To me, there seems to be an implied contract between us and our cats. On the cats’ side, the terms appear to go something like this:
“I, [paw-print or scent mark here] agree to become a part of your household. It is to be understood that, while the duties of my humans are compulsory and binding, all duties specified for the cat are to be discharged, or not, at the option and whim of the cat. Therefore, the remainder of this part of the contract will primarily concern the duties of the humans.
1. Meals are to be served promptly and should always consist of ample quantities of high-quality food.
1a. Food should also be available at all times between any human-designated ‘meal times.’
1b. As specified above, food should be of a high quality, unless cat desires something else.
2. Cat toys and other diversions are to be available at all times.
2a. The cat shall be the sole designator of what is (or is not) a toy, though humans are required to provide options. These may, at cat’s discretion, be disregarded in favor of any objects within reach.
3. Human shall be required to anticipate any cat needs not specified in this document.”
I could go on, but you get the idea.
On the humans’ side, the contract takes a very different form, because we know some things that the cat does not. We know that the cat, unless he sees an open door and makes a run for it, is our prisoner and our responsibility. We know that we hold the power of life and death over that cat far more than the other way around.
This responsibility we hold carries two edges. One swings into the happy times, one into the sad times. It is important, I think, that we graciously accept both edges. The sad edge is the one we don’t usually think about. It’s the moment we had with Bun-Butt last week, when we had exhausted our options at the veterinarian and made the choice to have her put down. I have known people who refused to accept that half of the contract, who have kept their cat at home and put it through a protracted period of suffering until the body finally shut down. I regard this approach as cowardly and needlessly cruel. It is not, despite some protests to the contrary, a ‘natural’ way to die. No, in most cases, these animals would be finished off out there in the ‘natural’ world far more quickly and humanely than suffering a slow death under the ‘protection’ of a human household.
It was our duty, as Bun-Butt’s guardians, to see that she did not continue to suffer when hope for a functioning, dignified, painless life was clearly gone. CC and I both stood there at the vet’s comforting BB while she received her final injections. It was brutally difficult to witness, yet there was no regret on either of our parts. We were fulfilling the last provision on the last page of The Contract. If you don’t think you’re up to fulfilling those terms, do the animal world a favor and do not take pets into your home.