FEB 26 — Dylan arrived back home this week. He came by FedEx in a gold bag with a silky black tie on its handles bearing the words “beloved pet.” The ribbon was the colour of his coat, thick and glossy till the end.
Cats fall victim to busy roads, are taken by predators or fickle by nature simply find themselves a new home. Not Dylan. He hung around, clocked three transatlantic flights to suit our nomadic lifestyle and enjoyed his nine lives to the full despite the threat of fox attacks in London, a bite from a deadly cottonmouth snake in Texas and the tropical heat of Malaysia making him lethargic and, well, rather fat.
We picked him and his sister up from a North London animal rescue centre. That was 11 years ago, and a privileged life he has led ever since, never far from a pinch of catnip, welcoming lap and a tasty tidbit.
His rapid weight loss since Christmas ought to have rung warning bells; it is sometimes convenient to overlook the obvious.
“He has a cancerous tumour the size of an orange,” Dr Schwarz timidly reported, adding it was an abnormally fast-growing tumour. The veterinarian at The Humane Society of New York on 59th and First was about to give Dylan his annual rabies vaccine when she discovered the lump in his abdomen.
My children were with me, I had forgotten they were off school for Martin Luther King Day. “Later this week might be a good time to put Dylan to sleep,” the vet suggested. It fell on deaf ears, as the news that Dil, as he is, was, affectionately known, wasn’t quite right hit home. All eyes were on me, waiting for my reaction, from which they would take their cue. Soon four small shoulders began to jerk up and down, and warm, sticky tears streamed across creased faces.
Three weeks passed. I could now feel every knobbly vertebrae in Dil’s emaciated back. He ventured away from his dark hideout under our living-room sofa only to nibble at food and lap a little water. As a special dispensation for a dying cat, our doorman allowed me to take him for a walk in the gardens surrounding our apartment block (against management’s regulations) by daylight.
His walks usually took place under cover of darkness; the only way I could get him outdoors without causing a kerfuffle. Manhattan is not a city for cats, at least not outside. Just one cat I’ve spotted in the past year, a tabby loitering outside a restaurant’s cellar doors on 61st and First Avenue. A far cry from the wild cat population of Bukit Tunku.
I should mention the reverse is true for dogs: the pavements are chocker with paws of every conceivable breed dressed in ridiculous outfits (some including shoes) being walked by their owners or trainers, clutching dog poop bags for the inevitable. And it never ceases to amaze how every block has either a doggie gym, spa or a daycare.
The time came when Dil would turn up at mealtimes but only to stare at his full bowl; he barely had the strength to keep his frail forelegs from slipping on the marble kitchen floor.
Dr Schwarz’s respectful approach and tender treatment of my family, all of which were present when Dil was put to sleep, made his departure tolerable. We left the vet clutching a framed paw-print and patch of his famed ebony black fur. A handwritten “In Sympathy” card with an illustration of cats sitting contentedly on a patchwork of clouds arrived days later. A private pet cremation was arranged... (only in America?).
The Big Apple can be a hard, cold city to live in. But every so often, someone, a stranger, surprises you: the very warm gestures of Dr Schwarz, a lady devoted to her job in a seemingly overworked, understaffed, budget veterinary practice, touched me.
“He went the right way” is what she said as we made our teary exit. She had put three other cats down that Saturday; at least one for all the wrong reasons.
I have thought about these parting words on many occasion since. He did go the right way. But NYC will not be his last stop: the ornate tin containing his sand-colored ashes sitting beside me as I write this will accompany us to the UK this summer. My children will sprinkle them over the grassy lawns of our home there.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.