Money! A matter of life and death

Emma Leaning
The perverse truth is we undoubtedly saved that cat’s life. We also decided to end it. I don’t question our choice, but I hate what it came down to: money.
Emma Leaning
Money! A matter of life and death
Hu Jun / SHINE

Our cat died. I say “our cat” but it was a stray and we euthanized it. Being out of Shanghai at the time, I watched remotely over a video call, it was brutal. Let me back up.

We found a kitten in the worst possible way. Days old, he’d been attacked, abandoned and seemed on the edge of death. We decided to take him home to keep him company while he passed away. For help, we joined WeChat groups with animal rescue volunteers and contacted a vet.

The kitten began to have horrible seizures, the kind I’ll never forget. His little body contorted while he foamed at the mouth and wailed in pain. We assumed this was him dying, but with veterinary advice and medication, we managed to get the fits under control.

Then, due to the violent seizures, the kitten developed a swelling on his skull. His head had a bulging crater filled with blood that left him unable to move. The vet suggested immediate surgery. Without being dramatic, I needed this kitten to live. We were in the middle of a tough time, and he was more than a sick stray: He was hope.

The surgery was successful and the release of pressure on his brain enabled the kitten to find the strength to hold himself up, though he walked with a heavy lean and would suffer permanent damage to his eyesight. We took him home.

Weeks later, the seizures started again. This time, they were so severe that his heart could hardly stand them. We took the kitten back to the vet, where he was placed in an oxygen tent. We had a choice: euthanize the kitten or keep him in care while vets fought to save his life. In making our decision, we were told two things: The bill would be high, and the kitten’s chances of survival were low. We took a risk and paid a significant bill. The kitten lived.

At this point, I should mention we couldn’t keep the kitten. My husband Shane’s allergic to cats and spent much of this time high on antihistamines. That meant we were spending significant energy and money on an animal that would never be ours. We did what we could to find the kitten a forever home but with no joy. Months passed. The kitten — now a cat — got better while Shane’s allergies got worse. We had an issue.

The vet advised us to rehabilitate the cat into our compound. I was anxious, but we were left with no option. We set up a cat house on our balcony and continued to feed him. It took a while for the cat to find the confidence to explore, but eventually he did, returning home to sleep, eat and play. His new life was a gift, and things were going well.

Money! A matter of life and death
Emma Leaning / SHINE

His new life was a gift, and things were going well.

I left Shanghai for a while, and one day received a call from Shane. He was clearly shaken. The cat had been in an accident. I’ll save you the gory details, but essentially a garbage truck swallowed him up. Shane heard the cat screaming and ran outside to find him mangled under a wheel. The truck driver was obviously upset. The whole thing was a mess.

Shane rushed the cat to the vet and was told its bones and organs had been significantly damaged. Again, we were given two options: operate with a 95 percent chance the cat wouldn’t survive or euthanize him. Surgery would cost upward of 2,500 yuan (US$350), and that’s without aftercare, which he would need lots of.

We had to decide quickly because the cat was in severe pain. We went back and forth, neither wanting to face the obvious. We’d nursed this cat to health several times and grown to love him. But with such low chances of survival, we made the difficult decision to let the cat go. It was heartbreaking.

The perverse truth is we undoubtedly saved that cat’s life. We also decided to end it. I don’t question our choice, but I hate what it came down to: money.

If money were no object, would we have paid the high price for surgery knowing he likely wouldn’t live? Sure. What if surgery did guarantee the stray’s survival? What would we do? What would you? How much is too much, and how far are we willing to go? And isn’t it rotten that life-and-death decisions come down to cash.

I was bitter and broken for days after the euthanasia. It seemed impossibly unfair that a cat who’d battled so much should be taken so brutally. Sometimes the world can feel like a very unfair place. And a lot of our time can be spent wanting more from it. More money, more comfort, more happiness. Yet, in our pursuit of “more,” we risk losing sight of our blessings.

I’ve accepted the accident and the choices we made. But I am left with the stark awareness that money is a life-and-death resource. I don’t have as much as some, but I have more than many. I’m lucky. It’s in moments of adversity that we discover the extent of our gratitude.

Appreciate what you have. It won’t be enough to save you from hardship, but it’s likely enough to shield you from most. In a world where compassion holds more value than wealth, we can appreciate small but profound gifts. Even when we don’t get to keep them.

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