"When the cat pees in your hat...
... is it time to say that is that?" Where is Dr. Seuss when you need him? As all who own pets will understand -- and those who don't never will -- how much do you endure and spend before putting the family pet to sleep? "To sleep," a comforting euphemism that makes the decision seem less final, as if you can change your mind and wake him. My wife Joanna and I are at that point with 20-year-old Bart, "the cat who peed in my hat" -- the latest pit stop since his loss of direction, instincts and common decency in finding his litter box: actually boxes, we now have three, strategically placed at new locations he has marked for his relief, but not ours. When you factor in the countless bottles of sprays and potions (Pee No More, Boundaries, Miracles Stain and Odor Remover and Kitty Pads), our apartment is beginning to look a lot like a display case at Petco.
I can hear the chorus of "He's only a cat," and I know there are more important issues to occupy our thoughts and concerns, more meaningful places to spend our money and time. But this is Bart we're talking about, the four-month-old matted clump of fur I found rummaging through the garbage, at a house we rented in St. Barths one Christmas. I made the mistake of feeding him a saucer of milk, a snack that has thus far cost us about $20,000. He adopted me, before I did him, becoming my irresistible and constant companion for the next two weeks -- following me everywhere, curling up on my lap wherever I sat and endearing himself to my family, so when it was time for him to leave, how could we abandon this helpless loving creature to the garbage pile of life. After a $300 trip to the local vet for shots and a certificate of health he was cleared for the trip to his new home in New York.
I quickly realized this furry phony had planned it from that first saucer of milk, and to this day continues to charm and manipulate his way into everyone's heart. People who hate cats love Bart; Joanna, who is allergic to cats, falls asleep reading with his paw marking her place, and wakes red eyed and sneezing but insistent that Bart needs that time together. He had a trouble-free run for about 15 years, the normal end for a cat. But this is Bart we're talking about, and as he pushes the limits of life expectancy, and our common sense get pushed right along with it, the costs financial and emotional never end.
His heart problem, which is controlled by two pills a day, administered with scratching, gagging and spitting out in various locations, found at random, has cost about $4,000 to date; the over active thyroid, treated with a nuclear iodine injection and quarantine for 10 days, was $5,000; arthritis, diagnosis, X-rays and medications another $2,000; dentistry, he only has two teeth left, $1500; now the carpet and upholstery cleaning; a new hat, and the inconvenience of closing off various rooms of the apartment are reaching a point of absurdity.
It gets down to a quality of life issue, his and ours. Though he sleeps 95 percent of the time and is pretty much out of it when awake, he still enjoys a good meal and eating ice cream (my personal barometer of whether life is worth living). He still looks at you like he knows more then he is telling and manages to sleep in a variety of positions that are adorable, but that's about it for the upside. The downside hit bottom when he peed in my hat. But having reached the practical conclusion that it's time, you get the feeling that you don't really have the right to be the Kevorkian of cats. At 79, I have a living will, a Do Not Resuscitate and a wish that when I become a burden and stop being me, someone loves me enough to "put me to sleep," maybe with an overdose of Hagan Daaz Rum Raisin. But this is Bart we're talking about, so I'm sure the saga and the damp spots in new places will continue because we keep saying, "how long has he got?" We started saying that two years ago.
P.S. Since writing this, he has also peed in my slippers. Fortunately I was not wearing them at the time.
Bill Persky is a producer-writer-director whose credits include "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "That Girl" and "Kate and Allie." His memoir "My Life Is a Situation Comedy" was published last month.