By Michael Gutgsell
Sharing your home and your life with a pet can be a real hassle. They take up time, energy, and resources to keep up, but ask any pet owner and you’ll hear a litany of what makes it worth it. I don’t want to get into that now. If you don’t already know the many wonderful aspects of having a pet, you’ve seen them in memes and videos all over the internet and heard about it ad nauseum from coworkers and friends.
But what about when it goes sour? You change something–maybe move apartments, add a cat, or have a baby, and your elderly declawed cat starts having litter box issues. Well, shit! Sometimes literally. All over your couch, your rug, your piles of dirty laundry heaped in the corner because you live like a goddamn slob. Sure, most litter box issues arise from a medical issue, or have to do with where the boxes are placed. So you talk to your vet, you talk to a cat behaviorist (yes, those exist), but find what they suggest is just too…hard. Give your cat Prozac? That’s crazy! Plus, so much work. She doesn’t like it. You try off and on for a month, but it’s too stressful and she won’t just eat it in a treat, so you just give up. You’ve heard it takes awhile to take effect, but you don’t have the patience to find out. And adding litter boxes to every room? That’s just gross! You’d rather clean up the urine, but not really.
You’ve got a business to run, a fiance to deal with, and a myriad of little irritants that make up your little life, and this cat you’ve had for years suddenly just isn’t at the top of the list. You’re having trouble even remembering what it was you liked about her when she pees on an antique chair and settles into the puddle, staring at you with her wide, confused, sad eyes. So you call the shelter where you adopted her (because you’re a conscientious person like that, you “rescued” her, you tell your friends as you drink your fair-trade coffee and shuffle about in your Toms). You call the shelter and after beating around the bush for awhile because it’s hard to say and you don’t want them to treat you like you’re a bad person, because you’re not, you tell the person on the other end of the line you want to return Mac Kenzie.
What a weight lifted off your shoulders! It’s hard to let go, but at the same time, it’s like a huge relief not to have to deal with her anymore. No more cleaning up urine! One less box to maintain, one less mouth to feed with Friskies or whatever is on sale at the grocery store. But still, you’re sad, you feel hurt, you want someone to tell you “You tried,” and “Other people wouldn’t have done what you did for her,” and “At least she’s at a no-kill shelter where she can live out her days in peace!”
So you relinquished your cat, now what?
No, not “now what?” for you, because who gives a shit? You’ve got a home and choices to make and a life to lead that is of your creating, more or less. “Now what?” for Mac Kenzie.
First, she leaves her home in her carrier (which you’d like back, thaaaanks!) and gets placed in a cage for a quarantine of two weeks. If you think at this point she’s going to get a lot of one-on-one time, you’d be sorely mistaken. Instead of sleeping in bed with the people she loves (fool that she was for trusting them, but cats are our little Stockholm-syndrome captives), she will be curled up on a donated towel, inches from her litter box, food dish, and water bowl. There might be an unfamiliar toy in there with her, which provides little comfort, and which she will mostly ignore. That ratty little mouse-thing (it’s her favorite!) you included in her carrier to maybe comfort her was thrown in the laundry while she was being examined by the vet when your fiance dropped her off. It will unravel in the washing machine and Mac Kenzie will never see it again.
Almost at the end of two weeks (the legal quarantine period), which seem like an eternity of shots, blood draws, and exams in order to get her up to scruff to go onto the adoption floor, she will get a stress-induced illness, maybe an upper respiratory infection, which will keep her alone in isolation for another week or so. She will lose weight, and she will sleep in her litter box.
When she is finally ready for adoption, she will move upstairs to live in another cage for ideally three days. Three days is the allotted time for most cats, but senior house cats generally need quite a bit longer. She will suffer in this unfamiliar environment; I don’t want you to have any illusions about that. There is a constant stream of visitors, with loud, strange voices and sudden peerings into her little cage. A stranger reaches in to change her litter box and linens every day, which leaves her frozen in fear, eyes black from her pupils being so dilated in anxiety.
Chances are she won’t get a lot of attention, apart from people observing how sad she looks, to which the adoption counselor will say something appropriately sympathetic while maintaining icy cool in their mentioning of your choice – relinquishment. You are not considered a saint here.
The days will go by, and those will turn into months before long, and then a year passes. You have moved to a bigger apartment, you are pregnant, maybe, and figuring out how this whole motherhood thing will work out. You remember Mac Kenzie as a sad period in your life when you had to make a “Sophie’s Choice” between two cats. But that’s only when you remember her. You don’t often. She was just a cat, as disposable as a sofa or an old sweater.
Mac Kenzie by now has finally left her cage. She spends her time curled in a carrier or up high in a cat tree, fearful of strangers but hungry for gentle attention when it’s offered. If anyone is ever interested in her (which happens rarely, as she is an older cat, and people rarely look at cats older than five), they effectively say “Next, please,” after hearing that she was returned due to litter box troubles. Mac Kenzie is on Prozac here, and she doesn’t have litter box issues. She’s also on an appetite stimulant because she’s too depressed to eat, and she’s stopped grooming herself. She’s pretty much given up. She’ll be dead in another year or so, found curled up on the cat tree like a tightly coiled rope. She’ll be placed in a plastic bag and sent to the incinerator, and no one will claim her ashes. She will die alone, having been abandoned by the one person she was foolish enough to trust. The only person she could trust, really.
Having a pet can be hard, yeah. It doesn’t always look like you think it will. But you know what, you selfish shit? It’s a responsibility you took on. It’s a relationship you work on. If your cat is having an issue, she is telling you loud and clear there is a problem, and guess what? It’s probably your fault. If you have a problem, ask for help. If you ask for help, take the expert’s advice. If that seems too “hard,” put a fucking diaper on your cat. Make it work, you goddamn cunt.
Michael Gutgsell is a regular writer for Tumbleweed Diaries. You can read more of him on his weekly blog, Making a Mess of It, or on the blog for Tree House Humane Society, the no-kill stray cat shelter where he works.