I watch him while h…

I watch him while he eats, working his jaws in an instinctual endeavor to stay alive, crunching the chunks of food, making saliva, swallowing, drinking a sip of water to wash it all down. I watch him carefully, looking for signs of an awareness of his illness. Of course he isn’t aware of the vet’s diagnosis, I tell myself. Surely he is unaware of his limited remaining time. Or is he?
Call it a manifestation of my guilt, but he seems to know something is wrong with him. What’s more, I think he knows I could help. He looks at me with an accusatory glare; his “Reow” sounds more like “Why?” How unfair it feels to knowingly rob years of his life, even as he wanders around each day, feeling progressively thinner, shorter of breath, less hungry. Crouching on the carpet to rest; sleeping away as his heart slowly hardens.
And perhaps that is what my heart is doing through this process — hardening to the realities of a world in which $400 might be too much to spend on a cat, considering that I generated the money, took in the four-legged freeloader and have 20 others in line for my money. I’ve put the cat first many times before; it is time to let nature take its course.
A little history: When a student wrote to the Daily several years ago, offering an exceptional cat for free to a “good home,” I was intrigued. My home is the most nurturing in the world, and I am the best person in the world. And I wanted a free cat. But when he brought old Ed to my house, I saw the cat had a little eye problem.
“Just ignore the pus,” the owner implored me. “You can wipe it out each day with a little cotton swab,” a bag of which he provided. It sounded reasonable at the time. Since the cat had already run under my bed, I let it stay.
The next day I realized that I don’t “do” pus. So I took the fat furball to the veterinarian. He needed surgery on the eye — $600 worth of surgery. So much for it being a free cat. You get what you pay for.
What options did I have? I considered doing the surgery myself, spiking a cat treat and carving him up with a hobby knife. But my small-motor skills are severely impaired, and I’d likely end up having to outfit him with a pirate patch. Maybe, I thought, I could have the vet change the appointment from surgery to euthanasia, a considerably cheaper procedure. But what would I do with a dead cat around the house? In the end, I capitulated and paid the fee.
Since then, I have taken him in for various ailments. Each trip is a hellish ordeal, getting him in and out of the house, the car and the vet’s office. Last time, I spent 20 minutes trying to pry him out from under the driver’s seat, only to have them reveal a heart murmur.
Now, some might say I assumed the responsibility for this animal, vicariously having him bred for me — although I saved him from possible euthanasia. They might claim I have some duty to treat him.
But consider that there are thousands of cats being put to death daily, enough that I could turn my home into a cat-killing factory. I could take one in each day, tire of it and slaughter it, and there would be no less feline life on the planet. To put it another way, by keeping this cat alive as my sole pet, I am failing to save the life of some cat that is being put to sleep as I write this sentence.
Thus, the total amount of feline biomass will stay the same regardless of what I do with poor Eddie. But the cat and I have grown into a friendship, a relationship. And while I would likely forget him in a matter of weeks, I bought a cat for a reason. I wanted a cat like Ed, a cat I consider far more interesting and likable than the average cat. So in the end, my desire to prolong his life is selfish.
But it is selfishness, too, that leads to my conclusion: I can’t afford hundreds of dollars in treatments and pills. Neither the cat nor I can handle any more trips to the veterinarian. So we’ll just ignore the problem until lovable old Eddie becomes decrepit old Eddie. And then we’ll take one final road trip together.

Brian Close’s column will appear on alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]