I woke at six and felt a level of unattributable anxiety which forced the dim morning onto me. It might be the minor aches of middle age, or one of those new fantasies of death which creep into the day, or it might be the future’s vacuity rattling my cage. Whichever, there is no easy way to turn over and doze. The best is not to dwell in that space, but to turn on the tablet and read. Which I did for half an hour before the head cleared. Thanks Kevin Barry. It reminds me that you write your best work at this time of the morning in a dream-like state before speaking, reading, Facebooking or eating. Brave or slavish? Who cares if the art is there.
What happened to languor? And where did the urge to rise and meet the challenges of the day retreat to? These days, this February, it is harder than ever to see the hours ahead as full of promise. There’s a kiln full of glazing to do. They’re coming to replace the front door today too, unless they’re doing what seems fashionable again this year and not turning up. It’s a day for the gym and maybe a trip to the market, and yes, to drop into the opticians to see if they can help me because I’ve got a screw loose. There’s a host of possibilities, none of which shines on me, but it is time to get up and out and just face the day – never mind fucking seizing it.
The putrid smell hit me as soon as I opened the kitchen door. The cat was whining for his breakfast and yet the smell suggested he’d vomited on the floor somewhere. That wasn’t altogether a unique occurrence and since the fat animal has no control over his eating habits, a product of desertion as a kitten, he is apt to eat till he’s sick. It doesn’t mean that he’s off his food either, becoming more hungry as a result of evacuating his stomach. I fed him his biscuit and a third of a pouch of whiskers stinking tuna which at least masked the smell a little.
But this smell somehow transcended the smell one might expect from regurgitated food, which isn’t particularly odourous, and it was reminiscent of something more anal. And there it was, a huge pile of shit in the corner of the kitchen floor, over by the bread bin. OK, so he’s kept to the tiled area, rather than going behind the sofa, which wouldn’t be a first, but that was not going to wash as an apology.
Fifteen is supposed to be 105, if cat years are one seventh of human years. Fifteen, in my book, is long enough. The cat is going senile, becoming unpredictable, and while he spent his first fourteen years being put out every night to hunt or sleep in a warm spot somewhere, he’s started being allowed to stay indoors. It’s been an insidious thing, initially because the weather made opening the back door almost impossible, and then because it was deemed kind to him, respectful of his age.
Which brings us to the nub of this issue. Empathy. In my view, pets are chosen as a service to people, and empathy should be reserved for humankind. Note the definition presented by psychologytoday.com:
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.
Do you see any mention of cats there? Do we know any cats with shoes? And how do people feel what cats are feeling?
Here’s another one:
Anthropomorphism: The attributing of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, or to God.
In my book, we choose to own pets to make us happy or relaxed or to push us to get out more or whatever, and they fulfill that role well. Some even clock up a reputation for devotion which, in human terms, deserves a gentle, cared-for retirement. In fact, this cat was rescued in the first place, so the succour started on day one.
I certainly see that, in the case of a dog, anthropomorphic empathy makes some sense, given their loving devotion and unqualified commitment. But this cat has wrecked carpets, scratched eyeballs, and in recent memory, bitten through my finger, causing some vile infection. The fat old fucker who shat on the kitchen floor can’t have wanted to do that there. Cats are private about their shitting. In fact, I can’t say I’ve found many cat turds in the garden in the last fifteen years. But in this case, someone (and there are only two of us here) chose to empathise with the cat last night, when the rain was lashing the windows and the wind was lifting stones, and left him indoors. It has become a habit since the storms, since Cambodia, and he has had the run of the place every night, so long as he gets out during the evening for a crap, which last night he clearly didn’t, or if he did, he has mighty bowels to produce about half a kilo again during the night.
And here we are, trying to equate empathy with the cat’s useful life, his level of suffering through old age, when his habits, not to mention his aggressive neediness are repulsive. There’s a chorus of ‘aahhs’ from the cat lovers cries of ‘shame on you’ from those holier than I who don’t have to live with this animal.