Rachel’s: “Water From The Same Source” (Systems/Layers, 2003)

Today, I bought Cheez Whiz for my cat. As much as I never imagined I would do such a thing ten years ago when we adopted him, I can’t say I was surprised to find myself doing it. My dealings with animals, the ones I’ve adopted and the ones I’ve looked after at rescues and shelters, have led me to do plenty of things I never would have predicted for myself.

I never had pets growing up. It wasn’t until I was 23 and married that cats ever entered my life in any meaningful way, when my wife’s childhood cat, Abby, came to live with us, and we brought Jazz, the cat I bought the Cheez Whiz for, into the family a month or so later.

Abby lived 18 years. She was a brown tabby and embodied a lot of the things that people talk about when they talk about cats generally. She was aloof and could be surly, didn’t like to be picked up or bossed around, slept a lot… She picked favorite people, and for some reason I was one of them.

At the end of her life, Abby’s kidneys started to go bad on her, and I found myself in the guest bathroom, giving her subcutaneous fluid treatments. I gave her shots. I tried to get her to eat. On one of the worst days of my life, Labor Day, 2008, we rushed her to an emergency vet when she grew weak and disoriented, and we ended her life as painlessly as possible as her organs began to shut down.

Now Jazz is 16. He’s been getting by with one functioning kidney for two and a half years. He was 20 pounds when we brought him home, and now he’s eight and a half. We keep a veritable buffet of cat foods around, and he goes from one to the next, getting tired of each one quickly. I’ve been giving him pills for years to manage his blood pressure and settle his stomach (his newest pill, a sort of turbo booster for his colon, had to be specially made at a compounding pharmacy because no one manufactures it anymore), and I’ve experienced something I think a lot of parents experience at some point or another. He’s started to resent me.

There is always necessarily a gap between your knowledge and abilities and the knowledge and abilities of those in your care. Without the gap, they wouldn’t need your care. I know Jazz needs these pills to manage his health, but he doesn’t know that. He just knows that I’m shoving something down his throat that tastes bad. And sometimes when I come near him, he flicks his tongue like he’s nauseous, which is what he also does when anticipating his pills. He’s started to associate me with his pills, which hurts, because I know I’m giving him medicine to help him, and he’ll never understand that.

But I do it, and I make sure my wife doesn’t have to because I want him to have one person around the house he doesn’t associate with medication. Lately, his health has declined badly, and we’re in that awful zone pet owners inevitably inhabit where we begin to question how far and how hard we should push these creatures in our care, animals that have trusted us to do what’s best for them, even if they haven’t always understood why we do it. Jazz is the sweetest cat. He never bites or scratches. He loves belly rubs and laps, and in spite of everything, food, but I see his spirits waning and I feel terrible and a little helpless.

That’s what the Cheez Whiz is for. The plan is to coat all of his pills with it, to give him a good flavor for the brief trial he has to endure every day, to hide the bitter edge of benazapril and famotidine. I hope it works.

If it doesn’t, we’ll plug along as we have, doing our best, and at some point, we will have to weigh his quality of life and make the hard decisions. But not yet. He still has enough happiness in his life that I think the pills and vet visits are worth it. And a little resentment is a price I’m willing to pay for that.