Ruth: So, I’ve just seen the video of Ellen DeGeneres weeping about some puppy she got from a rescue service, couldn’t properly care for, then gave to some kids.  The storm troopers at the rescue service came barging in and took the puppy away from the screaming children because DeGeneres had reneged on her contract — which is evidently more airtight than the best prenup.  That’s why Ellen was sobbing in front of a camera, protesting her undying love for the four-legged.

Then I read Emily Yoffe’s column in Slate about veterinarians shaming owners into thousands of dollars in bills to revive the near-carcasses of their aging pets.  And all I can think of — aside from the fact the world has gone nuts, which occurs to me several hundred times a day, anyway — is Opal.

Opal, that dimwitted, overly inbred feline our son guilt-tripped me into bringing back from a dude ranch — figuring, I suppose, that since I’d guilt-tripped him into going to a family reunion there, I owed him something.  A cat.

But, God.  Not that cat.  I should have realized that when we drove her away.  They were probably celebrating at the dude ranch the minute we turned the corner.  We’d just adopted the Blanche du Bois of the feline world.  She was equal parts stupid, near-blind, and corrosive.  Our formerly well-behaved, contented cat, Lefty, went into a psychotic swivet when Opal came into our lives.  He mostly decamped and lived outside, which is what the rest of us should have done.  Opal took over the house, scratching and scorning the litter box, while Lefty cowered outside, occasionally biting us if we approached him.

Months passed and it became clear Opal needed to move on.  Anywhere.  I wrote up a note to post on the crate we were going to use when we surreptitiously dropped her off at the animal shelter:  “Hi!  My name is Opal.  I’m a good cat.  Unfortunately, my owners are moving to Philadelphia and can’t take care of me any longer.  Won’t you?”

But before we could pull that off, Opal climbed into a neighbor’s tree and couldn’t get down.  We yelled and coaxed her, but she was frozen there.  “Have you ever seen a cat’s skeleton in a tree?” one of our neighbors asked.  “She’ll come down eventually.”

But, oh, no.  We called the Fire Department and the guys weren’t busy that night, so they came and rescued Opal.  As one of them handed her to me (and before she scratched me for my troubles), he said, “Hey, have you ever found a cat’s skeleton in a tree?”  No, I said, but that story seemed to be making the rounds.

That was a few weeks before Opal broke her leg.  We took her to the vet, of course, and I was ready with my line when the vet called.

“What would be the best thing — for Opal — to do?” I asked him melodramatically.

I was prepared to burst loudly into tears when he told me the sad news that, yes, it would be best for Opal if we put her to sleep.  “Oh, no!  Oh, no!  Well, OK.”

“Oh,” the vet said, sounding surprised.  “Well, Opal’s got lots of good years left on her.  We should operate on the leg.”


Lots of good years?

I muttered something about finances and told the vet I’d think about it.  Later, when I went to his office, his assistants gathered around to comfort me, saying we could pay off the $800 bill in installments, if we’d like.  They smiled at me sweetly like I was one of those orphans in a charity commercial.

All this makes me realize that this particular story begins with guilt trips and ends with them.  We paid (in non-installments) for a cat we loathed and who loathed us to get surgery on her leg so she could once again walk outdoors and do something else stupid that would require the Austin fire department to show up.  We took money that could have helped actual human beings and wasted it because we were such toadies.

Weeks passed and we finally managed to unload Opal on a student’s girlfriend who fell for the line I’d told so many people:  “You know, I’ve never seen Opal so taken with someone as she is with you!”  When heard of last, Opal had completely wrecked the happiness of all the other cats — most of whom were now on suicide watch — at this young woman’s house.

I’m joking, I’m exaggerating, I’m not joking.  What I’ve just written is evidence that I’m heartless and uncaring about those with more feet and fur than I have.  But I’m not.  I’m just sick of people prizing animals above other human beings, caring for their welfare more than that of children in our own city and around this whole benighted world.  I’m just being, God help me, honest.

Good night, Opal.  We hope you never, ever come back.

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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