I guess the vast majority of you guys have a pet that’s close to your heart. Pets are good for us; there are lots and lots of studies saying that if you look after a pet, your health and wellbeing can improve. Caring for a pet can be therapeutic, and give your life that element of ‘drive’ that you lack. Caring for someone else gives your life meaning; when you are personally responsible for whether an animal, or other person survives, almost everyone finds themselves rising to the task. Pets do gain personas and become, for most intents and purposes, people. They cease being ‘the dog’ or ‘the cat’ pretty quickly, when you treat them a little like children.
Now, as I’m sure you’re all well aware of the phrase ‘A pet’s not just for Christmas.’ Yes, pets are delightful when they’re young. Those blind kittens crawling around and bumping into their surroundings; those tiny puppies that scamper around and bite your toes/eat shoes. I think we all one of those baby tigers that stays small and adorable for all eternity:
Unfortunately, pets grow up. Those cute little kittens become wily, fat cats. Before you know it, your pet’s coercing you with those cute, pleading eyes for yet more food. Meww. Mewwww. But your bowl is full, missy. Oh, you want some fresh food, with the yummy jelly still on it? OK, fatso. Move on a few years and old age hits them. They turn from cute, fluffy bundles into angry, bitter lumps of matted fur that swing wildly at your ankles as you walk by them.
I’d be grateful to have a cat that just rakes my ankles; sadly my cat’s taken the other route — senility and crippledom. Mango (for that is her name) used to be a lovely cat. She has never been overly friendly — and she doesn’t like being picked up — but she filled her role as a fluffy rabbit-catcher that occasionally sat on my chest in bed, restricting my breathing, to prove she loved me.
Now bear in mind, as I write this, my emotions are tainted by the smell of cat shit that emanates from just below my computer chair, where I just tidied up her latest bout of feline incontinence. The smell of kitty pee wafts upstairs from her favourite urination spot. Right now, I’m not feeling a whole lotta love for Mango.
Gone is the lovable chest-sitter; she’s been replaced with an arthritic wild-haired beast that’s covered in scabs. Her back legs only just function, so she has to drag herself around with her front legs. It’s awfully funny to watch her walk crab-wise across the kitchen floor, and occasionally fall backwards when she puts weight on her ass. She even sits with her legs splayed out, around the food bowl, to keep balance.
For a while, I envisaged building her some kind of skateboard for her hind legs. I was inspired by a beggar that I met in Rome that was was some kind of cripple/paraplegic that pulled herself along, while she sat on a skateboard (have a look at this, for the proof of concept: Skateboard with your hands). That was, until she started shitting on my floor. And pissing. There’s just something about the ammonia content of cat urine that just… ugh. Nasty stuff.
So now I play the kind of grandchild-looking-after-his-incontinent-and-senile grandmother role. I take her downstairs to the food bowl; I take her outside to do her business. Sometimes I stand there in the dining room, waving her between the kitchen and the front door, asking her which way she wants to go. I try damnit, I try. But on the occasion that I forget to do the above, she rewards me with a lovely steaming pile of shit by my computer chair. That’s gratitude.
At least when my mother (or grandmother) finally gets to that stage, there exist helpful solutions — like adult nappies (diapers, for the Americans). And awesome mobility vehicles that they can charge around in. Maybe someone should invent such things for old cats and dogs!