How much is a cat worth?

Is it right to spend thousands on operations if the animal won't live that long anyway?

By Cary Tennis
Published May 7, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

I love your column, and I have a problem. Actually, my best friend has a problem and it's about his cat.

My friend lives on a disability pension, so has no extra cash for luxuries. His cat, less than 5 years old, is getting tumors under the skin. So far this year, my friend and his roommate have spent about $2,800 for two separate operations for the cat.

In my mind, this is crazy, but I don't know what to say to my friend that will help him see clearly the hopelessness of this situation and the madness of going into crazy debt for the sake of a year or two of life for a cat.

Don't get me wrong, I love this cat, but if he were mine, I would have him live until he was no longer comfortable, then have him put down.

What would you say to me or my friend?



Dear Jim,

It's an interesting question, whether a living, conscious creature is a luxury. Luxuries we generally think of as objects, or experiences that we can live without. It may be that your friend's relationship with his cat is something he truly cannot live without; it may be that he feels something toward this cat that is beyond the understanding of outsiders and without the protection of social sanction or naming. For instance, if your friend could marry the cat then we would understand his spending so much money to keep the cat alive. Or if the cat could be adopted into his family as a being with full rights, then we would understand it. But currently, at our stage of development, Western society does not have a tradition or container for this. Our concept of rights is rapidly expanding, however. As we more clearly begin to see the earth as our true mother and the source of our lives, and as we see other human beings as our brothers and sisters and children, and as the animal rights movement continues to impress upon us the moral boundaries we must observe, perhaps eventually we will come to see that a man's relationship with a cat is not simply that of a person to a luxury item, but something else, something sacred.

We are not there yet. But we may be some day. Some day we may see that we have a sacred and mysterious relationship with the world and all its living things; we may come to see that our present legalistic categories of land ownership and animal stewardship do not reflect the genuine reality, which is that we are all animals and that we must share this planet, and that the planet itself is a being, and that we must listen to it and give it its day in court. We are not there yet. We have many problems, we humans. Our capacities for knowledge and destruction have outpaced our understanding and our capacity for living in harmony with, well, I was going to say, in harmony with other beings, but as our understanding increases we will see that even the concept of other beings is somewhat problematic, because we ourselves comprise a myriad of beings, and that the category of being itself is all-encompassing, so to think of us as distinct from what is around us is somewhat misleading, a consequence of reliance upon our five senses only. So as our true nature becomes more widely known, as we are taught in school the realities of physics and time and space and biology in such a way that we see our world as a vast continuum rather than as a set of discrete stores with shelves where we may purchase individual products and discard their wrappings, as we begin to see the world not as an object but as an ongoing and brilliant performance, then eventually we may accept as commonplace that a person, at a certain time, may value his relationship with a cat more highly than his relationship with money or other humans. We may see that this relationship is necessary at a certain stage of his evolution.

This can happen. We know it happens, but we still generally view it as an aberration, when in fact much more may be going on. The spirit of this cat, for instance, may be providing your friend with needed guidance, having perhaps to do with his disability and healing. The cat may be teaching him something he needs to learn. He may be learning, for instance, how to care for another being, so that he can learn better how to care for himself. In fact, it's possible that, in this sense, his disability and his relationship with the cat are part of the same process of spiritual growth.

So let's not be too hasty to assume that his expenditure is being wasted. No matter what, he is going to grieve. No matter what, the cat will die. But perhaps the cat has a few more things to teach him yet.

Perhaps this is a necessary education.

Cary Tennis

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