Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Failure of Stewardship

Mankind has this strange relationship with certain other species, namely dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, goldfish, etc. These species of animals I speak of, most of them, at least, would not even exist in their present forms were it not for the influence of man. We call these animals "pets", an odd name assigned them due to our propensity to want to stroke them, which makes us, and sometimes them, feel good. Now, if we go back to the beginning, when we were just beginning to form this close bond we have with these creatures, our motives were somewhat more practical. There were certain benefits derived from our domestication of these creatures, and we put them to work, serving us in whatever capacity we discovered they were best at, depending on the individual species. Cats, well, they were good at keeping vermin at bay, such as rats and mice. So we kept them around, and fed them when the rats and mice were on short supply. Dogs, we discovered, had all kinds of talents, such as sentries, aids in hunting, herding our sheep, goats, and cattle, and even tracking. Back then, a domesticated animal only remained in our good graces so long as they performed some practical function, but beyond that, they were no more kin to us than the animals they helped us exploit.

Much later, as we ourselves evolved beyond fighting nature tooth and nail merely to survive on a day-to-day basis, some of us discovered another use for these creatures beyond mere utility. We discovered they could provide us with companionship, in some cases a kind of companionship preferable to that which we got from our fellow humans. What these animals gave us was an unquestioning, nonjudgmental sort of acceptance and love that many of us came to depend upon in our increasingly complex world. When's the last time your dog NAGGED you, or questioned your worth in this world? When's the last time your mate purred contentantly as you scratched their ear? Many has been the human who has existed solely on the loyalty and devotion a pet has provided them, when the humans around them have left them wanting. Thus, these animals we adapted to suit our own needs rose above mere utility to become our friends, and have become as much a part of our family as any human sibling, Aunt, Uncle, Mother, or cousin.

OK, so what in the HELL was all this about? LIke I haven't just told you something you didn't already know, if, I am willing to bet, you have experienced this connection to an animal that you have brought into your own life. Well, what I want to do here is discuss a very important concept......Stewardship.

When we adopt an animal into our lives and become responsible for them, we take upon ourselves a responsibility that is no less demanding than the love and caring that we assume with our human family members. Now, I know that many people, perhaps most, do not exactly see it that way, treating their charges as property rather than kin, and I will not argue the point to that degree. So I am speaking to those of you who know damn well that perhaps these pets of ours deserve so much more of us in return for what they give us than we usually impart to them. I'm sure you all have heard of devotion for a pet so deep with some people that they will spare no expense to keep them heathy, giving more devotion to them then they would any human they know, even related to them. I myself am torn between thinking of my pets as property and at the same time respecting them as fellow beings who have as much right to the same things I take for granted. I try to think of my dog Shiloh as my friend and not merely a dog that I expect certain things from. To tell the truth, I honestly don't think the love and loyalty this dog gives me is something I CAN take for granted, despite the social pack animal motivations that I know drive him to behave towards me the way he does. He's my friend, period, and there's no need for me to denigrate or study how he feels.......he's MY friend, and that's all that matters to me.

Well, speaking of that regard both I and the wife have just failed miserably. Our cat, Tuvak, has been with us, since he was a cute little kitten, for most of our marriage together. He's always been a "house" cat, never having been exposed to the cold cruel world outside of whatever dwelling we called home. The only life he's ever known has been within the boundaries of a human artificial construct, thus he has never experienced the vulgarities of the outside world, with all of it's temptations and dangers. So, when he recently began to behave in a very untidy manner, urinating and defecating almost everywhere but his litter box, we responded to his rebellious behavior in the worst possible way.......we kicked his canine ass outside at night.

