(cut for tragedy. You've been warned.)
We pulled up in the driveway, got out of the car, and immediately noticed there was a cat in the yard.
He was laying down. My first clue that something was wrong was that he had his forehead wedged against a grassy hummock, the way Athena does when she's looking for comfort. My second clue was the flies.
"He's not breathing," said James.
"Yeah, he is," I said. He was. Bad breathing, the heaving kind. I walked around him, noted a back leg turned up in a bad fashion, crusted with blood, the tail limp and caked. I started to get the hot rushing feeling at the back of my neck that means I'm about to spend a serious amount of money on an animal I just met, and said "Well, we've got to take him to the vet."
This is easier said than done when you've just moved to a new neighborhood. Not a person on the cul-de-sac was home (it was the middle of the day) so we couldn't check and see if anybody owned the cat. We didn't have a phone book. Or internet. In desperation, we called up our realtor, who had made the mistake of saying "If you have any questions about the area, just call!" I think she was more in mind of us asking about the good pizza places or something, but to her credit, within about thirty seconds of contemplation, she directed me to a vet three minutes away.
I got out the big plastic tub I was transporting bedding in, dropped a towel over his head, resigned myself to being laid open to the bone, and started manuevering the cat into the tub. I have a defense mechanism when dealing with injured animals--I start talking in a rather absurd sing-song, generally saying "C'mon, babe, here we go, c'mon, it's okay, c'mon, babe, let's get your feet in here..." I dunno if it works on the animals, but it's kind of an auto-hypnotic for me--I talk to myself in the same tone when I have, for example, just skidded wildly out of control on black ice at high speed.
"James," I said, interrupting my monologue, "can you give me a hand here?"
There was a brief pause, then he said weakly "I don't think so, no."
"Ah. Right. Sorry."
James has many sterling qualities, some of which I have enumerated here. However, he cannot handle injured animals. He likes animals a great deal, which may be the problem. It's not a matter of willingness or empathy--plenty of us find this sort of thing distressing. It's more that the sight causes his eyes to roll back in his head, his skin to turn quite an astonishing shade of pale, and then he faints dead away. This was funny at the vet, once. However, I already had one casualty on my hands, and I didn't need two, and he was clinging to the porch and looking distinctly grey.
I thought "Crap, I wish Mavis was here."
I got half the cat into the tub. He didn't fight at all. This was good in that I won't need tetanus boosters, but a bad sign. I tried to haul the back half in, and he moaned a bit, and rolled, and then I got a look at his underbelly.
At this point, I realized the cat would not be costing me thousands of dollars in vet bills. The cat was going to cost one vial worth of euthanasia, if he survived me moving him at all. I'll spare you the details, but it was ugly as hell, and at least a day or two old. I assume he was hit by a car. I'm amazed he lasted as long as he did, frankly, and I wish to god he hadn't.
We got him to the vet. In one of those intensely surreal things that strike you in the midst of such unpleasantness, the yard at the vet's office was full of cackling guinea fowl.
To their immense credit, the vet receptionists did exactly what you do with a hit by car patient, which is yank him out of the mildly hysterical woman's hands and run for the back, while somebody gets on the intercom and yells for any available doctor to get to surgery NOWNOWNOW. I could have told them (and did) that it was almost certainly hopeless, but they did exactly the right thing anyway.
The vet tech was back in less than three minutes. They'd come to the same conclusion I had--no vet in the world was going to be able to fix that mess. They didn't even bother making me sign a release. (One of the receptionists was talking about a release, but the tech brushed it aside--I rather suspect that they put him down the second they saw him. It would have been barbaric to wait for paperwork.) While he was apparently a stray (he had mats indicating neglect, anyway) they'll hold the body for a few days in case anybody reports a lost cat of that description. I got the impression that they had a well-oiled protocol for strays hit by cars. They were very professional about the whole matter, anyway.
They thanked us repeatedly for bringing him in. You never know what to say in that situation. "You're welcome" is just not appropriate, and it's hard to express--or redundant--that when you have a dying cat in the front yard, of course you take it to the vet, what other choice do we, as decent beings, have? Vets mostly know this already, I imagine, there's no need to belabor the point.
We left. Guinea fowl yammered at us as we drove away.
So that put quite a damper on the rest of the day. We got a lot done, but as home ownership duties go, that was one I could have done without.