When Do You Pull The Plug On A Friend?

By Bill Hall

I wasn't going to make any rash decisions about putting a pet to sleep because one of my sons was watching and I didn't want to set any ugly precedents.

Some day my children might be contemplating a similar fate for me so I was conscious of the object lesson in what I was doing.

The pet before me was Sterling, my failing feline friend sitting there on the stainless steel table of the vet for one more attempt to needle some vitality back into his old bones.

The question before me was whether enough was enough, whether the weakened life Sterling had left was better than the alternative. And such calls are often fuzzy. But I said no. I said keep him alive.

I said that for two reasons:

1. While I was thinking on it, the cat looked straight up into my eyes with a "Don't snuff me!" look. And his eyes looked clear whether mine did or not. I decided there was still some life in there.

2. While I was thinking on it, one of our sons perhaps assuming I was having trouble avoiding what will eventually have to be done kind of encouraged me to go ahead if I thought I should.

Frankly, he seemed a little eager to settle the matter. I realized he might have to make a similar decision on me one day and I didn't want him to get in the habit of making snap decisions.

"Not yet," I said. "A person never wants to rush into a serious matter like this," I said.

"You never know when some sick person will make a miraculous recovery and reward you with riches beyond calculation for saving him," I said.

Actually, the decision was relatively easy in the case of the cat. True, Sterling is not his old self. He doesn't romp around the room. He has little energy. He doesn't eat much and he's a bag of bones.

But so far as I can tell, he is in no pain. He still snuggles up to my feet on the couch and helps me watch football. He still prefers the cat team the Cincinnati Bengals. He still purrs, especially when they score.

But it is an odd thing to pick up a formerly fat cat and feel a furry feather in your hands. We constantly push food under his nose. But it doesn't often work. You can lead a cat to tuna but you can't make him chew.

We do have some thick obnoxious stuff in a tube and a method of sort of force feeding it. It's like dark peanut butter mouse butter maybe and we push it in his mouth. He sits there kind of gagging, trying to get it off the roof of his mouth, forced to eat it in the process, but obviously hating it.

And I hate doing it to him. I know it's for his own good. But it's like your old mother is fading away and doesn't want to eat. Would you hold her down with a knee on her chest and force peanut butter into her mouth? Sometimes it's a thin line between torture and dinner.

I guess the mouse butter helps. I know the pills do for a time. But one thing worked best of all the sun.

This is a cat I remember as a kitten, playing in the sunlight coming through a winter window, chasing a walnut across the floor, making me laugh before I went off to work in the morning.

Just as we brought him back from the vet the other day, perhaps for the final time, the gray autumn clouds welcomed him home by letting the sun out to play with him again. A sunbeam streamed through the window and he strolled over to meet it there.

Cats love the sun more than anybody I know. They go outside on warm days with a coat on and sleep in the sun, sucking it in like fresh life, charging their batteries.

And it worked again the other day for Sterling. The sun seemed to inflate him with light. He sat a little taller. He grew a little larger. He sat there, head up, his eyes squinting with pleasure in the manner of an aged man contemplating his life and wondering if he will see another summer in the sun.

He probably won't. He and I both know that.

But I was glad I hadn't been quick to end the matter in the vet's office. You can be so brave about putting a pet out of its misery that you put it out of its pleasure instead. Besides, as I remind my children, Sterling may make a miraculous recovery and reward me with the riches of his friendship for having been the one to save his life.



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