When my boy-cat was just a smidge of a thing, he had the habit of eating the hard plastic in his toys. He was a barn cat that I adopted as a kitten, and accordingly, he likes to gut his toys. Those little mice at the counter of the pet store have hard black plastic in the center. My cat ate the face of one, when he was two, It lodged in his duodenum, and nearly killed him. We had it surgically removed at great expense. And the recovery was almost worse than the surgery— forced feedings, antibiotics, and him hiding and being sick and me being afraid.
So you can imagine my delight when I came home when he was four and found him in similar straits. I took him to the emergency vet, who agreed that he was showing signs of a blockage. I remember him leaving me alone to consider my options. There was no guarantee that if I opted for the surgery (which had only grown more expensive since he’d had it the first time), he’d survive. Although I had recognized the signs early enough that he was much healthier when he went into the surgery, which was in his favor. But without the surgery, he’d surely die. I’d tried to keep hard plastic toys from him (one of those wands with the feather, this time. He ate part of the piece that held the feathers,) but it hadn’t protected him.
I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have infinite resources to throw at removing toys from his duodenum, but it wasn’t his fault that he kept making this mistake. I felt like it was my duty to protect him. If I opted for the surgery and he didn’t survive, I’d have put several thousand dollars into his intestines, and lost him after all.
It wasn’t the worst moment of my life— it came four months after we lost my dad, so it wasn’t even the worst moment of my year, but it was among the top 10 worst moments of my life. I felt very alone and very unsure of what to do.
And suddenly, I found clarity. Some of the greatest clarity I’ve ever found. I realized that I could only make the best decision I knew how to make with the information I had at the time. I couldn’t opt to give him the surgery and then decide that it was the wrong decision if he died. If I knew how it was all going to work out, I could make a perfect decision. But I didn’t know how it was all going to work out. And I had to make the decision anyway. So I made a deal with myself that I’d let myself off the hook for what was outside my control.
I opted for the surgery, and I made a deal with myself that it was the last time I’d make that decision. It was ridiculously expensive. The vet I went to for follow up care said that I was a bad pet owner for letting this happen twice, and tried to make me feel guilty. She also tried to up-sell me vaccinations he didn’t need. The force-feeding and general pathetic-ness of a seriously sick animal was even worse than it was the first time. But eventually, he recovered. And I got better at picking toys without hard plastic. He’s the sweetest thing ever. It was the right choice, for me.