LOVE AND DEATH: Fixed Cats May Be Broken

I don't know about you, but there are few things I enjoy more on a crisp autumn weekend than getting my cat fixed. Simple animal mechanics aside, such moments are also a rich opportunity for the humans involved to stir up any discontent lying low around the household, thereby assuring that your pet will not only have a traumatizing physical experience, but get to listen to you argue as well. People get touchy when their pets are involved; some people get even touchier when it comes to certain delicate surgical procedures they would not wish upon themselves. And when the contentious event takes place on your very own kitchen table - well, Tennessee Williams just doesn't come any better.

Opinions on animal neutering range wide and far, and are basically as good as a passport when it comes to drawing a bead on someone's nationality. Americans and Brits, of course, are among the leading interventionists - any nation that refers to a sterilization procedure as "fixing" is clearly under the impression that it is on the righteous path. In Russia and other countries where a more laissez-faire approach to nature prevails, cats and dogs are more likely to keep their bits about them. Occasionally the two sides meet and decide to have pets together. This is fun for a while, but sooner or later the following dialogue invariably occurs:

Interventionist: Fedya's six months old now. I think it's time.

Naturalist (squirming in chair): I told you already. No one is touching that cat.

Interventionist: The cat isn't going to mind nearly as much as you do.

Naturalist: There is no way I'm going to rob him of his reason to live.

Interventionist: His reason to live is eating and sleeping!

Naturalist: No, that's your reason to live.

Interventionist: I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.

Naturalist: You're trying to deprive him of his manhood.

Interventionist: What manhood? He's a cat.

Naturalist: He won't be the same Fedya afterwards.

Interventionist: He'll be the same Fedya, only better. I'm calling the vet.

Naturalist (sulking): I suppose I'm next on your list.

This controversy can continue through unlimited repetitions, but will ultimately come to a head on D-Day, as sunlight pours in the kitchen window onto the troubling vision of your four-legged friend knocked out cold. This is an enormous improvement over the bad old days in Russia of lugging your animal to a Soviet-style clinic where cleanliness and bedside manner were in equally short supply, but it's still several degrees more ghastly than dropping your cat off at Dr. Klark's All-Kitty Klinic in mid-town Manhattan and leaving the dirty work to the experts. In this respect, I think the kitchen table is an admirable compromise for battling naturalists and interventionists. If you can't take the heat, etc, etc.

Truth be told, all the humans but the vet were ushered out of the room before things got really dicey, but I managed to remain standing through the administration of the tranquilizers, during which, I am proud to say, my cat performed his last certified act of anatomically correct machismo and bit me squarely on the hand. Soon he was out like a light, leaving me to wonder if it wasn't too late to tranquilize my extremely pale and unhappy roommate as well. We sat silently, air thick with recrimination and defense, waiting for shrieks from the kitchen. There were none, and soon after our feline victim of progress was borne aloft to the bedroom and laid on a towel of honor to sleep away any memories of his lost dignity. We looked for any sign of trauma beyond the obvious; there was none. Still, even with the worst behind you, tempers can run high.

Interventionist: See, he's fine.

Naturalist: He looks depressed.

Interventionist: You're the one who looks depressed.

Naturalist: Well, at least I have feelings.

Interventionist: This conversation is extremely stu... wait! Look! [The cat, obviously exhausted by proximity to humans, drags himself to his feet. Slowly and unsteadily, he creeps out of the room, no doubt searching for a quiet haven where he can quietly nurse himself back to health. Finally, after a painstaking trip across the apartment, he collapses face down in his food bowl, weary but ever-prepared for his next meal.]

Interventionist (triumphant): I told you all he cares about is food.

Naturalist: Well, what else is there left for him to care about?