Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Value of a "Free" Cat

If someone held up a cat in one hand and $4000 in the other hand, which would you choose?  I know that there are many variables to consider:  the age of the cat, the endearing qualities of the cat, and how much you owe on your Visa bill.  If the cat is a stranger to you, the choice is quite easy.  A free wad of bills is pretty fun to think about.  If the cat is a "member of your family," the game changes.  The choice is more emotional and guilt-ridden.  That's where our story begins.

About a year ago, Jonathan, our son who lives in Chicago, greeted us at the foot of the stairs that lead up to his apartment with a big grin on his face.  "I wanted to warn you before you come upstairs.  I've got something new!" he announced.  My mind raced...another tattoo?...a girlfriend?...a harem?  When we reached the top of the stairs, he turned and said, "I got a cat!"  Relieved, we expressed our happiness for both him and the cat, Pepe, a black and white lanky, playful feline.  We were smitten with him at first sight.  Jonathan had rescued him from an animal shelter a few weeks before.  Touring us around Pepe's room (an 8X8 "bedroom" in the front of the apartment which is too small for human inhabitants), he showed us Pepe's food and water bowls, his hideout made of old cardboard boxes, and his litter box which had been placed in the room's teeny tiny closet.  It was heartwarming to see Jonathan's "paternal" instincts when it came to the love and care of Pepe the Cat.

Alas and alack, a roommate moved into the tiny room taking over Pepe's space.  The roommate was a bona fide Cat-Hater.  He did not warm up to Pepe at all.  Pepe was his sworn enemy.  He constantly complained about Pepe's existence.  Then, one night at about 1:30AM, Jonathan and his other roommate heard a door slam followed by the cry of a cat in pain.  They found Pepe crouched down under a chair.  Knowing that something was terribly wrong with the cat, they rushed him to a nearby animal emergency clinic.  

Sure enough, Pepe's femur was broken all the way through.  Apparently, the roommate caught Pepe's leg in the door as he was slamming it.  The roommate vehemently denied any wrongdoing.  Long, long story short...orthopedic surgery for animals in Chicago is very, very expensive.  The orthopedic surgeon had to use pins to put Pepe's leg back together because cat femurs don't usually heal like a human's does.  Pepe's bill came to almost $4000.  Thus, the question:  cat in one hand....$4000 in the other...you choose.  By the way, the evil roommate has moved.  Oh, how Pepe and Jonathan rejoiced! 

A couple of weeks after we brought Lily and Dixie home from a local animal shelter all those years ago, Alan woke me up on Sunday morning to tell me that there was something terribly wrong with Lily.  She was barely moving and couldn't hold her head up.  Bryce went with me to the vet.  Lily had some sort of virus and needed to be checked into the animal hospital.  I asked the vet how much hospital bills for sick cats ran and blanched when she told me $200-$300 depending on the tests that needed to be run.  I called Alan and told him the news.  His response, "How much would it cost to put her to sleep?  We can go get another cat!"  Nine year old Bryce was standing at my elbow listening to my side of the conversation.  Tears began to roll down his cheeks.  He tugged at my sleeve and whispered, "Tell Dad that I'll save up my allowance and pay for Lily's doctor bills!"  His voice carried through the phone lines into his daddy's ear.  "Check her in," Alan said tenderly.

Miss Lily Lackey
Lily has used up about five of her nine lives.  First, there was the $200+ virus.  Next, came a nasty mockingbird peck on the head which left her with a huge abscess that the doctor had to drain after putting her under anesthesia.  Then, Lily took a nap up under our neighbor's truck one afternoon...on the motor.  (Cats like to climb up under vehicles to explore.)  When Joe cranked up his truck, he heard a thunka-thunka-thunk.  It was Lily doing battle with his fan belt.  The fan belt shaved one of her thighs down to the bone.  At first, the vet thought that Lily would lose her leg.  Then, she said that Lily may never regain use of the leg.  Several years have passed, and we can't even remember which leg got the shaving.  We do remember that the treatment/hospitalization for the leg cost us both an arm and a leg.

I've heard of people who have taken their pets to Dallas or Houston for chemotherapy.  While  traveling afar for pet cancer treatments seems a bit much to me, I have learned to never say never.  You don't know what your pet is worth until you stand in the vet's office staring into their velvety brown eyes - or, as in Lily's case, mossy green eyes.  I can tell you for sure that if someone had our dog, Pepper, who went to doggy heaven this summer, in one hand and $4000 in the other, I would race across the room and grab Pepper up without even thinking twice.

Over the holidays, we told Alan's brother, David, about Pepe's $4000 broken leg and how shocked we were over the vet bill.  David's reply, "Tell Jonathan that I can totally relate.  I have a $300 turtle."

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