Feline Consciousness

During my last semester in college, I took a seminar on Nietzsche to fulfill my philosophy degree requirement.  It was by far one of my favorite courses I ever took.  Halfway through the semester, we discussed consciousness and animals.  I was ecstatic to learn that Nietzsche believed that certain animals were not only conscious, but also self-aware.  His basic formula was this:  if any animal has the ability to deceive and use tools, that animal is conscious of his/her actions.  My professor, Dr. S., gave an example about squirrels hiding nuts and monkeys using sticks open certain fruit shells.  I can’t remember what Dr. S. said verbatim, but that was the gist of it.  I remember my eyes glazing over as I delved deep into thought.  When Dr. S. asked if I was okay, told him I had a story for him and I wanted to know what he and Nietzsche would say about it.

Thus my story began:

When Morpheus was diagnosed with cancer, we opted not to have the surgery.  We knew that the chance of him surviving wasn’t great and we didn’t want to put him through anymore suffering, knowing he was already uncomfortable.  Instead, we gave him a steroid that stimulated his appetite.  It also had a success rate of shrinking tumors.

After 24 hours, we saw a huge improvement in Morpheus’ behavior.  He ate dry food.   That was most important because he had stopped eating a day before.  Because he was eating, his energy levels were up.  He played with water drips in the bathtub.  He went after ribbon and mice.  Morpheus wasn’t 100%, but he was on the right path.  I never saw him eat with such gusto.

Ron and I knew Morpheus was a smart cat.  He was one of the smartest animals I ever met.  Morpheus’ face was alway filled with expression.  When he was angry with us, we knew.  When he was grateful or happy, we knew.  So, when we had to give him his steroid twice a day, we knew by the expression on his face he wasn’t happy with us.

After a few weeks on the steroid, the three of us were well-versed with the routine.  Each morning, Morpheus would receive a syringe of his steroid after he ate some breakfast.  In the evening, he would receive another syringe after his dinner.  Morpheus hated taking the steroid.  He tried everything to get out of taking it – hiding in the closet, hiding under the bed, hiding under the couch…

One morning, he ate a couple of bites of breakfast.  I had just finished washing dishes and was taking his medicine out of the refrigerator.  Ron was petting him and keeping him close to the bathroom.  Morpheus heard the refrigerator door close.  He beelined for the food bowl.

“Why don’t we let him eat a little bit more,” Ron said.

“Okay.  But lets wait around the corner so we can see when he’s finished eating.”

Ron and I hid around the corner and watched Morpheus from the bathroom.  Morpheus was moving food around in his bowl with his nose.  He didn’t crunch on a single morsel.  Then, he looked up to see if we were around.  When he saw that we weren’t in sight, Morpheus put his ear back and started to walk quickly toward the living room.  The little devil tricked us to avoid taking his medicine!

After I finished telling my professor this story, he burst out laughing.  I waited patiently for him to calm down.

“What’s so funny, Dr. S?”

Dr. S. said, “Your cat outsmarted you and your husband.”  He started to laugh again.

“And how would Nietzsche interpret the situation,” I asked, laughing a little because Morpheus had outsmarted us.

“Nietzsche would say that not only was Morpheus conscious of his actions, he was also self-aware.”

For the many years I searched for this answer.  I refused to believe that animals were philosophical zombies, alive solely relying on survival instinct. I also refused to believe that animals don’t have souls.  To hear that my favorite philosopher shared my views a century before my time… well, there just aren’t words to describe that feeling.  I always said that Morpheus was my feline soul mate.  I felt such a profound connection to him, like I’d met him before and that he would exit my life too soon (again).  I hope our paths cross once more.

3:43PM [10.05.2010]

Since I had written about Morpheus in the About section, it only seems appropriate that his story is told here.  I wrote this almost 1 year after his passing for an assignment in Advanced Creative Writing.  It still hurts to read.  I didn’t really talk about how I was feeling during that time.  This was the only way I could express the grief.  Beware.  You may need a Kleenex.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010.  I’ll never forget that day.  The sky was grey and amorphous as I titled my head up, swollen eyes closed.  Ubiquitous dampness enveloped me, trying to consume my very being.  A chill wafted from the Hudson River.  Gooseflesh crept up my back.  I couldn’t help but think of the absurdity of taking note of the weather.  As clichéd as the atmosphere was for something gothic or romantically tragic, it suited the tone for the afternoon.  I took a deep breath before opening my eyes and nodded to Ron.  Gathering strength and heart, I lifted Morpheus from the backseat of my car and headed into Animal General.

