“Ask a Priest: Was I Wrong Not to Pay for a Cat’s Operation?”

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Q:  One of my best friends has a cat that was adopted from one of her co-workers just slightly under two years ago. The cat was found as a kitten, abandoned in a dumpster along with the remainder of the litter left to die. She brought the kitten home and gave him a loving environment and named him JJ. JJ has been a part of our “family” ever since and is a joy to be around. He is extremely friendly for a cat, even to strangers. Now to the problem. Over the last 24 hours, JJ had been displaying signs and symptoms that were not of his usual self. He was lethargic, barely eating or drinking. We knew something was wrong. He was bloated on the sides with some sort of fluid, so we decided to call the emergency veterinarian hospital. The doctor notified us that JJ was suffering from an obstructed urethra. He was unable to release his bladder, hence the fluid buildup. The doctor advised us that the situation was dire, and JJ’s life was on the line. We were told that the only way to solve this problem was to use a general anesthetic and insert a catheter and remove the obstruction. The doctor noted that this was common in male indoor cats that are overweight. This would’ve been all fine; however, the doctor noted that in more than 50% of the cats that she sees with this, they will have a reoccurring issue with it. The doctor said she would write up an estimate for the procedure and the overnight care required if done. The bill was upward of $1,600. All in all, after everything was said and done, they said it would be close to $2,000. My friend and I sat in complete silence for a few minutes. My friend had no money, she was already in debt and didn’t make much money working two minimum-wage jobs. I thought to myself, “I can afford this. I have no debt and make good money.” The problem came when we realized it would likely be a recurring issue and would be faced yet again with another $2,000 charge. I called my mom for advice. My mom advised me to not pay for it, as it was a lot of money and “I have to work so hard for it.” To be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted JB to be okay and alive, but I was swayed. We let JJ be put to sleep, due to something so frivolous as money. I feel quite sick with myself and have been asking myself, Did I do the right thing? Is God upset with me because I allowed my friend’s cat to die so short of his lifetime? – D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The short answer is, you probably did the right thing. Perhaps a number from the Catechism is worth quoting here:

2418. It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

Notwithstanding the comfort that pets can bring, you might ask yourself whether it would have been justified spending $2,000 on a cat (and that’s probably just for starters, as you say) when there are millions of war refugees in the world and hundreds of millions in extreme poverty.

One statistic worth keeping in mind in the future: More than 760 million people (about 10% of the world’s population) live in extreme poverty, that is, they live on $1.90 or less per day.

That is the kind of thing we could all pray about when we decide how to spend money. Someday we will have to answer to Our Lord for how we used our resources.

None of this is meant to ignore the gift of animals. Our esteem for pets can be something good — God’s creatures can bring comfort and delight to our lives, after all. But we must be careful not to exaggerate the importance of our feelings of affection and appreciation for pets.

I hope some of this puts things in perspective.

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