When my cat gets ill, which he does with alarming regularity, I am generally met with two responses: sympathy, or people wanting to know why I don't just hand him 'back' (where?), or even have him put down, rather than go through the expense* of having him treated. I am actually starting to hear a few "well, he's had a good life with you" comments – like he's at death's door (he's not) and that I should be thankful he's "had a good innings" (this is a hateful phrase, by the way).
Generally the people suggesting I abandon him to his fate have absolutely no concept of the pet / owner relationship. So I'm going to spell it out for them – or at least, spell out my pet / owner relationship. I am under no illusions that my cat loves me. He does not. He's an animal. He isn't capable of such emotion. What he does do, to a humbling degree, is trust me. I do horrible things to him. I jab at him with sharp sticks twice a day. He often makes a show of passive-resistance-style flopping over and wailing when it comes to injection time (oh, he knows) but still sits patiently on my knee, without needing restraint, while I poke at him. I regularly bundle him into a plastic box and take him on bumpy car journeys to visit a man who pins him down and shoves needles into his neck / knocks him unconscious and cuts him open. I pour stinky liquid on the back of his neck once a month. I flip him upside down and snap off the ends of his claws. He should hate me. Yet he purrs like a drill at the slightest touch, snuggles up and rests his head on me at night and, for some reason I've not worked out, will get up from any point in the flat and come to see me whenever I go to the loo. Some sort of Pavlovian response to the clink of seat against cistern…**
He doesn't trust many other people like this. Jesus, he flees from most people. To blah on again about how I met him, it was at the Cats Protection rehoming centre in Archway and he was attacking anyone who came into his pen – but with me, he curled up on my lap and went to sleep. He's run away from homes he doesn't like. I am in no doubt that he trusts me completely and one would need a heart of steel to be unmoved by that.
I don't have a heart of steel. I don't need to be spurred on by any sense of obligation. I am smitten. He is adorable, clumsy, affectionate, stupid. He is a creature living in my house and I have no clue what goes on his head, and that fascinates me. The idea that I wouldn't justify the trust he has in me to keep him safe and (as) healthy (as he can be) is – well, actually, it's offensive. What kind of dishonourable worm do they take me for?
(If you haven't guessed, tomorrow's the day he goes in for surgery. And I spent most of last night awake because he's had a bad reaction to the thyroid medication and was puking; I was worried and am a little tetchy.)
* The expense really isn't that much. He is exceptionally well insured.
** Other unlikely examples of non-psychopathic cat behaviour for the cat-denyers come from my old family pet, Felix. So keen to be petted was he that, if you started to bend down to tickle his ears or just give him a quick pat on the head, he would go from a lying-start to rearing up on his back legs to headbutt your hand within a second. Also, I had a weekend job at the local cinema which often meant I wouldn't get home until 10.30pm, occasionally 1.30am. I cannot count the number of times I found Felix waiting for me in the drive – my parents say he would refuse to come in, even if they went out to fetch him.