Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Miscellaneous Animals - articles by Samantha David


Why I had my cat put down

Puss was such a beauty - my best cat ever. His eyes were like the most stunning turquoise lamps, as shiny as an Italian lake. The fur under his chin was like silk, and his tummy was pale honey fluff. Pale ginger, his markings were stunningly symmetrical, he had adorable cream stripes on his tail and a golden diamond just between his shoulder blades. His coat was soft and delicately scented, his paws gentle, his tail long and elegant.

He was the most gentle of cats. Unlike the sort of cat who twitches his ears at you, or mewls for food or rushes madly after toy mice, Puss was unfailing patient and easy-going. My soft, sweet boy.

My daughter grew up with Puss at her side. As a baby, she pulled his tail with impunity, rolled on him and jabbed her stubby little fingers into his eyes and ears. As a toddler, learning to walk, she used him as a stabilizer. Later on, she dressed him in dolls' clothes and took him for walks in the pram along with teddy, rabbit and Little Dolly Dancer. Through it all, he remained polite, loving and endlessly understanding. He never once scratched the tiny hands that tormented him, and when rescued from her, returned so willingly to her side that we called him Nanny.

It's true, he really did seem to regard amusing the baby as his job. If you could have seen him rolling his eyes and sighing, you'd believe me. He put in a full day every day, and only when the baby was safely asleep would he climb onto my lap and purr as I scratched behind his ears.

Then at bedtime he pattered upstairs and slept with me. Not on the end of my bed - in my arms. Tucked up under the duvet with me, he never moved, never woke me up, never howled to be let out at 3am. I loved him to pieces. He was my best cat ever.

Puss followed us on walks, Puss liked to be carried about, Puss made us laugh. He was perhaps a Puss of Little Brain, or maybe his sight wasn't all it could have been, because from time to time he would miss his aim. Jumping onto the kitchen chairs he would hit his head on the table, leaping onto the terrace wall more than once he leapt straight over it, and I've lost count of the times he brought a mouse in and then lost it when it was under his nose. A bit of a bumbler, that was Puss.

But stupid or not, Puss loved us. He was perfectly prepared to sit on anyone's knee, but he only ever came to bed with me. For years I woke up to see the beautiful classical profile of his little lion's nose on the pillow beside me.

He wouldn't stay with anyone else either. Going on holidays we tried leaving him with friends but he simply came home, slipped through the cat flap and curled up patiently on the sofa. Left at home with a neighbour coming in to feed him, he stopped eating and was seldom actually in the house. He just sat on the garage roof gazing down at the empty drive. Waiting for us.

He wasn't the sort of cat to be stand-offish when we got back though. There was none of that tail-flicking, paw-shaking stuff you get with some cats. He had no feline dignity, no personal pride, no sense of his own importance. As I got out of the car he would come rushing up and climb into my jumper, thin and wild-eyed, purring like a steam engine, desperate to say hello.

His health was always indifferent but I put this down to an unfortunate upbringing. (He was a rescue cat.) From time to time he would get anaemic and sleepy or a bit dehydrated, and then he would need special care. The vet said it was liver damage from an earlier infestation, so I wormed him regularly, kept him scrupulously clean and flea-free and thought no more about it. When he was off-colour, I gave him water with a syringe and fed him liver and pilchards in tomato sauce, which he utterly adored. (Lots of cats like pilchards...)

He was usually better within a few days and as time went by his attacks got less and less frequent until in the end he was the total picture of feline health. A perfect specimen.

And then one day just before I was due to set out on the school run, Ginger came to say that Puss couldn't get in through the cap flat. I went outside and there he was, thin, dehydrated, hardly able to walk - obviously very ill.

I rang the vet, rang the school, jettisoned the school run and rushed Puss to the vet. She took one look and shook her head. "This is a very sick cat," she said. "FIV"

I couldn't believe it. I insisted on blood tests. It couldn't be FIV. It had to be a liver thing. He wasn't really ill. Couldn't be. Surely some antibiotics...? No, no, not Puss. Not my Puss...

The blood tests took ten minutes. They were positive. He didn't just have FIV. He had every disease a cat could have. He had at least four fatal viruses. The vet showed me a sample of his blood. It was so thin it looked like coloured water. Puss was rapidly losing consciousness as he lay on the table. Tears were pouring down my face as I stroked him.

"Look we can treat him," said the vet. "We can try. We'll start rehydration therapy, we'll..." I shook my head. We'd been through all the details while she did the tests. Even with all the available treatments, he was unlikely to survive more than a month or so; he would need constant blood transfusions, injections and possibly even treatments at the local animal hospital. Also, he was infectious to other cats. Whatever we did, he'd probably never walk again, let alone go hunting or jumping through the long grass.

I couldn't speak. Puss's great lamp-lit eyes were dull, but he was trying to purr. Stroking him, I just shook my head.

"Well, I think you've made the right decision," said the vet. "You're doing a very beautiful thing for him." I nodded.

I drove home alone to face my daughter's questions. "Mummy why did you let Puss down?" It took some time to explain things to her, and even longer to explain why another cat wouldn't be the same. With Puss dead, I couldn't bear the idea of getting another cat. I would just be looking at it and thinking "You're not Puss." No, I really didn't want another pet at all.

Until Sandy came along. Now I know this is a defection, but this spaniel was on its way to be put down simply because no-one wanted it any more, poor thing.

Wall-eyed, muddy, smelly and depressed, scabby-faced, fat from doing the bins every day, I promise you this canine was not an attractive proposition. But when my daughter asked if we were going to let Sandy down, too... I just grabbed the ugly mutt by the collar and dragged it upstairs for a bath.

Puss would never have let a dog into the house. If we'd tried to keep him alive a little longer, he wouldn't only have suffered longer before he died (and make no mistake, he was fatally ill) - but we would never have inflicted a dog on him. So Sandy would have died as well.

She's here now, leaning against me, gazing up at me with doggy brown eyes. These days she's clean. Her fur is combed, her breath is sweet, the sores on her feet are healed up and she eats proper dog food every day so she doesn't need to do the bins any more.

Her tail is thumping gently and her poor battered little face is beaming with astonished gratitude and love. She's not a replacement for Puss, she never could be, but my best boy was doomed, so I'm glad I had him put down quickly enough for us to save Sandy. My daughter adores her, and Sandy is turning out to be quite a clown in her own funny, doggy way. She makes us laugh anyway, which is good medicine. Also, Sandy loves cats. Perhaps one day we'll get her a kitten...?

But I promise you, we let Puss down gently. I know - I was there.




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