Oh, brave new world that has such people in it!—Miranda in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare
Many of us, particularly in North American and European cultures have decided to bring a friendly animal into our lives and households: either a dog or cat or other furry creature that draws out our affections and unconditionally provides us with so much more back. There is a catch, though. And a cost.
I’ve shared my home with a cat (or two) since the late 1980s…not the same one; each has passed on and a new one has come into my life, filling my heart with joy. My previous two cats lived 19 and 18 years before passing on. My current cat is a healthy eight years old. When my son and I brought him home from the adoption centre, we had tacitly agreed to take responsibility for his welfare. We fed him, took him to the vet for his annual check-up and provided him with our unconditional love. He loved to go outside and we let him, knowing full well that there were dangers from predators (e.g., coyotes and eagles hunted near our place) other cats and accidents with cars etc.
My philosophy behind this was to respect my cat, who deserved to live the life he was born to live. If it was cut short by some accident, so be it, I thought; he’d lived it to his fullest. I refused to “clip his wings”. However, I did insist on keeping him inside at night, which reduced his chances of finding mischief.
He still managed one time to find his way inside the hood of a car and almost got himself shredded to death. Luckily, somehow, he got out with just a few injuries. I took him to the vet right away, who him stitched up. I didn’t have to think about the decision to have a vet intervene. My love was enough. I paid the fee and my cat came home, a better and hopefully wiser cat.
How much are we willing to pay? And how much are others willing to take? What is the price of love? And what is the cost of abuse?
Today, my good friend’s cat died. The cat died in her arms on the way to an animal hospital.
Previously, my friend had taken this same cat to the local vet because the cat had become listless, had stopped eating and had grown weak. The vet referred her to an animal hospital, which charged a “bed” fee of over $1,000 per day. This is, apparently, quite normal for an animal hospital.
I came along for compassionate support. When we entered the hospital, I was struck how fancy it was. It reminded me of a lawyer’s office. Original artwork lined the walls of the clean high-ceilinged reception area. Large plants decorated the waiting area and a coffee machine brewed on the side. Our reception, though, was coldly calculated and lacked any compassion; without a glance at the sick cat, the receptionist inundated us with additional forms to be filled out in triplicate regarding items they already knew from the documents from the vet clinic (“We just want to hear your version,” was the explanation.) The doctor treated us like children.
Then, it came to me that the place’s similarity to a lawyer’s office wasn’t coincidental; this establishment was obsessed with liability. The forms were clearly and deliberately aimed to protect them from any kind of law suit. It was all part of an elaborate “machine brain” of efficiency. But where was the heart?
The hospital kept the cat there for several days as they subjected her to tests. Then, without prior consent, they decided that exploratory surgery was in order and proceeded without telling my friend until after; although they were quick to charge her. The exploratory surgery turned out to have negative results. But, they weren’t finished; they amended their prognosis and wanted to continue with other tests. But my friend had had enough; she had to fight to get her cat back (they wouldn’t release the cat until she had paid the full amount). She’d paid them thousands of dollars for basically nothing; except additional trauma to the cat and to the owner. And all this without apology or compassion.
I was appalled. By all rights, this should be one of the most compassionate professions and pursuits in our society: helping the animals who cannot speak for themselves and for whom we have accepted responsibility by taking them into our own environments.
Instead, I see an entire industry devoted to taking advantage of someone else’s heartache and love. This is brutality and deception of the meanest sort. And its casualties are the truly innocent: animals and those who love them. I feel like my humanity is betrayed. Surely we are more than this…
Ironically, one of the plaques that stood on the counter of the reception area read: “Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.”
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.