I believe it was George Carlin who observed that human beings are remarkably funny when it comes to pets. You get one, it lives for 15 years, it dies and you mourn. You get another one, it lives 15 years, it dies and you mourn again. And so on and so on, until you get so old you get a pet to take care of and comfort you. I don't know if he said that part of it.
For almost 14 years, I had Babette. Babette was a Tabby cat. She adopted me, not the other way around. One Friday morning, in the late 80s, this little kitten showed up at the back door of the advertising agency where I worked. I used to go back there to smoke, even though we were allowed to do that inside at the time. I didn't want to pollute the air for all of the workers who didn't. I opened the door and there sat this cute little blonde just meowing and meowing at the sight of me. Now, I've never needed, nor wanted a pet cat, certainly not a kitten, but she just stared up at me with a "thank you, thank you, you're here to help me, right?" look on her face. She was so innocent and defenseless. Hmm, I thought, she looks hungry. Maybe I'll run up the street to Winn-Dixie and get her some cat food. I did. Boy, did she gobble that up.
Like I said, it was a Friday. I left that afternoon without giving her much of a thought, although, I did leave her plenty of dry food and water. Not that I cared or anything. That Monday morning, I came to work and the first thing the receptionist, Helen, said was that my girlfriend was here. What do you mean? My girlfriend is at work. No, she said, the one you left at the back door. Oh no, I thought. She's still here? Yes, and she's probably been here all weekend, waiting for you to come back. Well, I had no more food, so back to Winn-Dixie I went.
Every time I went out the back door, she sat patiently waiting with anticipation and excitement. I told her, OK, you can come inside. I'll let you out at night. I figured it wouldn't take too long to find a home for you, with all of the friends and connections I had. Boy, was I wrong. Weeks went by until the boss said I can't just keep her here, I needed to do something. She was such a sweetie. She almost had me at hello. How was this going to work? I mean, I was relatively young and quite active. I had a girlfriend I spent a lot of time with. I don't see this working out at all. I took her home.
That Saturday morning, we went to the Orange County Animal Center, or whatever it was called, for shots and to get fixed. I didn't need any more of what I didn't want running around. A woman came in at the same time with her cat. Hers was in one of those animal containers. Mine wasn't. One thing I'll say about Babette is that I never had to restrain her. She never had problems with other cats or any other type animal. She was very comfortable. The vet tech took both cats behind a wall at the same time. The wall didn't extend up to the ceiling, so I could hear her and the vet discussing one of them...
"This one's pregnant."
"That's not my cat you're talking about, is it?"
"Yes, it is."
"That little slut!" The waiting room broke into laughter.
The vet tech came out to explain. "We're going to have to abort these kittens," like I was going to disagree with her. "For one thing, there's no telling how large the tomcat was. She might have a problem giving birth to kittens since she might not be large enough to accommodate their..."
"OK. Sure. No problem. Just do it."
"Besides, she's probably not old enough to have the proper instincts to be good a mother. She might abandon them."
"Yup, do what you have to do. How old is she?"
"Seven or eight months." Boy, I thought, they start young, don't they? That's statutory rape in my book. How do you arrest a cat, let alone find the purr-petrator?
Not only did they give her an abortion, they fixed her at the same time and gave her her shots. They wanted to keep her a couple of days for observation and told me I could come back Monday to pick her up. The whole deal cost me $25. Not bad when you go to the county. That's all she was worth to me back then.
I went after work and took her home. She was just this little ball of fur and she barely moved. I had a date that night, so I set her on my bed with a little wet food and water. The next morning I came home. She hadn't budged. A little ball of fur. The food and water was not touched. At that point, I realized she was still in some pain. I called my office and said I wouldn't be in that day. One thing about where I worked, they were very caring people and understood my situation. I stayed with little Babette the remainder of the day and night. I promised myself and her that I would never leave her again. And I never did.
She gave me many wonderful years and lots of memories. One time, a dog chased her around the side of the house where I was talking to a neighbor. About 15 feet away, she leaped into the air and made a beeline straight for my arms. Oh no. I'm in for some serious scratches here. I could see them coming, all pointy and sharp. As soon as she hit me and I wrapped my arms around her for protection, her claws were gone. She never hurt me. The dog wasn't very happy. She used to love to climb on roofs and could never figure out a way down. I'd always rescue her. My old friend, Wayne Trout, once made a brilliant observation. "Dave? Have you ever seen a skeleton of a cat in a tree?" He was right. I think it was a game she played, to reassure herself that I was there.
She loved people. People loved her, even the ones that didn't like cats for one excuse or another, like saying they're allergic to them. No one ever sneezed at Babette. One time, my mother was holding her. She asked me why she has one eye closed. Because, I explained, Babette always stares at me, especially in bed at night, with a loving and trusting gaze. When I start to doze with the TV on, my right eye tends to nod off.
I know it's weird to say this, but she never failed to comfort those in pain. My mother will attest to that. Twice, she let me know when she was in pain. She stuck her back into my face when she had a puncture of some kind. She stared straight into my face to let me know she had a sinus infection. Like I said, I never had to put Babette in a box to take her to the vet. Everyone who ever babysat while I went away had wonderful stories to tell me about her and her personality upon my return.
I lost her 3 years ago. She finally had to get into a box and I buried her in the back yard. She was a great friend, true to the end. What was once worth $25 became priceless. One of the things that got me through the pain was what George Carlin said years earlier. I had to put things in perspective and understand how right he was. I did.
I still think about her often. Because of her, I want no more pets.
My sister and her husband have had Baxter for 13 years. A handsome Yellow Lab, he just got too old. She told me how his quality of life had deteriorated to the point of losing his dignity. He could no longer walk. He was losing the potty war. This morning, Baxter had a wonderful breakfast of special treats. This morning, Baxter took his last trip to see the vet. He had a very happy life. They still have Bailey, his companion of 8 years, and Teddy, a Rat Terrier puppy to help them through this difficult time.
We all have incredible tales to tell of these special creatures who have been so much a part of our lives. Our tails would be wagging like our tongues if we had them.
It's tough to let go, but we have to, by George.