Monday, January 25, 2010

Big Mike, You Exhaust Me

This morning at 4:30 or so, my cat Big Mike stomped up the stairs and pawed at my side of the bed because he was hungry. It's like living with a giant who meows "Fee Fie Foe Fum," only he smells the blood of fish and chicken formed into kibble and instead of the blood of an Englishman. So, with my eyes half closed, I found my way to the kitchen to feed him and then went back to bed. Then, at 6:50, he was back again, pawing at the bed and meowing. There was food in his bowl left from earlier, but he was lonely or something.

I've read that cats will do this—wake you up very early in the morning because they want to be amused, and they will not be fooled when you pretend you're still asleep. I am not sitting here so early in the morning to amuse Big Mike, but I did get up to give him his morning dose of insulin, and how apropos, since today's opinion piece in Small Town Newspaper is about Big Mike and what I and millions of people like me will do for our pets.

Here's what I have to say on the subject:

I have two cats, one named Tiger who is affectionate and friendly to any and all who enter my home, and the other one. This other one is the cat that inspires me to question this odd practice humans have of keeping animals as pets.

This other one’s name is Mike, and he is a beautiful black and white cat, your typical American shorthair. Mike, also known as Big Mike because he weighs 22 pounds on a trim day, has endeared himself to me with his many quirks and charms. He plays fetch with a yarn ball and will even lunge over furniture to retrieve the prize, although he’ll take the long way around to return it for another throw. He follows me around the house like a dog and rests patiently beside my office chair while I work. I have become so accustomed to seeing his massive frame snoring beside me that I am perplexed on the rare occasions when he naps in another room.

Big Mike snorts when he breathes, waddles when he walks, slops food when he eats and refuses to submit to cuddling. He hides when visitors walk through the door, and he hisses at my husband when he is startled by his presence. He sheds and smells and often sprawls out to claim the best seat in the house, resting his head on a throw pillow as if he were the prince of the manor.

Beyond his notable characteristics, he has also had some health issues, and over the years he has run up a veterinarian bill to rival a small mortgage. The cat has had surgery to repair damage done by kidney stones and has had repeated treatments for urinary tract infections – IVs, antibiotics and a prescription diet. And now the big guy has diabetes. To keep his blood sugar level balanced, I administer two shots of insulin a day, shots he doesn’t seem to mind because I have become adept at injecting the doses painlessly into the scruff of his neck.

With all of the trouble Big Mike causes and all the expenses he has racked up, one might wonder why I would continue to keep the animal. When will enough be enough, and at what point will I finally say “the end?”

Pets provide unconditional acceptance and companionship. They don’t criticize or scold or mock, and they are never disappointed in us as long as we show up and give them the little they need to be satisfied. Even more important, they force us to become caregivers, and I am hard pressed to put a dollar amount on that often overlooked benefit.

Fortunately, I am not alone in my devotion to my pets, nor in my willingness to spend what some might consider an extraordinary amount of money on their well-being. More than 60 percent of American households keep pets of some sort, everything from dogs and cats to pot-bellied pigs. And we spend more than $20 billion a year caring for them. That’s more than the gross domestic product of most Third World countries.

On some level, I feel a little ashamed for spending so much to take care of this cat of mine when there are human beings on this planet dying from need every single day, but a human doesn’t go without health care because I am giving it to my cat. And if we were to compare every relative luxury so common in our culture to the severe need around the world, we wouldn’t allow ourselves most of what we purchase, and even something as simple as a cup of coffee to go would seem too extravagant.

To answer the question of when will enough be enough – when the cat appears to be suffering or when his expenses exceed my ability to pay, I’ll have to make a difficult decision. When the time comes for me to finally say “the end,” I will be heartbroken and will miss the oddities I have come to treasure about Big Mike, but until then, I’ll keep giving him shots and sweeping up his messes. And I’ll keep finding comfort when I see him resting in his spot beside my chair.


PF said...

Amen to all of that, my friend. Callie woke me up at 4:50 this morning, but I did manage to convince her to lie down beside me until the alarm went off at 5:30 :)

Alifan said...

Another one who gets woken at all hours, and I get told I spoil my Oscar!!but loved your words Robyn... feel the same.. xx

Lulubelle B said...

Daisy would sometimes wake me in the middle of the night by all bright eyed, ready to play. Why???

I also spent lots of money on her health. It addition to what's become normal (shots, heartworm, etc.) she fell down a flight of stairs and tore her ACL..or maybe she tore her ACL and then fell down a flight of stairs. I'll never know. Late night run to the overnight vet, then consultation and surgery as a specialty hospital. She recovered nicely. She didn't need PT, but I would have loved to see her on the underwater treadmill.

At the end, it was very clear her time had come. I know I did the right thing but I was very painful. I'm tearing up writing about it now, and it's been more than five years.

(And yes, "Lucky" is Daisy.)

dive said...

I too used to live with a 22lb cat who loved to leap from the windowcill onto my tummy at 5 in the morning to say 'Hi".
If I didn't get the hint she would bat at my nose until I could stand it no more.

Mike and Tiger are worth every cent you spend on them, Robyn. The amount of love (and laughs) you get back is incalculable.

Sassy Sundry said...

I have no experience with cats, but Mike is awfully cute.

Scout said...

PF, it takes a crane to hoist Mike up onto the bed.

Alifan, I LOVE your new profile picture.

Lulubelle, it's a tough decision to make, isn't it?

Dive, right. Their value is incalculable.

Sassy! You're back! What the heck?

Shan said...

It is a very difficult situation when you love a critter so much. I heard at the vet yesterday that my chi. Tulip, who is having back problems or something, also could use knee surgery at 1500-2000 (x2) . That made me pause because I do not have that to spend on her but I suddenly wanted to do anything it would take to make her life easier.
For now she will get anti-inflamatories and we'll have to call it good. She is my sweetie little sidekick so I totally understand your love for Big M. :)