The cat was a stranger to us; a fully-grown calico I discovered on the street in front of this house where I was living back then. Corner of a semi-busy street. I was stretching, gazing out the window to see whether there was any interesting life out there, how the traffic was doing, and noticed something twitch in the gutter.
I opened the door, went outside, stood by the curb where a cat lay. It had been run over by a car, and its spine was hopelessly twisted. It jerked spasmodically. I examined it without touching. Bent closer to see.
One of its eyes was blinking and darting in horror and panic, while the other remained open, fully dilated and blank, not responding to light, not moving, much like a doll’s eye.
It had obviously suffered severe brain damage, yet parts of it continued to function.
I stood up from the animal, watching it pant.
A six-year old child of the woman I lived with at that time became a concerned though ineffective nurse. She brought the animal in off the street, found a box for it, lay the cat in there. She proceeded to sit over it in the living room and stare, respectfully, mournfully, waiting for it to die. It didn’t. She became bored with the beast in the box and left to find something more interesting to do.
The damaged cat became active. It managed to flop about, even climb out of the box and stumble a few paces. There was no semblance of a cat’s finesse remaining. It turned tortuously, the rear of its body bending to the left. It never meowed, or shrieked, whether from pulverized vocal chords or brain damage I had no idea. It tripped and struggled in aimless determination, falling on its snout or plopping on its hind quarters, then laying inert, panting, worn-out, unable to orientate itself.
First discovered in the morning, it was still alive by mid-afternoon.
The decision, adult and reasoned, was to destroy it.
In those days, there was very little extra money to take this stranger’s cat to a vet and pay for its humane extinction.
So the few other solutions remaining were considered. None of them good. I recalled having favorite pets taken from me in childhood by reasoning parents and gassed to death somewhere where I could not see it.
I followed in these traumatic footsteps.
I took the cat by the scruff of its neck from its tortured place on the floor, carried it to the kitchen and stuffed it into the oven. I closed the oven door, switched on the gas and left the room.
Returning later, I stood in the kitchen doorway, head cocked. I heard it within the gas stove: nothing, then a thrashing about. Reluctantly opening the oven door, it immediately flopped halfway out, mouth ajar, unmoving tongue stuck out, breathing, laying there. The undead.
Discouraged, dismayed, half of me impressed, even pleased, with its determined clinging to life; the other half of me impatient at its rude desire to keep panting on in spite of my faulty expedient of gassing it out of its misery.
So the next, last, foolproof alternative was taken: drown the panting bastard.
In the patio, after filling a large, yellow bucket with water, I wrapped an old dish towel round its head. Taking a big breath myself, I stuck the beast’s body deep within, head first.
At first, there was absolutely no reaction. Thank God it was going to go peacefully, quietly, quickly.
Then the first tremor of protest, followed by a panicked jerk. The body began quivering mightily and struggling, but with a lack of coordination or strength.
Upside down in the bucket, with a single hind leg that still functioned, the leg jerked upward with its claws out, kicking the air. It sought a hold to latch onto, to hoist itself clear. It sought survival still. I observed the wet hind leg continue to jerk in the air, seeking, trying. To this day, I still see vividly that single hind-leg kicking hopelessly in the air.
I kept its head pushed down toward the bottom of the bucket.
It quivered; I quivered—in a rush I reached into the bucket and snatched the towel away from its head to insure that all the water possible filled it lungs…. My hands were still plunged into the water, holding it down. There was horror, there was desperation.
Finally, it ceased to move; no bubbles rose from its mouth to pop on the surface. Its heart continued to quake under my hand in what I took to be spasms.
I stood back, letting it lay upside down in the water, all unmoving, its one now motionless rear leg still sticking out of the water. Still no bubbles, nothing stirred.
I lifted it out by its tail, laid it down, and then, saw under its fur the movement of its heart. I yelped and backed away. “Look!” I pointed, “Spasms–” and again – “They have to be spasms…”
I wrapped it in rags, dug a hole in the backyard, tossed it in, and covered it with dirt. I never dared check again whether its unobliging heart still beat on.