Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Cat

An alley cat has been haunting my porch since the beginning of summer. He's a persian mix of some sort, black with whit markings. According to my neighbor Carolyn, "he used to belong to someone down the street, but they don't take care of him. Same as they treat they kids." When she said this, shaking her head in disgust, I wanted to ask if she'd been reading Bill Cosby's comments: he's been all over the news lately for ragging on poor black people. Carolyn is about his age, black, a regular churchgoer, and we live at the edge of the ghetto, where children carry guns and do wheelies on ATV quads up and down the street, while the police just watch. I decided against it though.

Anyway I call this cat, who is very social and desperately wants to be someone's pet again, Mr. Dirtypants. he is so filthy that his white fur is gray. He meows like crazy. i feed him, but I can't let him in the house, because I am violently allerigc to cats. When I pet Mr. Dirtypants, I get hives on my hand. Once I pet Mr. Dirtypants, then took off my glasses; my eye was swollen for hours.

Today I came home, and Anti-Dirtypants (a white cat with black markings, and a ferociously aggressive tom) was waiting to be fed. That's when Mr. Dirtypants himself limped up the stairs. He tried to avoid putting any weight on his left paw, which was swollen, bloody, and hung at a weird angle. "What did you do to yourself, Mr. Dirtypants?" I asked. "is that paw broken?" I called my brother, who works at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinarian Hospital and explained the situation. "Do we get a discount because you work there?... We do?... Ok, call ahead, I'm heading over." I went outside with a bowl of food for Mr. Dirtypants and Anti-Dirtypants. As they got busy with eating, I swooped up my filthy friend and carried him to the car. As I opened the door, he began to struggle, but I pitched him in and slammed the door.

As I started the car, he began to run in circles, yowling, perching on the dashboard, staring in horror out the window, and finally curling up on the rear dashboard panting in terror. Ever see a cat pant like a dog? It's a sure indication the cat is FREAKING OUT.

I got to the hospital within 15 minutes, and dragged the cat out, kicking and screaming. That's no cliche either: Mr. Dirtypants dug his claws into the upholstery in the car, and I pretty much had to release each claw one by one as he spat and yowled in panic. I finally got him in to see the doctor, and after almost an hour's wait, someone was ready to speak to me.

"Well, there's some good news," said the doc. "His foot isn't broken. Basically, we're looking at a bad bite that may be abcessed."

"That's good," i said.

"Not so fast. There's a problem," said the doc. "He's a stray right? And you don't know his owner or his vaccination record, do you?"

"No sir," i said. "I've just been feeding him."

"Well.. here's the deal," the doctor said. "See, to treat him, he'll have to be admitted. Which means you'll have to take responsibility for him. Now, I know your brother works here, so you'll get a discount, but the overnight is going to cost at least $300, and probably closer to $400 after everything's done. Wait, don't say anything, let me finish. Because we don't have any vaccination record for our friend," he added looking at the chart, "Mr. uhhh.. Mr. Dirtypants will have to be quarantined in your house for six months, because he might have rabies. It's illegal to set him loose."

"And the alternative?"

"The alternative is that we put him down."

Put him down. This cat was maybe 2 years old, socialized, and had what seemed to be an infected cut. If he was old, or had a broken back, or needed an amputation, it would have been an easier call. Put down for an abcessed cut? That hardly seemed fair. The doctor must have read my mind, because he said, "I know it doesn't seem fair, but you have one of two options."

I called my brother; we discussed, negotiated. "Dude, I have tuition coming up," he said.

"I know. And child support. Same as me. But dude... I don't know. it's an abcessed bite. The doctor says that if he has rabies, it'll show up in a few weeks or a month. But if he doesn't have it.. it just seems unfair."

"Man, $225 is all I can afford," Ray said, "and even that's pushing it. Pushing it a lot."

"How do you think I feel?" I said. "I'm fucking unemployed! You have tuition, and both of us have child support. I don't know. Shitshitshitshitshit. It's not like he's dying or has a terminal illness."

"Man... shit. I don't want to put him down," said Ray.

"Me neither. Look... we can split it. I'll split the cost with you. What do think? You like him as much as I do. It's only 6 months and they sell Claritin over the counter now. I can deal with the alleriges."

"Goddammit. Yeah, tell them we'll do it," he said. "Fucking Dirtypants."

"Yeah, I know, the shit-head owes us," I said. "Goddam Dirtypants. So it's agreed? Dirtypants gets a reprieve?"

"Yeah. I'll give you my half tomorrow."

I called over to the nurse. "Hey, the cat lives. get the doctor. Gimme the damn forms."

I filled out the forms and was turning to leave when a clean cut guy with frosted hair stepped in frnt of me. "Here take this," he said, thrusting a wad of twenties at me.

"What? No i can't take your money."

"No, I heard what you're doing. This'll pay for half. Take it and get out of here. You're doing a nice thing."

I don't even remember if he said those last five words or not. I took the money and said "God Bless You." For the first time ever I think i really meant it. I rushed out of the hospital, got in the car and thumbed through the clump of cash. The stranger had slipped me $200. Two hundred dollars! I didn't think people like this really existed.

My housemate's not happy about our new guest and his potential for spraying, so I called the SPCA and we have an appointment for a snip-snip to the old ball sack. He'll be getting his shots too. If Dirtypants gives me the guilt eye, I'll just say "Well, if it wasn't for you losing a fight I wouldn't have had to bring you into the vet. You're gonna live here, the balls have to go.

Frankly, I highly doubt Mr. Dirtypants will be here long, especially considering my parents' home in the woods and their menagerie of cats. God knows he's gonna have me sneezing and coughing and covered with hives. But tonight I did a mazel for some stupid stray, a mazel that's going to cost me in money and personal well-being.

I have no regrets. Maybe this'll get me out of a few years in Hell.