Today, I took a healthy cat to the vet and asked for her to be put down.
Our four legged friend had a history of violence - the girls were all nervous around her to the point that they wouldn't walk past her on the stairs when she was (deliberately) sitting in the middle of them, and, almost all children visiting the house were scared of her as well, due to the fact she had a some point taken a swipe to them. This, along with all of her annoying habits, was tolerable (albeit embarrassing), as I told myself it taught children to respect the cat's preference for space and understand that animals are not like toys to be played with. (In actual fact, I think the cat used to purposely put herself in the middle of a room with small children in it so as to provoke a response from them. She was not stupid. She knew that small children cannot resist trying to stroke a furry moving thing - she just liked to flex her claws as their reward for clumsy displays of affection towards her.)
But last week, the cat attacked baby Charlotte on two separate occasions. After the second occasion (the baby was in her happy, post milky feed state, kicking her legs on our bed at the time), I noticed afterwards that Charlotte's ear was covered in blood. Enough is enough, I thought.
I got on the phone to various animal charities. All of them were heaving with cats awaiting new homes, and I was told that there would be quite a wait to get our cat taken off our hands. The RSPCA have a hotline for reporting cruelty (to animals), but were not very interested in helping me prevent any further attacks on my children, and lectured me on my responsibilities as a pet owner. This annoyed me. If she were a dog, the law would view things differently, I thought. And given that we had taken her on as a rescue cat, having had her violent streak downplayed by owners keen to get rid of her because she `would be happier in a house without children' (as ours was back then), I started to have my doubts about whether anyone would want her if we were truthful about our reasons for giving her up.
Thankfully, our local vet had a different perspective. She was sensitive to the fact here was a cat that had been a family pet for more than a decade, and also reassured me she was fully behind the decision I had reached. `It's too much,' she said, referring to the cat's latest wild behaviour. `I think you're doing the right thing.'
The act of being there whilst she was put down was not too difficult, to be honest. The vet was very compassionate, and made the process as easy as possible on me and the cat. I was given the choice of whether or not to be present - the vet would have taken her out the back (`...to hit her over the head with a hammer?!' I wondered) had I chosen, but I declined this offer. I think it eased my guilt to agree to be present and hold her while it happened. Having told myself I wouldn't cry, I did.
Far worse has been the rest of the day. Three little girls - and a baby who has picked today to cry more than usual - who have all been hit by waves of grief and the repeated tearful `Will the cat be coming back?' and `Where is the cat now?' from the littlest big girl at different points from me coming back from the vets until they went to bed.
Some TV, they all agreed, would help them in their grief. As would some tea and toast (with jam on, please).
We had talked to them about the cat situation over the weekend - and prepared them for what was going to happen. They even agreed with our conclusions. But now. Well, Mummy is the cat killer in all but name, because (and they have each in turn now declared this to be the case) this is not what they wanted to happen at all.
It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Even though they have watched me lose a friend to cancer, losing their cat means more to them, because she was much more of a daily part of their lives. Today has provoked some big questions about the subject of death for them, and the emotions are far more raw this time round. Even though they were scared of her, they loved her.