He's not my cat. He's my sister's cat. She adopted him from a shelter as a tiny kitlet, and he lived with her for ten years. But when she moved into an apartment that didn't allow cats, she and my mother applied enormous emotional pressure on me to help poor little Ranger, such a nice cat.
Jerry Brown, musing over his Corgi, Sutter (California's First Dog) says, “I don’t know what moves him, he just decides to come in...Dogs are ambassadors from another world.” Ranger is otherworldly too, but he's no ambassador. I think he's an exiled revolutionary poet with a high opinion of himself.
When Ranger arrived at Palazzo Emmet six years ago, we'd just said goodbye to Boris, a sweet, disorganized hippie cat (the other cats had to groom him) who, it turned out, had a progressive neurological disorder. Eventually he forgot he was a cat at all and would stand in one place for hours waiting for enlightenment. The diagnosis led to a heartwrenching goodbye at the vet's office. To the extent that Boris had any consciousness left, I know he was relieved to go.
A week or so later, Ranger arrived. After six weeks seclusion in the back of the house, where he could hear and smell the other cats but not assault them, Ranger gradually joined them. There were two others then, both elderly: Jeffersonian Democracy and Gatito.
Jefferson and Gatito aren't ambassadors from another world. They're assimilated immigrants who have learned earthly cat language which they use to express what they want. In Jefferson's case: food, security, and to sit on my lap. In Gatito's case: food, food, food, and to have someone help him down from the porch roof after he goes up there looking for, I guess, food.
Jefferson is known as Scaredy Cat. Gatito is known as Cool Cat. Ranger became known as Hell Cat, after he sent Gatito to the vet's for very expensive abscess surgery and destroyed two armchairs because he didn't like the scratching post or the excellent wooden fence out back.
Over time, Ranger has grown to tolerate the other cats -- and the corgi, Matthias -- in an austere but non-violent manner. He's taken to getting up on the bed every morning in winter at the spot closest to the heater. He sometimes indicates that he wanted his chin rubbed. He brings serious heat to stalking the feathery cat toy. He doesn't join Jefferson's and Gatito's galumphing after-breakfast romps which are beneath his dignity. Nor does he socialize with them, or with Matthias. He...acknowledges them. He knows the resident humans and greets us when we come home by pacing past us once or twice. When we were joined last year by my nephew's cat, the impertinent youngster Bok Choi (both the cat and the nephew qualify as impertinent youngsters), Ranger accepted the situation with only a few knock-down-drag-out brawls.
But he's always been apart. He thinks, he ponders, he meditates, he goes on short solitary excursions. He poses like the Cat Bastet -- he's an elegant brown and gray tabby (I'd post a picture but I don't have one that's Worthy of his majestic catness). Sometimes he sits or crouches on the arm of my chair and looks at me through half closed eyes. But he's observing or thinking or composing, not communicating.
Last fall I noticed that he'd been getting even thinner than usual. In December, he was expensively diagnosed with early onset chronic renal failure. I did some research and started giving the cats raw food which I concocted myself. Ranger was very happy with this, until he wasn't any more. He stopped eating and we went back to the vet. This time he was diagnosed with enormously expensive tooth trouble. One tooth out, he came home and went back to eating with gusto, until he didn't any more. Back to the vet for hellaciously expensive followup tooth treatment, tests, biopsy, and, two weeks ago, the news that he has oral cancer, which caused the tooth trouble. Not much we can do, said the vet. I looked it up on the internet. Oral cancer in cats, don't despair! said the website. Unless it's the most common kind, squamous cell, in which case, euthanize. That's what Ranger has. He also has antibiotics (from the tooth thing), pain pills, and appetite stimulant pills. He takes them with good grace, until yesterday, when he didn't. I think the pain must be greater now.
So here's the thing. I've had many a pet put down. But I always felt as though the animal knew it was sick and was ready to go. Ranger, though, doesn't see himself as sick. He stills leaps and stalks around with his regular alien grace, demands food that he can't eat, and thinks his Ranger thoughts. He doesn't know about the pain pills and the appetite pills and the antibiotics. I know that his life will only get more painful, but he doesn't. Some time this week we'll go to the vet, and he doesn't know that either.
It feels impossibly arrogant to reach in from my world and end his unknowable existence