Friday, September 13, 2013

Lessons from Cato, my cat

Opening a can of tuna will never be the same for me again.

The distinctive sound of the can opener puncturing the tin always brought our cat, Cato, running to my feet. She would sit, looking up at me with anticipation, before getting dangerously underfoot as I moved to pour the water from the can into her bowl.  

Tuna water was her favorite treat, and on one occasion I was able to coax her down from the top of a high tree simply by saying “tuna” and opening a tin.  Cato lived with us for 18 years, and during that time she became a member of the family.

The amount of money that North Americans spend on pets suggests that we have gone gaga over them. In 2011, Canadians spent $8.9 billion on their pets, and Americans spent a whopping $50 billion.  While it was not my practice to spend exorbitant amounts on Cato, I coughed up several hundred dollars without hesitation when she required emergency surgery after raccoons attacked her.

Pets win our affection
We lavish attention on our pets because they win us over. My relationship with Cato was a good example of the affects that a pet can have on an individual’s heart.

When Cato first came to us, the kids were more excited than I was about having a cat. As one of my children described it, Cato and I had a business relationship. She kept the mice out of the house, and I made sure she was fed.  

Cato, in the early days
Louise McEwan photo

While it is unclear if I trained her or she trained me, we came to understand one another almost perfectly. While I am not exactly a lover of animals in the mode of Saint Francis, who famously preached to the birds, I found myself talking to Cato on more than one occasion. 

Cato, the preacher
It was Cato, however, who did the real preaching. Even though she possessed an instinctual ruthlessness as a hunter by nature, her feline traits spoke to me of contentment, and her presence was soothing.   From her vibrating purr to her ability to lounge on any surface, no matter how hard and uncomfortable, she conveyed a spirit of softness.

In the hubris of my humanity, I never expected to learn anything from a cat. This was an ignorant, perhaps even a sinful, attitude, for as Saint Francis knew animals have the potential to deepen our awareness of the presence of the divine in creation and in the human heart. They have the ability to call forth deep levels of kindness and compassion; as the saint taught, “men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity will deal likewise with their fellow men”.

There is a deep connection between people and their pets

Dizzy reads along, ready to turn the page
T. McEwan photo
Saint Francis perceived an affinity between people and animals: people and animals originated in the same Creator, whose providential care sustained them both.  While not everyone shares Saint Francis’s worldview, most will agree that there is a deep connection between people and their pets.  

I was sad and upset as my cat’s life ebbed away and the inevitable visit to the vet loomed. I was unprepared for the lingering sense of loss I felt after she died; I did not expect to be looking for her in the old familiar places in the weeks that followed. Cato had brought a mellowness into our lives and the house felt quiet and empty without her.

The deep connection we have with our pets makes that final farewell difficult. The exceptional kindness of my vet and his assistant on that last visit made the parting easier.  Each of us understood the bond between person and pet.  It was there in Cato’s dying. 

I knew she was gone before my vet whispered the words. The light had faded from her eyes.  She had returned to her maker who was reflected in the intangible softness she had brought to our home.

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