DP’s cat died.
Actually, she (the cat, that is) was killed. Euthenised after a bad diagnosis. As is the way with cats, an animal that was fine a month ago fell sick and deteriorated quickly. The vet diagnosed a tumour, and DP, who handled this as she does every other matter, with brisk efficiency, accepted that it would best if Ziggy was ushered quietly away. And again as is the way, she stroked the cat gently, saying goodbye as the needle slipped under the skin.
The vet asked if she wanted to take the body home for burial. DP decided she didn’t want the extra emotional stress, and the vet said that was fine, many people chose that option, and would she like the ashes after cremation? DP said no again, and went home, and had a little cry.
Over the next few days she began to reconsider this. Ziggy had been around for eleven years or so, through a couple of jobs, a few boyfriends, many lodgers. And there was a spot in the back garden, just by a bay plant, that would be a nice place for the cat to lay.
So she phoned the vet. Had they actually cremated the cat? No? Good. Could she possibly have her back? Yes? Excellent. So she gathered a cardboard box – the cat carrier seeming the wrong thing for bringing back a cat corpse - popped onto her scooter and went to collect the body.
“You realise”, the vet said “that there are certain procedures we have to take. Health and safety, and all that.”
“Really? Such as?”
“Well. We don’t cremate on an as-and-when basis, if you see what I mean. We have one big, er, service, once a week. So we have to, er, store the deceased until then.”
And so DP came home with her late pat cat on the platform of her scooter, still frozen solid, laid out as she was when she died. Just too big to go completely into the cardboard box, and with her tail sticking up and out from under the lid.
The grave had been dug beforehand, and it was soon clear that a laid-out, rigid cat would take up more space the curled-up cat DP had imagined she’d be bringing home. So the hole was widened as Ziggy lay on the lawn, and after a while she was finally laid to rest, slightly thawed, slightly less rigid, wrapped in the blanket she’d so often slept on. There were other options that, while allowing a more rapid interment, would have been less pleasant, and so happily were disregarded.
Certain creatures lend themselves to easy disposal; goldfish can be flushed away, hamsters laid on a bier of cotton wool, budgerigars lowered lovingly into the ground inside a small tin. I look at my own cat, a hefty, loud and brutish ‘domestic shorthair’ with a propensity for bringing me live rats in the early hours, and wonder how long it will take, when his time comes, to dig the hole large enough to accept him. I wonder even if I shall be around to do this.
This is what pets do. If we have them in our early years, they act as primers for the inescapables of life; the family dog giving birth to puppies gives us an introduction to the squeamy realities of sex and its consequences; the terrible early morning discovery of the cat hit by a car in the early hours shows us the brutal irrevocable truth of death.
As we grow older and things fall away from us – vitality, friends, relatives, all gradually succumbing to time’s slow poison – we are left with just ourselves, and the comfort of knowing that all things pass.
And then we go and buy a kitten.