Securing the Loose Paw

Now and then, throughout my life, I have been called upon to give a dog a pill.

Here is what happens.  I open the dog’s mouth.  I shove the pill back as far as it will go.  I close the dog’s mouth.  I wait a decent interval.  I release the dog’s snout.  Life goes on.

The dog looks at me gratefully, as if to say, “What was that?  It was for my own good, wasn’t it?  Yes, sir, you wouldn’t do it if it weren’t.  I appreciate your taking the time.”

Leaves me feeling like James Herriot, this does.

I am always a little astonished at the ease of the operation because I know cats harbor an entirely different attitude toward pill-taking.  A cat regards the administering of medicine as a situation in which it may fling aside whatever social restraints it has adopted over the years and try, fang and claw, to destroy you.

“I may be sick unto death,” the cat says, “but if I go, I’m taking you with me.”

  Forget about sneaking the pill into the cat’s food.  You could serve the cat an entire ground ox with a tiny minced pill stirred in, and when you returned to your kitchen later, the ox would be gone.  Strewn across the floor, however, there would be particles, which, if assembled, would constitute one perfect streptomycin tablet.

Forget about gratitude too.  Most cats, like Mildred in Of Human Bondage, accept hovering attentions with a kind of vaguely understood resentment.  You could drive your dogsled across the frozen tundra for four sleepless days and nights, pick up the penicillin in Nome, drive your dogsled back, and the cat would use the last measure of his ebbing life force to open up your leg–down to the shinbone.

As a boy, my grandparents had a cat named Tyler who was particularly adamant in his opposition to pills.  I can remember one terribly worrisome night when my grandfather and I tried to administer medication to him.  I don’t know how he succeeded in involving me in the project.  I never used to like cats and always insisted on not knowing their names.  I addressed them and referred to them strictly by their colors:  “Hello, brown cat,” or “I saw the gray-and-white cat devouring a toad near the driveway.”

I also don’t remember what was wrong with Tyler.  It was not a syndrome which produced lethargy.  Tyler scored heavy on us in the early rounds.  Any decent ref would have stopped the fight.

From time to time, Tyler would make a noise worthy of Linda Blair and the pill would fly from our midst and skitter across the floor into a dark corner.

In desperation, we called our vet, but he was out.  His calls were being handled by another vet, who was, unfortunately, out of his mind.  “Wrap kitty up in a blanket so that kitty’s little head is sticking out,” he said in a prissy voice.

Once we had kitty bundled up thusly, we should open his little mouth and toss the pill down his little throat, advised the vet.

We decided to try it.  My grandfather and I wrapped Tyler tighter than Tut (during which process we lost only about a cup and a half of blood between us–quite cheap by Transylvanian standards).  As we tried to get the pill into his mouth, Tyler began to writhe in a manner reminiscent of Houdini.

“I think one of kitty’s little paws is about to get loose,” I told my grandfather, just as said paw appeared out of one of the folds and began swiping around like a scorpion’s tail.

There are two things you can do in a situation like that.  One is to move briskly and decisively, while you hold a putative advantage, to secure the loose paw and then complete the job as efficiently as possible.  The second thing is to decide immediately that you are going to throw the whole kit and caboodle in one direction and then run like hell in the other.

My grandfather and I did neither.  Tapes analyzed subsequently by the Public Safety Administration revealed that we fumbled equivocally for a few critical seconds until, somehow, the total Tyler had emerged, with a full arsenal of sharp points.  My grandfather and I will be forgiven for believing that the antichrist had arrived on Earth.  His vengeance was terrible and swift.

The following day, my grandfather and I trudge into the vet’s office carrying a basket which we had covered with a sheet of plywood.  We wore thick gauntlets on our hands and hollow stares on our faces.  The basket emitted a low, guttural sound which was not of this earth.

“What . . . what have you got in there?” asked the vet, with the air of a man who wonders if he is licensed (or even inclined) to treat Tasmanian devils.

“A cat,” said my grandfather and I, with the air of men who have returned from the front after seeing horrors to which no words could possibly do justice.

I honestly don’t remember what the vet decided to do.  It seems possible that he determined that my grandfather and I needed pills a lot more than the cat did at that point.

I have a friend that lived in a small apartment with her cat named Daniel.  He would sleep around her neck at night and they ate tuna and Cheez-its out of the same container.  She said it was that kind of relationship.  (I think we can safely lump “that kind of relationship” and going overboard into the same general category.)

She later found out that he would go to parties on the floor below and drink beer, inhale marijuana fumes, and eat potato chips.

Now, Janet started dating a guy named Paul.  Daniel did not hide his feelings about Paul.  If Paul sat on Janet’s bed, which doubled as a couch, Daniel would insinuate himself under the covers of the bed and burrow, mole-like towards Paul.  We have already determined that Daniel Had a substance abuse problem, so it is possible that he thought he couldn’t be seen.  When he arrived at Paul’s body, he would bite up through the bedspread and into Paul’s flesh.  I swear this is true, and if you’re interested in the made-for-TV rights, give me a call.

Whenever Paul showed signs of leaving the apartment, Daniel would race to the door to show him out.  When Paul went to the door, Daniel would run down the hall ahead of him and down the stairs, ushering, ushering, until Paul was out.  Then the cat would get up on his hind legs and peer out the window, savoring Paul’s departure.

Paul was no warmonger.  He extended olive branches to Daniel, but what is a cat going to do with an olive branch?  Even when Paul and Janet got married and moved to a new apartment, Daniel’s hate burned ever bright.  Like many a guerilla before him, Daniel hoped to whittle away at the enemy’s confidence and eventually drive him off the homeland.

It is somehow not surprising that Paul suddenly began to exhibit terrible respiratory problems, which were diagnosed as an allergy to guess what?  Janet was suddenly transformed into a woman whose fortunes were no less problematical than, let’s say, Roxanne’s.  She searched her soul and Paul’s sinuses (figuratively) and decided to give Daniel to her mother.

Grief torn and, let us not forget, cut off cold turkey from marijuana and beer, Daniel threw himself under the wheels of a car.  Paul and Janet were divorced four months later.  She could never forgive Paul’s sinuses, who she blamed for Daniel’s demise.

I know that somewhere, in that great kamikaze heaven in the sky, Daniel is probably smiling down today, knowing that, in the end, he won.



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