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Pet Basics

Then There Was You

Few bonds compare with those between us and our devoted pets. Here, Anne Roiphe reflects on her incomparable bond with her beloved cat, Joey.

By Anne Roiphe
Framed picture of a catJames Baigrie

One night I awoke with a start. Joey was screaming—a high howl, a screech that contained a sob, a banshee sound, a frightening noise that said pain, pain, pain.

I jumped up and found him pressed against the white door of the kitchen cabinet. His back was arched high, and he dragged himself forward on paralyzed legs. I looked at the clock. It was 2:30 a.m. All right, I thought, I’ll take him to the vet in the morning.

I tried to go back to sleep. But I could hear his howls even when I put the pillow over my head. I located an all-night emergency animal hospital, some 40 blocks away. I dressed. I put Joey in his carrying case. His fur was wet. His eyes were wild. His nose dripped fluid. He tried to bite me as I pushed him into the cage.

I went down the elevator, walked to the corner, and waited. At last a cab came by—the lone cab on a deserted avenue. Nowhere could I see even the blue blur of a television screen accompanying an insomniac through the hard hours.

At the animal hospital, the walls were too bright, too harsh. A sleepy receptionist guarded the desk. Joey whimpered and then let out his horrible cry. A few minutes later, a vet came and took Joey. The lighting in the hospital reminded me of an Edward Hopper painting: Something beyond empty lingered in the air. No one else entered through the hospital doors. In such a large city as New York, you wouldn’t think it possible that you could be alone with your disaster.

At last the vet asked me to come into the examining room. She was young and gentle, and her green scrubs seemed too large for her small frame. She said Joey had an aneurysm. It was inoperable, and they should put him to sleep immediately to keep him from suffering further. He was 14.

“That’s a good cat life,” the vet said. She had given Joey a sedative, and he lay limply in my arms. His body seemed to be already losing its integrity—a leg, a tail, an ear were all bent oddly. His small pink tongue reached out of his tilted mouth to lick my finger.

“I’ll give you a moment to say good-bye,” she said.

“Just do it,” I responded.

She injected him in the muscle behind his hip and I waited. He grew still, and then even more still, and as the last of his white hairs stuck to my sweater, his chest stopped heaving and he died.

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