Phineas by Andrew Steinman / Finn’s Mom and Dad

In Memory of Phineas – 9/27/04

September 27 began as a very hopeful, happy day. We were doing a good deed and welcoming a homeless cat into our home.

A small cat, perhaps 6 months old, began hanging out on our deck during the summer visiting with our cat Floyd and eating all the food Sue had put out for Floyd. He was so hungry, that he would eat an entire can of food in one sitting and look up seeking more! Sue began putting out food for him too and he became a fixture in our yard. He had a cute little face and a crazy tail that usually was sticking straight in the air, often with twigs, leaves or other evidence of his wanderings hanging on it. He and Floyd became friends, gently butting heads in greeting, lounging about the yard and chasing after bugs and sometimes one another’s shadows.

We were sure he was homeless and we grew attached to him, naming him Phineas. He always seemed very docile and good natured but also a bit scared. Still, over time he got used to being around us. He had obviously had some tough times in his short life and now he had food and companionship. Still, he was used to life as a street cat and some habits were hard to break. A few weeks ago, I woke to find Phineas scavenging through a garbage bag, trying to get at some chicken bones left from the prior evening’s dinner because the cat food bowl was empty. We never let that happen again!

Every morning when we woke and opened the back door, Phineas was there waiting. His innocent face told a story. While still wary, the little guy couldn’t believe his luck. He had found a dependable food supply, a friend in Floyd and a bit of respite from the hard life he had lived so far.

With winter coming, it seemed if we were to ever open our home to another cat, that Phineas should be the one. With all my indifference to cats, Phineas had gotten under my skin. We planned to trap him last night and bring him to the Vet to be examined, fixed, and declawed.

Trapping Phineas was not much fun. With Tuna as the lure, we set the trap on the deck. First we inadvertently captured Floyd! Needless to say, he was not at all happy. When we finally caught Phineas he was thrashing and banging about in the cage. He was scared at being confined and helpless.

As we prepared Dinner, one or the other of us would go out and talk to him in soothing tones and this really seemed to calm him down. Of course, once we left him, the thrashing began again. This was all strangely satisfying; we had a bond with him and we were trusted and our presence brought him comfort.

Ruth suggested we bring him in for the night and that turned out to be a great idea. This was probably the first time in his life he had been in a house and he seemed to calm down and recognize that it was a haven, a place of safety. While we had to keep him in the cage, this was probably the first night of his life that he was safe from predators and the elements.

Seeing him in the morning, quietly peering out of his cage felt great. Phineas was becoming part of the family. Once he got through his next few days with the Vet, he’d come home to a safe happy place filled with love. He would never have to face the elements or predators again. He would be safe and happy with us.

Sue brought him in first thing this morning and everything was great. Phineas was cooperative and good natured. He had dirty ears, a full bladder and a few wounds from his life on the street, but he seemed to be in fairly good condition. Sue called me around 9:30, giddy with the news. We had a new family member!

Less than an hour later, everything crumbled. The Dr. called with the news that Phineas had Feline AIDS. Like its human analog, this is a terrible disease that would surely claim his life. Worst of all, keeping him was out of the question as this would endanger Floyd and all other cats he came in contact with. His ravenous appetite was likely a sign of this terrible disease beginning to overpower poor Phineas.

Cat overpopulation is a sad fact of life and it is hard enough to find homes for healthy cats much less those with debilitating terminal illnesses. Most cat shelters are sad places for their residents and in the end, given the choice of trying to place Phineas in a shelter for Cats with Feline AIDS (surely a more grim place than a standard shelter, offering him a very short miserable life without freedom, the outdoors and with minimal human contact) or euthanizing him and saving him the misery of the ravages of a terrible disease, Phineas was put to sleep.

A hopeful beginning had turned to despair. We were both devastated; how could a good thing turn out so badly? How could this sweet gentle creature have such a pathetic fate? How could a good hearted loving gesture so quickly become such a terrible choice?

Spending the day at work, incapacitated by grief and pondering what happened hasn’t provided any great answers. Some would say, “He was just a stray cat”, and to some degree they would be right. This was not a Parent, a Spouse, a Sibling, or a long time friend. This wasn’t Floyd, our companion and friend since early 2000. So, why does this hurt so?

A lot of reasons:

– The pathetic nature of the situation; a poor defenseless creature who never had a chance.

– The sadness that our effort at a good deed resulted in something so bad.

– That we really knew him; he had a personality and a name. To us Phineas was a “person” who we had come to love.

– That his life ended just when it was about to become fuller, richer, and safer in our home.

– The things we never got to do with Phineas and he never got to experience in his short life; simple everyday things like petting, brushing (Floyd Loves It!), playing with toys, cuddling on a cold winter night; the simple everyday things that make life wonderful for all of us.

Maybe it’s something even bigger; that Phineas’ brief journey through life represents a microcosm of the human condition:

– People often live for the future, but counting on that future is a gamble, not a certainty; one day there won’t be a tomorrow. Are we letting our lives fly by consumed with everyday nonsense without really living?

– We expect those close to us to be with us forever, repressing the certain knowledge that they won’t be. Will we regret things left unsaid and undone?

– We’re scared that we’ll have to make similar life decisions for those close to us that we made for Phineas today.

– We’re terrified of our own deaths, scared of the prospect, unsure what might lie beyond, and incredulous that the world could actually go on without us. Will our lives have had any meaning? Will anyone care when we are gone?

These are some of life’s biggest, scariest realities and questions.

Perhaps the best way to morn Phineas and give his short life meaning, is to learn from it by celebrating life and rethinking what our lives mean and how we live them:

– Let’s not take tomorrow for granted.

– Let’s strive to be happy today.

– Let’s never lose sight of what is really important to us and never take for granted those who are important to us.

– Let’s not waste our life worried about the mundane and inconsequential.

– Let’s focus on the years we have yet to live and not try to fix the unchangeable past.

– Let’s treasure each and every day.

As I sit here now at 3am in the early morning of the following day, I am consumed with sadness about what has been lost. With Floyd at my side I contemplate the meaning of it all. It is simply impossible to believe that Phineas won’t be there when we open the door in a few hours. I can’t help but think that someday all of us will follow Phineas and pass from reality to the memory of others and it is profoundly sad. I am incredulous at the sounds of our town waking, the papers landing on the front steps, the early stirring of people beginning their days. Life is going on without Phineas and there are so few of us who recognized the value of his life and share the sadness of his passing.

With the dawn of this new day, lets’ try to put our grief aside and celebrate the brief life of our friend Phineas. While he bore a lot of hardships and fear and passed long before his time, at least in his last weeks, Phineas was accepted, loved and cared for. Though that care took a tragic turn, I know that wherever he is, Phineas knows we tried to give him a better, happier life. The final night of his life was the only night Phineas slept in the safety of a home, our home, and he will always be a part of our family.

Go in peace little prince; your memory will always be cherished.


With Love,
Andrew Steinman