I don’t know… how old are you in the fourth grade? My three friends were that old, and I was one year younger, for those people who determine these things had jumped me up a grade already for some god forsaken reason. As social development matters, I paid the price for that compliment throughout the rest of my childhood. But I was hanging with my older friends, and we were down at the horse barn, throwing rocks at the pigeons and looking for stuff to steal or wreck, and generally wasting our mid-summer youth in an age appropriate manner. That’s when we found the kitten.
It was probably 5-6 weeks old, and even we children could see that it wasn’t doing well. That veterinarian part of me remembers it as probably dying from feline distemper, but of course I didn’t know that then. But even as children we could see that the kitten wasn’t doing well. It was clearly dying. And we figured it was suffering. And we determined, via a quick huddle, that our parents weren’t gonna help, for they had far more important things to do. So we figured the job had fallen to us, and we needed to come up with a way to put this suffering kitten out of its misery.
So we looked around the horse barn for anything that might get this job done. Not surprisingly, we found no barbiturate euthanasia solution, no IV catheters, no sedative drugs, none of the tools I can call upon now. Instead we found a nail, some string, and a stout wall. If you are squeamish, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Anyway, we failed to euthanize this kitten by piercing its chest with a nail. We failed when we tried to hang it. And when we finally, out of frustration, or ineptitude, or perhaps some primal predatory rage thing, we flung the kitten against the wall until it was quite dead.
At some point in this process, I began to feel quite wrong. But I did get caught up in this thing, and I participated. The older kids were quite into it. And they urged each other, and me, on. Oh, I felt bad about it. I felt bad about it while it was still happening, and that night, and other nights after, and from time to time late at night since… I still do.
When people ask me why I became a veterinarian, I don’t mention this day. By all the odds this day should have landed me in the role of serial murderer or at least a personal injury lawyer. But no…years later I enrolled in veterinary school, and I’ve been working assiduously at this endeavor since.
Am I making it up to this kitten, or did I actually have a few other motivations to follow this path? I think I had other significant reasons to do this work, but yes, I do think of this kitten from time to time. And every time, despite all I know and all I can do, I fail to save a kitten, I suspect I do feel the presence of that one kitten that I once tried so hard to help, and instead created horror and fear and pain. And I die a little again, and again. Late at night.