Pets and Death

Maya & Mickey.

Maya & Mickey.

Pets are a part of the family and they are a source of many memories. Our cat, Mickey, was a birthday gift for my son Nicholas when he was seven or eight. Nicholas got up in the morning on his birthday, not knowing that my wife and I had gone out and gotten him the gift. Before he saw Mickey he heard him meow. Nicholas thought it was Sophie and he scolded his little sister for pretending to be a cat.

We once had three cats. But Molly disappeared one night and never came back. About two weeks ago Mickey also went out and didn’t come back. So now we’re down to one cat, Maya. Was Mickey killed by a coyote? Maybe, but you can never be sure.

Here’s another memory of Mickey. When we got him we wanted a kitten for our son but didn’t realize it wasn’t “kitten season.” Apparently, female cats all go into heat at the same time of year and give birth around the same time. So Karen and I traveled all over the metro area looking for a kitten and we finally found a black one named “Ben” at a shelter in Rancho Santa Fe. The problem was… the shelter wouldn’t let us take him home because we told them we would let him go outside.

After that, I asked my parents to go get him. They gave the shelter staff all the right answers (We’ll never let him out. Of course not!) They took Ben away, gave him to us and we renamed him.

The shelter didn’t want us to adopt Mickey for the very reason we saw this month. When cats are let outside they can be killed by predators, hit by cars or succumb to a deadly virus they wouldn’t have gotten, confined to the house.

Mickey lived a good seven years. Would he have preferred living twice as long and dying in a vet’s office after being injected with deadly chemicals? Would he have been perfectly happy not chasing mice and butterflies or exploring the canyon with Maya during his lifetime? I don’t know because I can’t read a cat’s mind. Humans can only guess what kind of lives our animals want to lead.

But I have never known a cat that didn’t seem to want to explore the out-of-doors. And once they have been outdoors they never seem to be satisfied being indoor cats. Maya was a Kansas farm cat who was born outside the house and spent her first several weeks out in the environment. When we brought her to San Diego she lived outdoors most of the time. She became pregnant and gave birth to five kittens. We know she’s a grandmother now, if not a great-grandmother.

The value we put on life — and what we consider to be a meaningful life — always leads to controversy. Do people, who are kept alive for decades on life support with no ability to reason or even react, live meaningful lives that should be protected as long as we have the technology to do it? Let’s say protecting animal life and extending it was all that mattered. Then cats should be kept inside and wild animals should be kept in zoos.

I have been fond of cats ever since I was a kid. I grew up in a family that had two dogs over the course of my childhood. One was a high-strung terrier that would bite me good and hard, the other was a Dachshund that growled whenever I approached him. But then we got Floyd, a part-Siamese cat. I finally had a pet who seemed to like being held and petted by me and who like to play games with me.

Today, our remaining cat Maya is a lot like Floyd, friendly and affectionate. Her only bites are gentle ones used during play or maybe to send a subtle message. She also loves being outdoors, where she sometimes hunts mice and rats. In fact she typically only wants to come indoors to be fed. Should I start to keep her inside to make sure she doesn’t meet the same fate as Mickey? For that, I just haven’t got the heart.








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