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In case you missed it. . .

Here's what I read at Trinity House Theatre this last weekend. An untitled essay, originally written for a memoir/travel writing grad class. Comments (critical especially) are welcome.

I killed my cat for $140. That’s what the Michigan Humane Society charges to “put down,” “dispose of,” or “put to sleep,” an animal; choose your least offensive euphemism.
Hermia suckered my wife, by meowing pitifully as only an orphaned kitten can, in our driveway three Mays earlier. I warned Anessa, “Are you really sure you want to take this cat in?” I’ve had cats in my life since the age of four, but I wasn’t sure my wife was ready for a sudden addition to our young marriage.
“Yes. What else are we going to do with him? Her? This little cat?”
We named the cat for the feisty, short lover in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though some people thought the name came from Harry Potter, much to this English major’s chagrin. She was a good mouser, a good moler, also unfortunately a chipmunker and songbirder. Though the chipmunk and bird deaths were upsetting, there is something comical about a cat bringing wounded chipmunks into a house only to have two people scream, try and restrain a cat, and shoo out a chipmunk at the same time. The little hunter would leave the remains of her quarry on our steps quite often: a gray chickadee wing with the feathers splayed out like fingers on a hand, some ragged blue jay remains, or the most grotesque were the mice and chipmunks with their heads gnawed off. I suppose this was payment for food, shelter, and perhaps love.
Fast-forward three years. Our grey and black kitten is now a cat, queen of the roost, and attractive furball to Rhonwyn, our new daughter. Hermia was fine with the newcomer before Rhonwyn started crawling, but once she was fully mobile, Rhonwyn played Lenny to Hermia’s rabbit (remember that oft-parodied scene from Of Mice and Men?). No one-year-old child is mean-spirited toward an animal, but I’m sure Hermia didn’t appreciate the chunks of fur loosened by my daughter’s hands.
To cut to the motive for Hermia’s execution, on three separate occasions, the cat swiped at my daughter, twice at her face, in what seemed to us to be unprovoked attacks. The third time was the uncharm for Hermia as my wife wanted her “OUT.” Immediately. I took the typical Liberal position that she could be reformed, and while my wife wasn’t calling for the death penalty, she would not suffer the cat any longer. Hermia was locked in our back room until we could find her another home.
On the 29th of December, a few days after our friends had turned down Hermia’s adoption, I called the Michigan Humane Society and the girl I spoke to assured me they could hold Hermia for placement. I packed Hermia, her food, toys, and litter box in my truck and drove to the Westland shelter.
During the processing for Hermia the check-in woman told me my cat would have to be euthanized. At first this information didn’t register, I thought some time would be given to allow for adoption, but no. Hermia only had about 25 minutes left to live. Fifteen of those would be spent on a counter, in a cage, in a strange place. She frequently meowed in distress as she and I waited.
Did that woman just say “euthanized”? What was I to do? I knew my wife would refuse Hermia re-entry in our house, and no one we knew would adopt her, so I gave the ancient Roman signal of thumbs up for death. Actually, “I” didn’t do that; my voice had wrenched itself free of my control and gave the OK. “I” just stood there glancing at the cage that held my cat.
The writer C. S. Lewis posited that the higher animals probably feel pain something akin to the way we do. He further said that domestic animals, pets especially, can develop souls, in the company of humans. Not souls in the sense of the Hebrew ruach, or life force, which all creatures possess, rather that immaterial part that many religions teach can survive death.
I was taken back to a room, bare walls made of a glazed cinderblock, with some metal shelving, a sink, some wooden cupboards, and a metal counter. I had been asked if I wanted to be present for the killing. Hermia had already been prepped, her left rear leg shaved, she was lying on a blue towel.
Three times. Three times the three attendants had to inject her with the Windex-like liquid. “She’s a little fighter,” one of the attendants said, attempting I suppose some strange form of comfort.
“She won’t feel any pain,” was another of their slogans I was told repeatedly. Yet Hermia struggled for some moments. Was the “no pain” mantra a lie or do all bodies convulse when pumped full of toxins? Was she struggling against the light growing to a compressed point in her feline brain?
To say we put an animal “to sleep” is one of those cruel tricks we play on ourselves. Hermia didn’t peacefully meow and pick the towel with her claws while she waited for death; her chest moved rapidly and then stopped. She didn’t die with her eyes closed, asleep—her heart ceased beating and I allowed it.
Lewis thought that pets mystically, somehow, “grew” souls because of their close relationship with us. Conversely, he said, those animals that go feral probably lose that developed soul. Were Hermia’s attacks on my daughter a soul-shrinking regression to ferality or was the cat all too human and jealous? What did all this mean if Hermia did indeed have a soul? Should I have tried harder to find her a home? Maybe I should have had her declawed. Was I an accomplice in her murder? Will there be a reunion in the next life where I will have to ask her forgiveness?
There was no deus ex machina, no St. Francis obtaining a promise of reform from the bloodthirsty wolf of Gubbio, no St. Seraphim granting clemency and protection to a bear. There was only me—a failed steward.
I stood there, when the attendants left the room, next to the table Hermia was lain on. I had steeled myself to no avail. I stroked her and said, “I’m sorry” about a dozen times through my tears.


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