For the past 6 weeks or so, we've been struggling with one of our cats' health - he vomits about once a day, eats little, hides under beds. He's lost a lot of weight, and this is clearly life-threatening. We started with blood tests and x-rays, which didn't identify the problem. Then our vet put him on the steroid prednisone, which helped a lot for a few weeks, but the problems came back. Next question was whether to use ultrasound to diagnose the problem, at a cost of ...$Alot.
Throughout all of this, all the issues of my book about animals have become real life issues. I'm glad to say that I don't find the perspective of the book academic or useless. I do (emphatically) think it's important not to be a speciesist about our cat--we are not going to dismiss this illness because our cat is "just an animal." At the same time, our response should be "appropriate." If we would obviously spend $Alot to diagnose a problem in one of our children, that doesn't immediately tell us what to do for our cat. Loss of life for our cat is not morally equivalent to loss of life for our children. If you think that's speciesist, you (with all due respect) don't understand the term.
If the cat's demise isn't the same as a child's demise, it's not nothing, either. I don't buy the idea that individual animals are replaceable, or that painless killing of one animal can be canceled out by creating or saving the life of another. I can't make up for my cat dying by rushing from the morgue to the animal shelter, and rescuing a different cat. There is a certain cold logic to letting him die, and donating $Alot to the shelter to save 10, but no. When we adopt an animal, we make him or her like a family member, and I think we have to stay the course. We can't suddenly shift from being this-cat-fanciers to being every-cat-fanciers.
Everything gets even more complicated considering that we have children who are deeply attached to the cat. (We adopted him and his brother as kittens nine years ago.) Whatever we do teaches them a lesson about how we regard animals, but also about "the virtues". Are we committed and faithful, or are we fair-weather friends? On the other hand, are we extravagant and wasteful, or are we logical and reasonable?
Sigh! So, we did spend the money for ultrasound, and the vet found a region of intestine that suggests maybe (but not certainly) lymphoma. However, when he aspirated some cells and sent them to the pathologist, that diagnosis was not confirmed. Now we face a new dilemma. To definitively diagnose the problem will require surgery that costs another $Alot. If he has one kind of lymphoma--the one the vet suspects--the prognosis is very bad. If another, it's not quite as bad. Medicine night keep him going for a few years. There are other possibilities with better prognoses.
We thought about this for several days, and by the end of the thinking phase, the cat had lost more weight. When push comes to shove, we don't have it in us to watch him slowly die, and then "mercifully" accelerate the process at the very end.
So--surgery's tomorrow. If you believe in The Cat Goddess, don't hesitate to petition her for a happy outcome.