We put down our cat, Goldie. Why? Because there was one bedtime too many when my 9-year old daughter laid her head on her pillow and remarked, "Mom, my pillow is wet." Because Goldie kept us all awake as he howled through the night. Because he decided that instead of using the litter box in our new house, he preferred to relieve himself in our only bathtub.
I have spent 25 years caring for two successive sets of cats and have always thought of myself as having an ancient Egyptian's admiration for their grace, beauty, and mystery. When my beloved cat Shlomo was dying of cancer at age 16, I kept her alive weeks longer than I should have. Every time I called my veterinarian to make her final appointment, I'd break down sobbing and have to hang up. Yet here I am, minus one healthy cat, and not sorry about it.
Believe me, we tried with Goldie. During the four years we had him, we spent hundreds of dollars on medical tests to get to the cause of Goldie's refusal to use the litter box. There was no physical problem, so we progressed to psychology. We tried Prozac (though the package insert says nothing about it being a cure for a compulsion to urinate on pillows), and a product called Feliway, a pheromone that is supposed to reduce a cat's anxiety. Our anxiety increased as the treatments failed. We moved on to home décor, spending thousands of dollars to replace carpets so soaked with urine that they created their own microclimate. Goldie turned his attention to bedding and area rugs.
Following the advice of cat behavior experts also didn't solve the problem, but it did make me feel less alone. After I wrote about my findings, I got an e-mail from one reader who said her cat had taken to peeing into the toaster (I'm not going to brunch at her house). Another had a cat so committed to wetting her bed that she made herself a quilt of black plastic garbage bags fastened together with duct tape.
My veterinarian, who was pessimistic I would ever solve Goldie's problem, suggested I consider moving. Recently we did, although it had more to do with the school system than the fact that our house had reached the saturation point. As we prepared for the move my husband, normally a kind and forgiving man, started sounding like Pat Robertson faced with a feline Hugo Chávez. "We're not taking piss-cat with us," he would declare while stroking Goldie, who, when he wasn't peeing or screaming, could be an appealing, fluffy fellow. I couldn't bring myself to actually agree to putting down Goldie, but I dreaded the thought of decorating my new home with a plastic-bag-and-duct-tape theme. I told him I didn't want to know, but that if Goldie wasn't around when we made the trip, he didn't need to explain.
On the day of the move we loaded the car with our daughter, our frozen food, our cleaning supplies, and crates containing our beagle, Sasha, and the cats, littermates Goldie and Biscuit. As we made our Beverly Hillbillies-like drive across town, Goldie howling, my husband admitted he couldn't do it.
For two of our three animals the move went great. Sasha is happy anywhere she finds a full food bowl, and Biscuit is a flexible and delightful cat who immediately inaugurated the new litter boxes and then eagerly explored our packing boxes as if he were in Disneyland. Goldie became, as we feared, unhinged. On the third night in our new home, to get some relief from the howling, we confined him to a basement bathroom, with bedding, bowls of food and water, and a litter box. From two floors away our stomachs churned as we listened for hours to the desperate Goldie throwing himself against the door. When I went down in the morning to let him out, I discovered that, Houdini-like, he was gone. It turned out he had levitated himself into a hole in the ceiling cut by a plumber repairing leaking pipes.
The hole was scheduled to be closed that day, but no amount of coaxing with food, or attempts at yanking, could budge Goldie. Finally, a county animal-control officer arrived and spent an hour wrestling poor Goldie out. We were now forced to put Goldie outside in our fenced yard, where he hid most of the day, then screamed most of the night. It was oppressively hot and thunderstorms were forecast. We couldn't keep him in the house, and we couldn't keep him exposed outside. My husband said Goldie's time had come. He was going to take our cat to the Humane Society shelter to be euthanized. Our daughter was away at the beach with a friend, but we had discussed with her that Goldie might not be there when she got back. "I understand Mom," she said. "He's just so unhappy all the time."
Please don't tell me you would have taken in Goldie. You wouldn't have, and he wouldn't have wanted you to. There are three things he couldn't bear: change, other animals, and confinement. We never considered just dropping him off at a shelter. According to the American Humane Association, only about 25 percent of relinquished cats are ever adopted. We weren't going to lie about Goldie's problems to make him sound more appealing, because that would mean his unwitting new owners would quickly return him. And we weren't going to find some no-kill shelter and dump him there to spend forever locked in a cage in torment.
And spare me the argument that Goldie was a member of the family and nothing could justify my actions. I feel love for my animals, but I maintain there is a distinction between people and pets. Goldie was a pet, but he had ceased to be an acceptable one. He was miserable and so were we. I believe my obligation was to give him a quick, painless death.
It is awful that an estimated 10 million healthy cats and dogs are put to death in shelters each year. But I am clinging to a study from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, which distinguishes between owners who give their animals to shelters and owners who bring in animals specifically to be euthanized. This study found the latter to be committed pet owners who had painfully concluded they had reached the end. For the most part the animals were old and sick, but a significant portion were brought in because desperate owners couldn't live with them anymore. The usual cause was aggression from dogs and soiling from cats. The authors of the study acknowledge such animals are unlikely ever to find another home.
I regret I couldn't make Goldie happy, but since he's been gone the feeling of dread I lived with for years has been lifted. My other animals are a joy. I'd even say since Goldie's demise they've been on their very best behavior.
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