In 1971, I turned 21 and was old enough to drink and vote. Not at the same time, mind you, but for people of my age, 2 of the most important things ever to happen in our lives. Little did I know that in June of that year something that would forever change my life would happen.
From the day I was born my family always had animals -a dog, a parakeet, a turtle, a bunny and even fish. I never had a cat because my father DID NOT like cats. He considered them “dirty animals.” When I was 14 my mother took our boxer Cherie, who was 2 years younger than me, to the vet and had her put to sleep. Cherie had cancer. When I arrived home from school, the deed had already been done. I never got a chance to say goodbye to her. I was devastated. On February 16th, 1965 I went into the bedroom to wake up my father to take me to school and found him dead. My father had been the center of my universe and he was gone. My mother and older brother fell apart. I was forced to be the adult in the home. The loss of my father was a pivotal moment in my young life. But, unbelievably to me, something and someone even more pivotal would be entering my life.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1968 that my mother got me a cat. Chara Amani was a beautiful seal point Siamese kitten. In October of that year, I left for college in Orlando. By the time I returned for Christmas break, Chara was obviously my mother’s cat. I lived on campus and couldn’t have “a pet”. By the summer of 1971, home from college, I desperately wanted a blue point Siamese cat of my own. One of my mother’s co-workers had rescued a blue point Siamese from outside a restaurant she and her husband visited. This kitty was pregnant when rescued and in early May she gave birth to 2 kittens. We went to her home to see the kittens. I was so disappointed because neither of the kittens was Siamese. Despite that fact, I chose the 5 week old boy, a gray and white tuxedo. I named him Casey. He rode home on my lap.
Chara and our white boxer, Clipper, accepted Casey immediately. Casey was a delight and so very smart and loving from the very beginning. When not much more than 3 months old he decided he wanted to be held. He leaped up to me, only making it as far as my stomach as I stood in front of him. I looked down and he was hanging by one claw from my stomach. Once bigger and stronger, he would leap from the floor into my arms. He did this all his life, and amazed everyone who saw him do it. He was fearless and like no other animal I had ever had in my life. He had a mind of his own. From him I learned what it was like to have a relationship with an animal that overcame the species barrier. I wasn’t his “master” and he my “pet.” He viewed me as his equal, a peer.
When I went back to school, I lived off campus and took him with me. He astounded me by opening any closed door. It didn’t matter whether it opened away from him or toward him. He would leap up, wrap his paws around the door knob (he knew that it required the door knob to be turned to open the door) and shift his weight backwards to cause the door to open toward him. He’d then drop to the floor and use his paw to open the door wide enough to go inside. He taught himself to fetch, just like a dog. Unfortunately, he preferred the more expensive natural bristle makeup brushes to the cheaper sponge applicators. And, I tried repeatedly to substitute the sponge brushes. He finally got me trained – I let him have the brushes he wanted. He would also fetch Hartz Mountain balls with bells inside. Of course, they could only be the ones that were like a small cage all the way around. He wouldn’t fetch the ones that were solid plastic on one half and “caged” on the other. He would pick up the ball in his mouth and carry it back to me to throw over and over again. I can’t tell you how many friends he would entertain by fetching. The friends didn’t believe me until they witnessed it for themselves. I never had to rely on an alarm clock to wake up. Shortly before the alarm was set to go off, he would lie on my chest and stare at me. If that didn’t work, he’d nip my nose. If that didn’t work, he would repeatedly jump back and forth through the Venetian blinds until the annoying sound finally made me get out of bed.
The biggest impact Casey had on my life was in 1988. That was the year that South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics. At that time ABC was the official U.S. network to televise the Olympic Games. As a lead up to the games, ABC ran a special about Korea. I was so disturbed as they showed the markets where cats and dogs were sold as food. Live dogs and cats were shown with wires tying their legs behind their backs. The dogs had empty aluminum cans fitted over their muzzles, likely to keep them from crying, barking or biting the vendors. I could not believe that anyone would eat “pets.” I was enraged, especially when the narrator told that cats were boiled alive. Cats? The most wonderful animals on the planet? That someone could possibly do something like that to my Casey, to any cat? I was enraged. It was the first time in my life that I felt hatred for an entire group of people. But, hatred just wasn’t in me. What came next to mind was an epiphany for me.
The Korean culture views dogs and cats as food. That certainly was foreign to me as an American. We shared our homes, our beds, our lives with these beings. We loved them. They were family, friends. Our culture, on the other hand, viewed cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, fish, even rabbits as food. How could I, in good conscience, object to the culture of another country without examining our culture. In that moment, I became a vegetarian. To be able to criticize the customs of one culture without being a hypocrite I would have to reject our culture of eating the flesh of any animal. The thought of anyone eating Casey or any of his relatives appalled me. But weren’t the lives of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, fish and rabbits just as valuable? Of course they were and are. Casey and the love that I had for him opened my eyes and changed my view of the world and transformed my lifetime love of animals into a respect for the lives of all non-human animals.
On January 10, 2012, Casey will have been gone for 22 years. I have lost numerous cats and dogs since that time. Both of my parents are gone, as is my older brother. Despite that, the loss of my beloved Casey was the greatest loss I have ever suffered. I miss him as much today as I did the day that I had to euthanize him. He was 18 ½ years old. Not only did I stop eating the flesh of animals, but I have rescued many, many cats and dogs since 1990. Casey helped me realize just how precious each life is and every animal deserves to live in an optimal environment and to realize the full potential of their own individual personality. Each of them has a distinct personality, no different from each human. They deserve a chance to experience joy and share joy with another who loves them, someone who will care for them, will protect them and make them a part of their life. Although Casey is gone, he remains a part of me and I am forever grateful to have had him in my life. I am a better person because of his love.