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.