A short story with a happy ending
The New York pet is a particular creature — cosseted, primped, pedicured, brushed and tooth-brushed by its owner and transported around town in bags and on bicycle baskets. All this goes some way towards saying that I never expected to own a pet in this city. When a housemate was leaving for California, though, and suggested that she place her cat in my care, I couldn’t say no. (I was also somewhat scared by a neighbour’s reports of rats.) Thus I became the proud owner of Little Guy (see left).
We had expected the handover to go smoothly — cats are independent after all. I was away for a week when A. moved out but the plan was that other housemates would feed Little Guy in the meantime. When I returned, however, Little Guy had indeed made a new home, not in the comfortable surroundings of my bedroom, but in a dank, dark spot under the bathtub. He wouldn’t come out; nor would he eat, or drink.
The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the person who moved into A.’s (and Little Guy’s) former room owned a dog. The new pet, which happened to be a chihuahua, barked and growled and generally made his presence felt.
A week went by during which I stuck my head under the bath regularly whispering, “Little Guy, Little Guy.” Eventually I remembered that he’d loved tuna in the past. When he devoured a spoonful of it, I decided that moist, tinned cat-food was the way to go. To my delight, he crept out from his hiding place and began to eat. This stuff seems to be a sort of crack-cocaine for cats: local felines would gather at my window and peer in soulfully when I dispensed Little Guy’s new food.
He still wasn’t fully well, so I took him to the vet. I’d expected the vet to make reassuring noises and when she frowned, my heart sank. The cat had gone two full weeks without eating or drinking, and was severely dehydrated. Because of his self-starvation and self-dehydration, the vet informed me, Little Guy might have suffered permanent liver damage. (Note to animal lovers — during that entire time he was never more than four feet away from food and water).
My choice was $140 treatment, $350, or deluxe care that I immediately rejected which would have cost upwards of $1,000. I explained to the vet that I didn’t even have health insurance for myself, and hadn’t spent $350 on a doctor’s trip in a long time (she eyed me piteously). I was tempted by the cheapest option, but called A. in California, who offered to pay the $350.
— On a tangent: my uncle has a friend who doesn’t like dogs that much but bought one for his daughter. Shortly after they got him, the dog took sick and was rushed to pet-hospital in the middle of the night, only to die the next day. Even so, the man was presented with a bill for $10,000, which he duly paid. Fortunately he was a lawyer. Pet care in New York is unbelievably pricey, and always prompts me to wonder whether we’d spend that much on humans (we walk past homeless people every day). I almost envied Little Guy: the vet was far kinder to him than doctors have been towards me, even when I had health insurance. —
Now I was traumatized. The cat had been making a slow bid for suicide, in the vet’s opinion because of stress. Chastened, I moved his food and litter box into my bedroom. Up until then, I’d deemed a feline bedfellow unhygienic, but now I allowed him sleep in my bed, which was what he’d always wanted.
Little Guy was on the way to recovery, aided by a rehydrating injection from the vet, but his return to health was not without some hiccups. The crack-cocaine food proved delicious not just to him but to the chihuahua, which snuck into my room one day and gobbled it up, and was sick later that night all over his owner’s precious Bedouin rug …
This story has a happy ending. The liver damage wasn’t permanent after all, and at his last trip to the vet, Little Guy had gained 2lbs. Every night he hops into bed beside me and curls up by my pillow (of course, I still think it’s unhygienic); indeed as I write this, he’s lying on his back on my bed, not a care in the world and limbs indelicately splayed. Even relations with the dog have improved. After an encounter earlier today, Little Guy didn’t retreat as quickly as he should have done, but instead peered at the chihuahua from behind my half-closed door. He’s no longer scared. After all, the dog weighs just 6lbs — Little Guy is more than twice his size.