I took a seat in the waiting area, placing Morpheus carefully on my lap.  He shifted uneasily in the cat carrier.  Bringing my face close to his, I whispered, “It’s okay, Morpheus.  Dr. Braver is going to make the pain go away.”

“Meow,” Morpheus vocalized, as if in protest to being at the vet’s office.  Then I felt the vibrations of his purr on my lap.  He knew.

I looked at the clock – 3:15.  We were fifteen minutes early.  Silently, I cursed myself for leaving our apartment so soon.  The past two months replayed in my head as I waited.  Morpheus’ voracious appetite suddenly ceased the first week in August.  By the sixth day, Ron and I brought him in for an exam.  I knew it was cancer.  Dr. Braver confirmed my intuition, showing me the huge mass surrounding his intestines and stomach on the X-ray.  A few pieces of kibble were in his stomach.  Morpheus started a course of steroids to shrink the tumor.  After a week of treatment, it was hard to believe he was ill.  However, his blood count brought us back to reality at the end of September.  He was still bleeding internally.  The steroids weren’t working.  Dr. Braver told us then that it could be a matter of days before it was time.  Nervousness gnawed at my insides.  I wanted to cry, vomit, and break something all at the same time.

The vet tech bellowed across the waiting area, “Morpheus?”

I raised my hand and shifted Morpheus, ready to stand.  Ron grabbed my hand and gave me a reassuring squeeze. It was 3:20.  They fit us in early.  Morpheus lay limply in the cat carrier while we walked to the exam room, his thunderous purr almost echoing against the narrow hall walls.

Another vet tech waited in the room for us.  Despite the sterile white walls and the cold stainless steel equipment, the lighting was warm and emitted a peaceful ambiance.  I placed Morpheus on the metal table, awaiting instruction.

“We just have some paperwork for you to fill out before Dr. Braver comes in.  Would you like his ashes returned to you?”

“Yes,” Ron said, looking at me.  I nodded, unable to find my voice as tears streamed over my cheeks.

“Okay, we just need you to sign at the bottom of this form.  Karen will prepare Morpheus for the procedure,” she said, handing me paper.

I signed the form through blurry vision, with a shaky hand.

“We find that most of our pet parents prefer to pay before the procedure.  Would you like to do that?  You don’t need to leave the room.  I’ll come back with the bill and then I can run your card through the machine.”

“Let’s do that,” I croaked.

After the necessary paperwork was completed, Karen came back with Morpheus.  When she unzipped the door on his cat carrier, he hobbled out.  His front right leg was bandaged with purple gauze, a clear tube secured beneath, resting on top of his paw.  “Love” was written on the gauze in black marker.  A little heart was drawn next to the word.  Morpheus had difficulty walking with the inserted tube, so I scooped him up in my arms.  A deluge of tears fell from my face, dampening Morpheus’ soft brown fur.  It was the first time in eight weeks that I held my beautiful, brave boy.  He didn’t like to be held because of the tumor.  Feeling his purr and weight against my chest made me feel whole.

We spent some time alone in the room with Morpheus.  I never let him go, and he never protested me holding him.  Ron started to sing to Morpheus all the silly songs he made up over the past eight years.  I wished for time to stand still.  I wished that Morpheus were okay.  His glassy green eyes stared into mine.  I saw my friend of eons, our paths crossed for a fragment of eternity, ready to be severed again.

Dr. Braver walked in the room and looked at us with empathetic eyes.  Since August, she had called at least once a week to check in on Morpheus.  “There are other options we haven’t discussed, if you’re interested,” Dr. Braver suggested.

Ron and I looked at each other, and then looked at Morpheus.  We didn’t want to put our boy through anymore suffering for our sake.  He no longer was able to keep food in his stomach.

