On or about March 1, 1969, my two sons, Willy and Matt, brought home a clean, beautiful newborn Siamese kitten, which they called "Pancho."
I don't really like cats, but, as it is with sons and fathers, I was talked into keeping it. "Please Daddy!" "We'll take care of him, Daddy!" Of course, they didn't. Like most parents, my wife, Ruth, and I fed Pancho, washed him, de-fleaed him, took him to the vet, and when our kids went off to college, Pancho became our total responsibility.
For 16 years I lived with Pancho, fed him, spent a fortune keeping him healthy, and vented my resentment on him. I complained when we spent money patching up the wounds of his amorous adventures, suffered when he finally had to be "fixed," and bitched loudly when his old age forced us to spend hundreds of dollars on keeping him alive.
Through it all, however, Pancho was sweet, noble, and courageous. He meowed, woke me up when I wasn't ready, and was a general pain, but maybe that was all part of my moods, and my avowed dislike of cats, and the fact that his hours and mine invariably failed to coincide.
On or about 2 p.m., on a Tuesday, I went outside and found Pancho dead on the patio. At first I thought a dog had killed him, but later on, I just didn't know. I only know that I've been disconsolate ever since, and that I've done a lot of thinking.
Looking back on it, I see that Pancho wasn't just "an animal." He was a living being. And as a living thing, he had his own mind, his own dignity, and a right over his life. That I didn't see this earlier doesn't diminish him. It diminishes me. I was the "Human Being," the "Superior Intellect," and "Most Intelligent Creature the World's Ever Known." Pancho was just a small, gentle, helpless being who depended on me for his food, his protection, and his general well-being.
My moods were vented on him, my frustrations, my dislike of cats. If I felt good, I petted him. If I felt bad, I kicked him down the stairs. I was "the boss."
What did he think, poor creature? What did he feel? Did he imagine I hated him? Did he die feeling alone? I'll never know. But I can tell you this: I know now that, cat or not, I loved Pancho. And miss him as I never thought I could. If I could've talked to him, I think I would've said: "Pancho you're all right. We all have to face life--and you did it with dignity."
It probably doesn't matter. What the hell do cats know, anyway?
WILLIAM D. LANSFORD
Playa del Rey