Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bargain

A friend’s cat died over the weekend. He was not a very old cat, fourteen, I believe, which veterinarians nevetheless say is a senior feline. But this cat had not been well for some time, and his life ended with help from his closest human.

It made me think about people and their pets, or, rather, why people have pets. I don’t suppose many humans consider the end of an animal’s life, when bringing a cat or dog into their home for the first time is so much like the beginning of it. Yet we live longer than cats and dogs, and, in almost every case, we outlive the pet whom we welcome as part of our family.

It is a strange bargain we make with these beasts. It is just that, a bargain. We become friends, and friendship is not a gift, it is not free. It is a blessing, but it comes as a deal. “I will be your friend, and you will be mine,” we tell these animals. We take care of them, provide them with food and shelter, medical care when necessary; we see them through illnesses, changes in address, additions to the household, and the neighbour who doesn’t like them. In return, they give us companionship, entertainment, joy. We give each other love. Like marriage, this contract’s most important clauses are not written but felt.

Part of the bargain is about what happens when our pets grows old, become irreparably sick or assailed with great pain. We know it will happen but we try to ignore it for the greater part of the animals’ lives. Yet it intrudes at last, and finally. Not every cat or dog will die in his sleep, full of years, knowing nothing of discomfort. Too few end their lives this way. The majority, it seems, need us to help them at this time.

A human who is infirm of body can still use his mind, for it’s the mind that sets us apart and above the rest of life. A futile body, useless limbs, rebellious organs, are tragic and terrible, but people have risen and continue to rise above such afflictions. A cat or dog cannot. He is smart, cunning, clever, thoughtful - but not enough to live only in his head. So when the body fails, we, their friends, must make a horrible decision. We help our loved ones die.

This is the price of the bargain we make. To end their pain, we must endure it ourselves. We hope that it lessens with time, and it usually does, but it lasts forever, regardless.

And yet, those of us who make these bargains and pay their cost will go on to make more. We adopt another cat, another dog; not as a replacement, but as a successor. We know how this bargain will end, too - the same way the last one did. And when that one runs its course, we make another, and another; sometimes several at once. We will keep making these bargains until the bargain we made with our own Guardian is called to account.

We do this, knowing well the consequences, because the bargain is worth it. It is suffering and agony, it is sorrow and loneliness. It is joy and amusement, strength and comradeship. This is the bargain. This is love.


  1. This is a beautiful post. I agree 100%. I am very sorry for their loss...but what is that old saying? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all....

  2. A very "heavy" post for this Monday--for any day--but an important one.

    I'm not sure I can make that bargain again, when the boys pass.

    But then, perhaps I will pass before them, who knows? Though I would rather have the pain of having to let them go than the worry of leaving their care to someone else.

    Sometimes I wonder if I ever would have adopted in the first place, eleven years ago, if I realized what the endings would be like. I'm not sure I'd have had the courage.

  3. well put.....there is nothing easy about having to make that decision - but it is part of being responsible. when you take in an animal, YOU make the decisions....good or bad - easy or hard. purrs to your friend on his loss.

  4. It is so very difficult to lose a beloved companion but yes we do it again and again because love and joy live beyond the physical presence :-)

  5. So very true. The cost of love is the pain when our pets leave us. Its a little like childbirth. The pain is severe but its so worth it.

  6. It is hard to lose your fur friends and it never gets easier. But the time we get with these animals is so so very worth it. They are the best companions you can find and it is so great to give these animals a good safe and healthy home. And we have the power to let them die with dignity.

  7. What beautiful words you offer in this post! So true in the case of Scooby as well. I wish to thank you for taking the time to come to our blog with such lovely words of condolence for us. So many came to see us whom we have never met and that kindness is a profound gift to us. The cat blogosphere is a truly amazing community, all holding each other us in good time and in hard ones. Thank you again and I'm so happy to meet you.