“Morpheus let us know it was time this past weekend,” I said.  “We don’t want to prolong the inevitable while he suffers for our selfishness.”

“I understand.  What I’m going to do is first insert a syringe of medicine in this tube,” Dr. Braver explained, pointing to the tube resting on Morpheus’ paw, “and it will put Morpheus to sleep.  He will be unconscious.  After I check his vitals and make sure he is unconscious, I will inject a second syringe with medicine that will stop his heart.  The entire process only takes a few minutes.”

I nodded while I bit my lip, trying to keep myself from becoming hysterical.  After I adjusted Morpheus, Ron slipped behind me and wrapped his arms around the both of us.  His breath was hot on my shoulder through my oversized sweatshirt as he started crying.  Dr. Braver injected the first syringe.

“I love you, Morpheus.  You’re my beautiful, brave boy.  Soon the pain will be gone, buddy.  We’re so sorry this had to happen to you.  I promise we’ll be together again soon.  Wherever you go, wait for me, okay?  I love you with all my heart, Morpheus, always and forever,” I cried, while kissing his forehead.

“I love you, Little Man.  You’re the best cat in the whole world.  You’ll always be our Morph Man,” Ron coughed into my shoulder.  His arms tightened around us.

Just as we were done talking, Morpheus’ purr stopped.  His body became totally limp in my arms.  Dr. Braver checked his breathing and heart rate with her stethoscope.  Confirming he was unconscious, she injected the second syringe.  Within a minute, she checked his heart again.  She nodded that his heart had stopped.   I felt an unfathomable emptiness, as if a part of me had died with him.  I glanced at her watch.  It was 3:43PM.

Dr. Braver said that we could take as much time as we needed with his body.  Karen brought in a large blanket that Morpheus would be wrapped in until he left to be cremated.  I placed Morpheus’ body on the blanket very gently.  He didn’t urinate nor defecate on me, which Dr. Braver explained was common.  The poor little guy was barely eating.  I doubted there was much of anything in his intestines and bladder to pass.

Ron and I took some fur clippings and stamped his paws onto paper.  We let Dr. Braver know that we were ready to leave.

“We tried to get some paw prints, but we kept smudging them,” Ron said, showing her the paper.

“I can set his paw prints in clay for you guys.  Do you want his name on them?”  Dr. Braver offered.

“That would be wonderful!”  Ron and I said in unison.

I extended my shaky hand.  “Thank you, Dr. Braver, for everything you’ve done for us.  We really appreciate it.  And we know Morpheus loved you and would want us to thank you on his behalf.”

She smiled and took my hand.  “Thank you.  I know this is tough on the two of you.  I know how much you loved him.  You did the right thing.”

I walked to the car in a daze, toting along the vacant cat carrier.  My emotions and rationale were at war with each other.  What if I read the signals wrong?  What if Morpheus wasn’t ready to be put to sleep?  Did I really do the right thing?  Should we have tried more aggressive treatment options?  However, deep down, beneath the guilt, the anger, the depression, I felt a shred of relief.  I knew my Morpheus wasn’t suffering any longer.

As if reading my mind, Ron put his arms around me.  “We did the right thing, sweetie.  If we waited any longer, Morphie would have starved.  That’s not what we would have wanted for him.  It’s best that we did this before it got to that point.”

I nodded.  “I know.  I just don’t know how I’m going to get by without him.  I miss him so much already.”  I started crying again.  “I’m nervous about going back into the apartment without him.”

“I know.  But we have to try to be strong for Pandora, Orlox, Apollo, and Juno.  And for each other.”  He pulled me closer.  My tears bled into misshapen patterns on his shirt.

Morpheus, my best friend, my son, and my feline soul mate died at 3:43pm on October 5.  For two months, he fought the cancer to stay with us.  That was four weeks longer than his initial prognosis.  I can’t thank Morpheus enough for the extra time he gave us to spend with him.  Later in the evening, Ron and I toasted to Morpheus.  We honored his memory like Klingons, telling stories of our fallen comrade while he journeyed to Sto’Vo’Kor after dying an honorable death.