Now, Tuvak had it bad enough when we brought Lola into the household and he had to get used to sharing his turf with another cat. But he adapted. Then recently we adopted another cat, a sweet little female that our son-in-law had become allergic to, called Cricket. Perhaps that was the straw that broke his tough-guy back. Perhaps he simply couldn't handle having to accommodate so many other contenders for his owner's affections, food, and litter box. So he replied to the situation, and not in a way that was acceptable to our neat and tidy expectations.
The wife began to discover the cat scat in front of the litter box, and angrily caught our now renegade child pissing all over the place. She demanded action, and in the spirit of appeasing her and not thinking more about the why, I took the easy way out and exiled this house cat to the strange and frightening world beyond our walls, perhaps thinking that the experience would make an impression on him. Now, tell me, just how STUPID can a man be? Yes, Tuvak brought this upon himself, yes, the wife had to be appeased, but, YES, as the man of the house with the final word on the subject, I became the judge, the jury, and.............yes.......sigh............

The wife called me at work, on the verge of tears. I had tossed the cat out the back door last night. She found his still body on the side of our dirt road when she returned from taking me to work that morning. What did Tuvak know of cars and the deadly consequence of being in the road? He probably was having a hard enough time digesting where he was and why he was out there in that world he had never had to experience. Yes, my friends, for all practical purposes, we killed our cat. This has been our hard lesson in stewardship.

Once again, on this night, there was a funeral pyre set ablaze on this sandy acre we call Pendragon Hold. Once again we sent a friend on his journey to wherever pets go when they die. Only this time I had to stand there and ask this friend for forgiveness. I do not fear any punishment for this sin, no fear of roasting in some hell for this deed I had a hand in. But I do fear suffering from some nonchalance of the loss of life of a mere animal, for this was no mere animal, this was a friend, and I failed him. All I can ask is that this has taught me a valuable lesson in regards to stewardship for a life that I took responsibility for by bringing him into our lives.

Go now to Summerland, my friend, and learn how to catch mice, and I promise that when we meet again, I hope you will allow me to scratch your ear, and that you will purr in contentment, and forgive me.


darlingina said...

:( Awwww Michael. i'm so sorry for your loss. It's easy to see You did what You thought was right at the time. It is hard to know what to do with the little communication that animals provide us with in their times of stress. Sadly, we never know what tomorrow will bring.

jules said...

Oh Michael. I am so sorry. I am crying here. I know you are heartbroken. Poor poor scared kitty. I certainly understand your frustration, having 4 cats and 2 dogs myself. I have such a tender heart about animals that mine just broke reading this. Oh, your poor kitty. Many many hugs to you and the wife. Please forgive yourself.

Laura Elizabeth said...

I'm so sorry you've lost the little guy.

For what it's worth... I've got problems with my middle cat ever since the third cat arrived a year ago. Mostly he screams like a banshee whenever he see cat #3, but he's also become destructive. I occassionally toss him outside telling him to "chill" when he's being really bad. He stays out for 15 minutes or so and doesn't wander far from the door. I don't know if it helps, but your sad story will keep me from doing that again.

Buffalo said...

Michael, my friend, I do know how you feel. And it really suck a big one. There isn't a fucking thing I can say to make it better. If there were, I would have already said it to me.

Sorry, pal.

And sorry I didn't read this yesterday. I have feed demon and for some reason it never indicated that you had posted.

anna said...

That's horrible! Poor little Tuvak. :(

THE Michael said...

Thanks, guys.

Homo Escapeons said...

A very well balanced analysis and a touching tribute. There may have been a lot more going on internally than you knew and accidents do happen..time and chance happen to all creatures. The $64,000 dollar question is will there ever come a time in the future when you will be able to fully communicate with Tuvak..perhaps...I am a skeptic who is cursed with a romantic's heart so I am torn over such questions..but I do miss all 120lbs of my departed pal Jack..he was a good friend.

whitesnake said...

If these thoughts escape you!

Where do you come up with ideas to post?

Pamela said...

My heart goes out to you. We've five cats and one dog. They sometimes (more often than I'd like) do destructive things as a way of communicating their unhappiness over something in their world here. They're all inside animals...

I'm so sorry for your loss.