Pet Peeved : If a Man's Cat Has Nine Lives, How Many Must Be Spent at the Vet's?

MY WIFE said, "Someone has to take the cat to the vet's."

When she says someone , she means me.

I don't like to take the cat to the vet's. First, you have to catch the cat. He was a kitten that my wife brought in from the wild and tamed. It was a long time before even she could pet him. Now he will come into the house but only to eat. Some time ago we bought a traveling box for him, knowing that he would go crazy in the car.

"You'll have to put him in the box," I said to my wife.

He was on the front porch as usual, waiting for his breakfast. He came inside. She put down his bowl and let him take a couple of bites. Then she picked him up and stuffed him into the box and shut the door.

I drove to the vet's and took the cat in. After a short wait, the receptionist showed me into a clinical room. "The doctor will be right in," she said.

This was the part I hated. It was like being in prison.

The room was bare except for a steel-topped table, a sink, a cabinet and a chair. Bright light filled it from two rectangular plastic reflectors in the ceiling. It glared on the walls and on the linoleum floor.

The cat in his box on the table was silent, hunched up antisocially in the back.

I looked around for something entertaining. I saw absolutely nothing to read but a dog-food ad, a list of dog-grooming prices and a small, printed sign urging vaccination for feline leukemia. I memorized the dog-food ad and the leukemia warning. I noticed that an Airedale cost $27.50 to groom and an old English sheep dog $50.

I remembered when I had had my Airedale groomed for $10.

I had a feeling that everything was spiraling out of control.

Time clicked by. I began to feel claustrophobic. How long had I been alone in there? I read the grooming price list again and decided not to memorize it.

Finally, I sprang up and opened the door and went out to the reception desk.

"How long do I have to wait in there?" I asked. "I'm getting stir-crazy. It's solitary confinement."

"You're next," she said.

I went back into my cell. It was another 10 minutes before the doctor came in.

It was not Dr. Morehouse. Dr. Morehouse is about my age and has a beard.

It was a young woman.

"Hi," she said.

"Where's Dr. Morehouse?" I asked.

"He doesn't come in anymore. I come in on Wednesdays."

Dr. Morehouse had been treating our dogs and cats for 37 years. He knew more about me than my MD did. He had retired a year or two ago, but he had kept coming in on Wednesdays.

She told me her last name. "Or just Tracy," she added.

"I thought you didn't call your doctor by his first name," I said.

"I don't mind," she said.

"Where'd you go to school?" I asked.

"Davis," she said. "Eight years. That's more than most medical doctors go."

She ran her hands along the cat's back through his fur and looked in his mouth. "He's a beautiful cat," she said, "and in perfect health. We still give physical examinations. Not all that technology."

I remembered when I had first taken our dog, old Shaggy, to Dr. Morehouse and told him about her stupid behavior.

He had looked at me gravely and said, "Well, Mr. Smith, not all dogs are intelligent."

Dr. Morehouse had also pointed out--when I first brought in my Airedale, Fleetwood Pugsley--that the dog had a much calmer nature than I did. It was the sort of diagnosis that a psychiatrist would have charged a bundle for.

Somehow it seemed unfair.

Dr. Morehouse had retired. He was taking it easy. Away from dogs and cats altogether.

And here I was, still bringing in my cat, to be treated by a young woman who didn't understand me.

"How'd you get along with the cat?" my wife asked that evening.

"No problem," I said.

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