This April, a stout little Manx cat showed up on my doorstep in the middle of the harsh spring cold snap. I couldn’t leave him outside in 20-degree weather. I held the door open for him.
He walked right in like he’d lived here all his life. He rubbed against my cats like he’d always known them. The second night he lived here he snuggled into my side like he belonged there.
Today was his first vet visit.
The vet said I didn’t have to test for feline leukemia today; I could wait and see if Sidney got sick. But I have three other cats. Better safe than sorry. It seemed like just a formality for Sid, so stout and handsome. But I’ll err on the side of caution when it comes to something as important as the life of a pet.
The vet took a blood sample as the tech held Sid still.
When they were done I sat in the examination room. I gathered Sid up from the corner where he was investigating the dust and equipment cords, and held him in my arms.
He snuggled right in, creeping closer, fitting his head under my chin. Then digging his back feet in and snuggling needily into my neck. I petted the length of his warm, strong body, hearing him purr.
It’s been such a busy, grueling week. To simply sit and hold my cat for ten minutes felt like a vacation. Ten whole minutes to myself, doing nothing but petting a warm, healthy bag of firm cat-flesh. My stout, healthy boy with a funny stub of a tail. Sidney.
The vet came in briskly.
I take in strays, so I expect the usual “Well, _____ tested negative! Everything’s fine. Let’s get to those vaccines.” And then I smile with relief and stand up.
It’s always been that way with all my rescues. But not with Sid.
The vet walked in, grim, looking down. And I knew.
He explained that Sidney has feline leukemia, a killer of cats, one of the prime diseases vets vaccinate against. Some cats fight it off and live normal lives, about 10%. The rest have severely reduced lifespans. Feline leukemia is actually a disease of the immune system, and every illness taxes the cat’s ability to make itself well. Someday a disease comes that’s too much, or the feline leukemia induces cancer (that’s how it got its name), and the animal dies. This commonly happens when the cat is still very young.
My other cats are protected by their vaccines, and can live with Sid safely. Neighborhood cats are not so secure. Sidney is now a carrier of a fatal disease. However, so is whatever cat infected him, so confining him is not the easy solution to keeping unvaccinated cats on my street safe.
Sid is only about four years old. That’s what we figure from looking at his teeth. The remainder of his life could be measured in weeks or months, years only if he is lucky. Of course he could fight the disease off, too. But while I am an optimist, I find it’s wise to plan for failure. Hope for the best; be ready for the worst. And the worst will be death taking my good little pet, whose life is not cheap or meaningless. Sidney has a brain, eyes, personality. His half-inch stub of a tail makes me laugh when it lifts, a funny furry stump. He is his own creature. He is alive.
How can death be so close? How can Sidney ever be anything other than what he is now? Time is supposed to be what takes him, long stretches of time. I can’t believe this thief is in my house, lying in wait, trying to take Sidney away somewhere I can never get him back from.