that only gets louder when he's touched by us, or even another animal (he and Cecilia have taken to sharing a bed from time to time) or when he's eating, because that is his favorite time. Teddy, sitting in his little rusty carrier with the door open, because he loves it in there, which is definitely weird, but also cute. All three looking at me, like, "What's next?" and (we never ask ourselves "why?" in moments like this) I felt very, very loved.