Vale Merlot

Our cat Merlot died today. We had him put down. No more purring, no more snoring. Just silence.

He had developed a severely diseased bladder. We don't know the origins of the disease but his condition became apparent after two urinary blockages brought on by fights with another cat. In time, he might have shown the condition anyway, but evidently his system couldn't take it any more and his bladder became perforated... twice. It was unlikely that he would recover and that, in another 24 to 48 hours, he'd have the same condition: urine leaking into his body, irritating and poisoning him.

It was a difficult decision to make. Whereas we humans can express our feelings and have agency—we can make decisions about our health and treatment—animals have neither the capacity to understand the medical treatment we provide them, other than perhaps a vague feeling of care, nor the means to articulate it.

When we made the decision we tried to explain it to Daniel. He cried for a long time. While he has been aware of people dying before, this would be the first confronting experience of death he has had.

We went to say goodbye and Lou held Merlot while the doctor administered the lethal dose of anaesthetic. Daniel sat not wanting to see and crying bitterly. It was a distressing experience.

Daniel had a play-date, a welcome distraction. Lou and I buried Merlot in the garden.

In the past, I have wondered about humans' attachment to animals. The relationship between animals and humans must have changed quite a lot since most people stopped using their animals for their labour and food. We tend to anthropomorphise animals and our popular culture reinforces this tendency. Perhaps that is not so new; many old stories and myths have animals speaking and behaving like humans. Maybe it is because many animals share certain behavioural characteristics in common and it is our animality, rather than humanity, that we see in them.

And pets, frivolous though our attention to them might sometimes seem, are always there for us, ready to be companions and to accept us without question. They, in their ways and in the routines of our care, show a contentment that we can only aspire to and seem destined never to achieve.

Would I feel the death of a human family member more keenly than this? For a member of our family Merlot truly was. A stray picked up on the other side of town, withdrawn and nervous in the animal shelter, we saw something special in Merlot and he in us. The shelter staff told us he did not like children, yet he allowed Daniel to stroke him almost immediately. It is no exaggeration to say that he chose us.


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