Taking Responsibility for the Death of a Kitten

Trigger warning: This story contains mention of life-threatening injuries to an animal. 

On a cold and misty January day, I was downing some matar pulao. Rice flavoured with ginger and cardamom is one of my mother’s favourite quick fixes. With salivating eyes, I was looking into the pressure cooker to fish out a second bite when my mother called out: “Bhaiya, bhaiya” (in UP, mothers often refer to their sons as ‘bhaiya‘).

There was trepidation in her voice. With a mouthful of pulao, I rushed to her.

A wooden door opened, and I glimpsed my mother’s blue jacket and her white knitted cap. Other greetings rushed at me, “Meow-Meow.”

I guessed that four out our eight cats – one adult mother, ‘Mau’ and two generations of her kittens – were hungry too.

(I know, having more than two cats is crazy).

But Mumma’s teary-eyed look said something different. She was carrying a baby kitten with a dangling leg. Gold flake’s three-month-old soft, furry skin had been stretched out. Suspended from it was a little black paw right over my mother’s belly. But the leg wasn’t the only problem – her entire left hind quarter area had been ripped open, leaving her intestines and ribs exposed.

The dead tissues had darkened and resembled cooked liver, while the uninfected parts were still red. My writer’s eye betrayed me and I quickly began taking visual notes. My stomach began to twist but instead I decided to swallow the pulao and get a grip. We had to reach our neighbourhood veterinary clinic fast.

But first, the dangling leg had to be cut off.

Gold flake was hugging my mother. Their eyes were locked onto each other. Gold flake was hoping to be saved. After all, the journey to our third floor apartment must have been strenuous for a three-legged kitten. We had no idea where she had been – cats often travel in and out, wandering, looking for new territory. The dried blood confirmed that her wound was at least a day old.

But Gold flake was a tough kitten. She only meowed a few times, even while facing such adversity. But what did an innocent kitten do to deserve this? Kill mice? Or did she became prey to the fantasies of cat killers? Honestly, you really can’t tell. There are too many closeted animal-killers living in RWA societies anyway.

“Cut the leg,” my mother commanded. I quickly reached for the big steel scissor and made the cut. The leg dropped. Gold flake’s brothers wasted no time to grab it and run off. Cats will be cats!

My mother dashed out with the kitten to her breast to the clinic. I ran after her, and so did my friend Kunal. Before we managed to lock the house and reach the parking, she was gone. We GPS-ed ourselves to the nearest veterinarian and drove, but my bipedal mother had beaten us to it.

We were ushered into the white-tiled room with plastic curtains, wooden cabinets, an operating table and two doctors. “Can we save her, doctor saheb?” my mother was asking.

Looking at the kitten, the doctor didn’t have the heart to say “no”. He was giving my mother hope, but a false hope. We couldn’t keep Gold flake in pain anymore, so I sternly asked the doctor about her chances of survival. His answer was tepid, but my mother was ready to do anything to save her. I knew little could be done. Three other gown-wearing men were now in the room.

I took the call – we had to allow her to rest.  My mother cried, perhaps silently even called me a “heartless man”. But in my heart, euthanasia seemed kinder compared to death by festering maggoty dismemberment.

Sensing her final moments near, Gold flake dug her claws in my mother’s jacket. “I should have never come with you to the clinic,” my mother said, refusing to put down the little infant. “I sense her heart, she will live. Let’s take her back home,” she tried one last time.

Thankfully this time the vet chipped in and said, “She won’t survive there. Even with an ICU there is little chance.”

Stuck between five men, she resigned and handed her Gold flake over. She kissed her one last time. Gold flake meowed back.

My mother then walked out of the room.

I didn’t leave. Two compounders and the doctor came back with a syringe and sedative. I signed the euthanasia form, taking full responsibility for this death.

Two minutes later, two men held her down. She shrieked and clawed at her exterminators, but by now the cannula had pierced her right paw. Dark cherry red blood filled the tube, as Gold flake was fighting for her life. Seconds later, the sedative was pumped in and Gold flake was gone. The doctor confirmed her passing and I begged for forgiveness for her soul.

It costs Rs 3,500 to put down an animal. But they gave us a feral cat discount – it came to Rs 2,000 only. My mother waited outside the clinic, but I couldn’t meet her eyes. They gave us the “body” in a small, white medicine box.

Shrouded in gloom, we got back to our housing complex. We prayed for the departed soul. dug a hole in the garden and laid Gold flake to rest.

My mother cried all night, and I hated myself for having given the killing command to a being I loved.

The moral of the story is that cats don’t necessarily have nine lives, so pet a cat when you see one. Also, don’t keep more than two cats, please. In case you want to adopt adorable kitten, connect with me – we have five up for adoption.

Featured image: Sindy Strife/Unsplash