For the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a cat, probably no more than six or seven months old, moving slowly about in the garden outside my balcony.
This is the best picture I have of the garden at the moment, taken a few years ago after a sudden snowfall. On the other side of the ledge is a parking lot, about 15 meters down. To the right is a high wall, covered in ivy.
This young cat was moving around more gingerly than other cats usually do. At one point it seemed to misstep and nearly fall off the ledge and into the garden. My cat, Lazy, was sitting on a chair on the balcony, crouching behind a pot of aloe, watching. Somehow, she seemed to know not to run out and attack it. (Cats are always fighting in the garden.)
Later I saw the cat up on the high wall, meowing loudly. I noticed it had no eyes. A woman was down at the end of the high wall, to the right of the ledge, where the people who live in the building around the corner park their cars. She was dangling her keys and calling out to the cat, which couldn’t find its way back to the tree it had climbed up to get to where it was.
I saw it again today, standing on the high wall, “looking” down.
How does a cat survive in a city like Athens with no eyes? I hate seeing animals suffer, and live in fear of seeing a cat or dog get hit by a car. Dogs here in Greece do something I’ve never seen them do in Toronto: they chase cars at intersections and try to bite them. My heart is in my throat every time I see this. They usually do it in packs. They seem to choose cars arbitrarily, but always just after the lights have turned green and the cars have started moving. They invariably try to bite the car somewhere between the front door and the front bumper. It’s a game, apparently, but it drives me crazy. How do they manage to keep their teeth?
Actually, Athens has surprisingly little roadkill. There would probably be more if so many cats and dogs weren’t poisoned. On 31 December 2002, the night before Athens became the capital of EEC, over 40 cats and 18 dogs died after eating food laced with insecticides. These animals lived in and around the park at Zappeio, where the summit was held. Despite a surprisingly large demonstration, and a petition signed by almost 50,000 people demanding an end to the poisoning, which was delivered to the Greek embassy in Brussels, in February of 2003, another 20 cats around Zappeio were killed.
It’s the helplessness of these animals that fills me with dread, the idea that they are victims of a world they can’t understand. When they’re dying slowly and painfully, what do they think? (For, as anyone who’s ever had a dog or cat can tell you, they sometimes growl and whimper in their sleep, a sign that they dream, and if they dream they must have thoughts which are somewhat like ours.) Do they wonder why? Do they know the end has come, or are they waiting for the pain to go away? Something in the way they seem to wait stoically for death makes me want to believe that they don’t feel pain as acutely as we do.
How much worse is it for an animal that can’t even see the threats that surround it?
I’ve always wanted to believe, as Yeats said, that neither dread nor hope attend a dying animal, though not because man has created death. Thinking so simply makes it easier for me.