14 January 2010

Farewell to Mean

Homeschooled Farm Girl is the consummate cat lover. She has named pretty much all of our barn cats, plays with the barn cats, draws sketches of our barn cats in her spare time, and has been put in charge of feeding and tending the litter box of the two kittens that dwell in the basement (and which I tolerate for the sole reason that they catch field mice before those mice make their way into the pantry). By contrast, I am a dog person and enjoy having both dogs in my office all day long as I work. I tolerate felines to the extent they provide a useful service (e.g. catching mice), but otherwise cannot be bothered with them. 

HFG is our early warning radar, alerting us if anything goes wrong with any of the half-dozen or cats. She is the first to notice when any feline goes missing, or when any of them is acting sick. Predictably, she was the one who came to us yesterday afternoon with a concern about a barn cat named Mean (who, yes, had a littermate named "Nice"...but, just to confuse things, as they grew up "Nice" became mean and "Mean" became nice. I suggested they swap names, but HFG would have none of it). Anyway, it seemed that Mean had recently gotten injured in some way. HFG brought Mean to my office, and I took a look at the injury. I couldn't tell exactly what was wrong, but the cat was definitely having problems. She smelled especially awful, was meowing like she was in pain, and she had something weird sticking out of her rear end. It looked almost like what happened to one of our geese, several years back, when the goose laid her first egg and the whole oviduct came out with the egg. (I had to butcher that goose.) But Mean had been fixed, so I knew it had nothing to do with reproduction.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I had a quick conference. I contended that the barn cat wasn't worth anything, and that we shouldn't expend any resources on saving her. MYF insisted that we need to be good stewards of all our animals, and sometimes that means doing things that don't make economic sense. With doe-eyed HFG looking on, and me wrapped tightly around HFG's little finger, I caved quickly.

The nearest veterinary clinic has evening office hours, so MYF offered to take the cat in at 6pm. She obviously had to take Yeoman Farm Baby with her, and I was grateful that Homeschooled Farm Boy offered to go as well, to help hold the cat (allowing HFG to remain at home with me and Little Brother, rather than at the vet clinic to hear what I assumed would be a bad prognosis). Around 7pm or so, I got The Call from MYF. When her first words were, "Is [HFG] with you?", I knew the news couldn't be good.

Turns out, it wasn't. The cat had a prolapsed rectum --- indeed, not unlike the prolapsed oviduct that our goose experienced. The condition could theoretically be repaired with (expensive) surgery, but even then the vet said she couldn't make any promises about Mean's prospects. MYF was inclined to have the cat euthanized, and I quickly seconded the suggestion. MYF then explained that the cost would be $15 if we simply had her put to sleep and took the body home for disposal --- and another twenty bucks if the vet clinic had the body incinerated for us. (Long-time readers will recall that in Illinois, we were quoted $35 for incinerating the 90# body of a dog that got hit by a car.)

Naturally, my first question to MYF was: "Can't you just bring the cat home so I can shoot her myself?"  I had to put an injured cat down about three years ago; it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience, but a bullet only costs twenty cents. MYF gave a half-chuckle, and explained that a few minutes earlier, when the vet had come in to explain the options, Homeschooled Farm Boy's first question was: "Or, can't we just take her home and have Daddy put her down?" To which I replied, proudly, "That's my boy!" MYF muttered something like "No kidding," but then raised her objection to the plan: she was concerned about the potential trauma for HFG of bringing the cat home alive, seeing the cat, seeing me take the cat behind the barn, hearing a gunshot, seeing me carrying a dead cat back from behind the barn, etc. MYF feared that this experience might drive a wedge between me and HFG, especially given that my dislike of cats is well known in the family. The bottom line: MYF didn't want me to be established in my daughter's mind as "Cat Killer."

Fair enough, I replied. But why not just bring the cat home and let me "take care of it" that very night, in the dark, without telling HFG anything about it? What would we owe the vet if we did that?

MYF put the phone down and asked a few questions. As it turned out, if we had the cat euthanized the total charge for the night would be fifteen bucks. But if we took a live cat home, we would be charged twenty bucks for the office visit and evaluation. Go figure! "That's a total no-brainer. Have the vet put the cat to sleep and bring the body home," I told her. MYF agreed, and said she'd have it taken care of.

Our children have grown accustomed to animals being born and animals dying, but it's always much harder on them to lose a dog or cat than it is to lose a chicken or duck. As we waited for MYF to come home from the vet, HFG disappeared. My "daddy" instinct kicked in, and I told Little Brother to entertain himself downstairs while I went up and looked for HFG. Sure enough, I found her in her bedroom, looking very sad. I sat down, had her sit in my lap, held her tight, and told her it was okay to cry if she wanted. And when the tears did come, I kissed them and told her everything would be okay, and that we should all be thankful for having had such a wonderful barn cat as Mean.

MYF's instincts also kicked in. She stopped on the way home from the vet at the video rental store and picked up three movies (one that each child especially likes) to watch over the next couple of days. That preemptive gesture seems to have helped, because all three kids did surprisingly well yesterday evening --- and woke up in surprisingly good spirits.

And, no doubt, when I go out this afternoon to butcher some old laying hens...HFG will be the first to ask if she can help cut their throats and pluck their feathers.

That's my girl.


Rachel said...

Well, I'm with you on the "can't we just do it ourselves?" view. But MYF was right, too. Don't want to make daddy out to be the bad guy, just let it be.

That's worth $15 in my book!

Give HFG a hug from us down here, and say hello to the rest of the YFF--esp MYF (could you squeeze on YFB for me, too? :-) )

Anonymous said...

That is sad... I am dreading when any of our cats dies, though not for my sake but for my kids. Quick question: do you do anything about parasites for the farm cats? I can't bring them to the vet and they don't want to just sell me the wormer. Can it be bought at Tractor Supply? Thanks! Talk to you soon!
-Loretta B.

TYF said...

Loretta -

We've never had to de-worm our cats. This site sells all kinds of stuff, though:


Anonymous said...

$15 seems like a ripoff. It only costed me $10 for our dog, and that was in California! But my sister probably still hasn't forgiven me for it.


the Mom said...

Please tell HFG that we are sorry she lost Mean.

My children laughed out loud at the part about a bullet being cheaper than the vet. They all mentioned that you sound like their own dear father.