my cat, Squeaker

In 1997, Squeaker was a neighborhood cat that our predecessors at this address had looked after. When Jenny and I moved in, she was wary of us, but eventually started hanging around on the front porch pretty regularly. When we had our first freeze at this address, late in that year, we took Squeaker indoors. She never went outside again. One marriage ended and another begun, and she’s been with me for about seven years now.

A while back, I noticed something like a wart on top of Squeaker’s left hind foot. I asked the vet about it, and he said that as long as it wasn’t causing any trouble, we might as well leave it alone. Six months or so ago, the wart apparently got torn off, leaving an open sore. The vet said that surgery to close it was an option, but it would be difficult because there’s little room and no loose skin there, and we should try to keep it clean.

The sore got worse and worse, though, and something had to be done. So shortly before Christmas, we scheduled an appointment for Squeaker to go under the knife. In the end, the vet had to amputate two toes that had been overtaken by a tumor; when we got the biopsy back, it turned out the tumor was a carcinoma. The vet told me that either this was the primary site–in which case he probably got all of it–or it was a secondary site metastasized from somewhere else, and if so, that “somewhere else” was most likely the lungs. Squeaker was due to go back to the vet’s for a bandage change in a few days, and at the vet’s suggestion, I decided to have an X-ray taken then to see how her lungs looked.

In the meantime, I stewed in my own juices. Chemo and radiation therapy are not viable options for cats; if she did have lung cancer, the only treatment would be to remove a lobe of the lungs. This sounded like an awful lot to put an old cat through (not to mention a budget-buster). The other option would be palliative care.

I’ve been around a lot of pets in my life–through much of my childhood, my family had at least ten cats and two dogs at any given time. But I’ve never been in a position of making serious health decisions for another creature. It’s a hell of a thing. We take these animals into our lives, and part of the bargain is that we’ll take care of them. We’re responsible for them. But it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is, especially when they can’t tell you what’s wrong, they don’t understand what is happening to them, and none of the options sound very good. I can only imagine what parents go through with their kids.

As it turns out, Squeaker’s X-ray came out clear, so she dodged that bullet. I feel like I’ve dodged one too.

7 thoughts on “Squeaker”

  1. Most people would have simply “let nature take its course” with the sores/tumors/cancer, but would certainly feel guilty for being so apathetic. Kudos to you for avoiding that common ethical pitfall by sucking it up and searching for answers.

    I love the “comment-throttling” message. Perhaps you should raise the rate, and charge it in Euros to avoid a declining penalty value? Or just leave it as is for entertainment value.


  2. I’ve made those decisions for several beloved beasties, and it’s never easy. When I was younger, I was willing to go to fairly extreme measures to save a pet. Now, I’m less likely to make that choice, primarily because I don’t think that it’s any less cruel to subject a dog or a cat to chemotherapy or radiation than it is to provide palliative care and allow them to die in relative peace.

    Those treatments are hard enough on humans, who can at least understand that they are intended to heal. Imagine how they would be experienced by a pet.

    In a way, I feel like we’ve anthropomorphized our pets a little too much. Animals have animal lives. Sometimes we unintentionally do them a disservice by expecting them to act like humans or live more like we do. Of course they have feelings and they certainly can suffer. But that’s all the more reason why we have to weigh these choices carefully.

    I mean, hey, I want my cat to live forever, but that’s not going to happen. So if/when the time comes, I will have to think of what would be the kindest decision to make for him, and that may mean that I will have to let him go before I’m ready — and in spite of the fact that treatment is available that might have saved him. If the treatment would cause more suffering than letting him go (as long as his pain was being managed) then I say let him go.

    I’m awfully glad Squeaker, er, squeaked by this time. ;-)

  3. Not to be the harsh one here, but it’s a cat. I wonder how much you spent on the thing to get all the surgery/tests done. Was it more than $500? Did you know that (possible) $500 could have saved a starving person? Actually, it could have saved about 3 starving kids, for an entire year. I think it’s a travesty that people spend a LOT of money on their pets, rather than suffering human beings around them. And I have to say, even if you do contribute to the indigent, no amount is enough. I know it’s never enough for me.

  4. Interesting. I considered addressing the resources/priorities issue, but didn’t. I’m glad Brian did, though. Some other things to consider:

    In America, we spend obscene amounts of money extending the lives of critically ill people who aren’t likely to get much benefit. But, because there is some possibility that they will improve, and because they have the means to afford such care, we continue to “waste” these resources. Is it fair? If it were you or your parent/spouse/child, do you think that would change your point of view?

    In most cases, rampant disease and hunger are the result of violent conflict (e.g., Somalia and the Sudan) or severe government repression (e.g., Iraq and North Korea). So the $5 that would feed a child for a month can’t actually reach the intended child. Short of invading every nation led by an evil dictator, or inserting ourselves into every civil war, how should we deal with the underlying causes of starvation and disease?

    Do you think that Americans will ever be willing to invest $500 per child to build the infrastructure that could produce clean water and reliable irrigation for 25 years, rather than shipping in a few crates of canned food and bottled water every now and then?

    Why do we care more about our pets than we do about starving children? I think we all know that it’s primarily because our pets directly improve our quality of life, whereas we have no relationship with those distant children. But wouldn’t you think that on some level our evolutionary programming would compel us to preserve our fellow humans over other species?

    And couldn’t each of us make more ethical decisions about how to spend our income? Why is it that in a land of excess — of doggy daycare and pet bakeries and dog washaterias — we can’t figure out a way to provide clean water for everyone? We are selfish beings. I am, and you probably are, too.

    I will be particularly interested to see what comes of the international outpouring of assistance for the tsunami victims. Will much of it silently disappear into the pockets of corrupt officials? Or will most of it make it to the intended recipients? Will it tap out our generosity for other charities?

    For myself, I hope that it will be a test case for “waging peace” in the world. If we had spent $5 billion building schools and hospitals and roads and irrigation systems in the Middle East, instead of spending $70 billion on the war in Iraq, I truly believe we’d live in a much safer world today.

  5. It would be one thing to argue that people shouldn’t have pets, period, since they take time and money that might better be directed elsewhere. That’s a pretty harsh position to take, but I’d allow that it’s a defensible one.

    What is not a defensible position is to say that once you’ve accepted a responsibility, you should shirk it. Having a pet entails responsibility. What am I supposed to do? Snap her neck the minute she starts incurring medical expenses (having her put down humanely would cost some amount of money, so clearly, that’s out).

    Lori’s right: we are selfish creatures. I could sell my house (which I am trying to do) and donate all the proceeds to charity (which I will not do).

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