She Ran Out Of Stuff Before Finishing Him

By Bill Hall

Sheldon's mother ran out of stuff before she got through making him.

And he was from a recklessly inbred line.

He paid with his life last week for those mistakes of people. And his creation was an error that my wife and I will never be an accessory to again. Why should a cat suffer just so we can feel softer fur?

Sheldon was a Balinese. In defense of us, we didn't know when we got him what he was made of. All we knew was that he was an uncommonly handsome variation on Siamese cats with fur as soft as the down on a duckling's belly. That was enough. We saw such a cat in another home. And of course, we wanted one.

But that is no way to buy an animal. You shouldn't start ordering them by design like new automobiles. You shouldn't ask them to remodel the fenders. You should take cats like kids the way they are, the way they have always been, the way they have been popping out of the factory since they and the Egyptians first brought our kind together.

You shouldn't order animals with white sidewalls. You shouldn't specify soft seat covers.

You shouldn't order blue headlights. You shouldn't offer to pay more for mere appearance.

When you do that, you tempt breeders even more reckless than you are to focus too tightly on characteristics less significant than personality. You encourage them financially to turn breeds inward upon themselves, intensifying a color, encouraging a shape and neglecting health in the process.

The so-called Balinese are the result of two separate mutations about 40 years ago.

The last I read, that was all the mutations of that type there had been. So Sheldon's genes came entirely from the narrow base of those two families like two neighboring hillbilly families inbreeding the health out of each other.

Worse, the mother cat who gave birth to Sheldon had been turned into a kitten factory, a machine-gun mom, spewing litters by the dozens. I think she ran low on cat stuff by the time she got to him. We discovered not long after we got him that he had been born with a hole in his side. We had it patched.

And then it appeared he had some form of arthritis. It turns out he was born with flawed bones, with some terrible congenital condition in his hips and backbone. From the time he was 2 years old, he was like a little old man on cold, rainy days, crippling around the house in pain.

But it was only periodic. He looked so healthy that we thought at first he was respraining a leg. So we delayed.

The odd part is that, on his many good days, he was our most active cat. He was an accomplished hunter, dragging mice and large dogs and even your occasional Avon lady in through the cat door. That made the Avon ladies crabby and we had to buy a lot of avocado eyeshadow to mollify them.

And unlike some inbred animals and people, it didn't seem to affect his brain. He was, if anything, our brightest cat, and certainly the most dependent on human company. As my wife would lie in bed reading, Sheldon would cuddle up beside her and fall asleep with one paw hugging her arm.

But there were soon too many days when he was off in a corner, listless and tattered, his blue eyes clouded with pain. He was getting worse before our eyes.

Fortunately, the laws of the state of Idaho are more humane when it comes to deciding such matters for animals than for people. And so Sheldon now chases mice and dogs and Avon ladies somewhere over the rainbow free from pain, as the preachers always say.

He was only 5. And he leaves two wiser friends behind. We won't do that again. But it makes a person wonder when, in this appearance-crazy country, we will stop trying to change people and animals. Will the day ever come when we take them the way they are, blue headlights or brown, soft fur or coarse, short or tall?

What's wrong with a cat who looks and acts and feels like a cat?

And what does it matter what kind of fur he has if he merely does what cats do best if he lies down next to you and hugs your arm while you read a book? How can you improve on that?



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