It had been a year since my religious worldview collapsed when I got Clickbait, and I was feeling pretty good about life. I’d just moved into a new apartment which had enough mountain-view windows to keep my dopamine levels up, and I was still deluded enough to think I could stick out a 9-5 office job for as long as I needed to. I was absolutely adorable!
Clickbait began as an idea in a tweet I’d posted a few weeks before, which said, “I want to get a cat and name it Clickbait”, and got four favorites. One Friday night, after exactly three hours of “Should I get a cat?” deliberation at work, I collected a tiny, vocal kitten wrapped in a towel from a lady in a van. I’d asked my boss for permission to leave work early so I could pick up said kitten, and my excited email was apparently convincing enough because he seemed wildly uninterested but accepting. As I struggled to keep Clickbait calm in the car ride home, I realized I knew very little about raising a kitten, and silently judged the van lady for trusting me with an adorable animal capable of feeling pain and distress.
After a few wobblies in the first couple of days, Clickbait soon settled into his new home, and turned me into a helicopter parent almost immediately. I developed a new energy I didn’t usually enjoy, because I was constantly thinking about, and falling more in love with, the little ball of energy I now had the task of keeping happy, healthy, and stimulated. I would drive home on my lunch break just to play with him, I ordered expensive raw cat food from New Zealand so he could eat exactly as he evolved to do (sans the hunting), and I tried not to think about the insane amount of money I was spending on vet bills for his undiagnosable ear problem (the medication for which lowered his immune system, so he couldn’t actually eat the expensive raw food for long. Bummer.)
Because I am a fairly anxious person, I would often feel terrified at the thought of Clickbait dying someday, and spent hours researching the best ways to keep cats healthy. Cute Paws (his nickname that could be adapted by replacing the word “Cute” with any other thing he was doing or being, E.G. “Play Paws”) became such a huge part of my heart and life that I couldn’t imagine the pain of saying goodbye to him after what I hoped would be 15-20 years of bonding. It felt cruel that animals are so wonderful yet die so much sooner than humans, who are the worst. (Realistically animals are just as bad as humans because we’re all just the product of evolution, but this is supposed to be a heart-warming essay about animal companionship so we’ll delude ourselves away from that notion for the purposes of this story.)
Sometimes, my (seemingly unfounded) fears of Clickbait dying would become so overwhelming I’d cry at the mere thought, because I knew it was inevitable eventually and that even a decade and a bit wouldn’t make it any easier to handle. I’m not completely deranged—I’d laugh about the fact that I was crying so prematurely, but still. The point is, I really loved Clickbait and really didn’t want him to die.
Growing up, I’d always had a cat or two in the home. I didn’t mind them, and sometimes I liked them, but I definitely never loved them. I also became a slight germaphobe in my teens, which deterred me from wanting to touch pets. I made fun of my mum for being so obsessed with her cats, and thought it was madness to believe a cat had any feelings for a human beyond those which helped them survive. (It’s ironic because humans… oh, never mind. Another time.)
Clickbait changed my mind about cats. Because I got him when he was just six weeks old, he grew very attached to me, and would sleep on my pillow with his face pressed against mine every night. I felt like I could communicate with him in enough small ways to legitimize our relationship, and was pretty confident that he loved me as much as he was capable of loving. I didn’t mind that he didn’t have the same emotional capacity as humans—I already thought consciousness was overrated.
I also recognized that he was less sentient than other animals, such as cows and pigs, which are more intelligent than cats. The thought of anyone hurting Clickbait was so horrifying to me that imagining even more “advanced” animals feeling any kind of unnecessary pain at the hand of humans no longer felt tolerable. So I became a vegan, having been fully converted from someone indifferent about animals to someone who wanted to protect them in whatever ways I could.
I don’t believe life has any inherent meaning—I think we create it ourselves. While religious, it was easy for me to justify eating animals, because I thought God put them on the Earth for our sustenance, and I falsely believed that eating meat was good for us because we evolved consuming it. Since realizing that most of my worldview was based on nice-sounding dogma, textbook psychology, and fact avoidance, I had become much more ardent about researching the choices I made in life. Once I started learning more about veganism, it became very obvious that it was a no-brainer. A plant-based diet reduces the demand for animal suffering, is healthier for the human body, and is probably the most effective thing an individual can do to try and mitigate the harm climate change is doing to our planet. Luckily, my (amazing) Grandma had been vegan my entire life and much of my family is vegetarian, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to make the switch.
Clickbait may not have had the level of consciousness I enjoy as a human, but he was a product of evolution just like me, and I didn’t think he deserved to hurt anymore than I did just because the unconcerned universe spat him out as a feline. I couldn’t not apply that logic to other animals purely because I liked how they tasted, and I definitely couldn’t bear the thought of millions of animals suffering every day because humans got to the top of the food chain and still haven’t figured out that they don’t need to be a part of Earth’s bloodbath food chain anymore. (Some do, I’m not suggesting veganism should be adopted by everyone on Earth right now.) What’s worse is that modern humans aren’t killing animals in the way we evolved to do; we confine them to tiny cages with too many others and deny them far more than the right to keep living—we never even let them have a life to begin with. That was what caused me the most pain, as someone who knew all too well how painful life already is for so many.
One Friday evening, I took Clickbait to the park. He ran along the grass as normal, hiding in trees and ignoring my attempts to guide him in any given direction. We watched the sunset together and he curled up in my husband’s lap, appearing content but wary of his less-familiar surroundings. On the drive home (which was just a few minutes long), we took a several-minute detour to hit up some Pokéstops—something I feel a weird guilt for to this day. When we got back to my apartment, Clickbait was obviously not feeling right. He was panting heavily, which I thought was just a stress thing from being in the car, and he wouldn’t touch any treats I put in front of him. The only time I’d seen him act similarly was on a long car ride once, when he had what I gathered was a panic attack. I assumed that was what was happening now after the park, and thought he just needed some time to readjust to being safe and home. Being in the car had obviously affected him really negatively today.
Clickbait spent the next couple of hours lying lethargically around the house, and I decided that if he didn’t seem normal by the morning, I’d take him to the emergency vet. I went and picked him up for a cuddle, and was alarmed by how unresponsive he was. I laid down and held him on my chest for a few minutes, before he plodded slowly off into the spare room. Not long later, I went in to check on him and realized he was lifeless. The shock and agony was overwhelming. Somehow, my irrational fear of him dying had become a reality, and I was powerless.
Much like he came into it, Clickbait left my life wrapped in a towel, albeit 10 pounds heavier than when we met. Though he had only spent one year as a living creature, he had changed my life in ways he was entirely unequipped to be aware of, because he was a cat. I knew myself well enough to recognize that I needed to channel my pain into something immediately, so just 12 hours after his death, I went to the humane society to see if I could give a new cat a home. There, I met two kittens sharing a tiny cage with 2 other cats. It broke my heart knowing that these animals were living a life so much worse than one I could give them, so I adopted them both. They are called Bernie Sanders and Banksy, and they are beautiful, loving animals I feel truly blessed to “own”. They’re playing in the IKEA kids tunnel I bought them as I write this, and I hardly ever think about them dying. I just want them have a nice life, however long it is. Clickbait had a nice life, so his death was ultimately easy to feel at peace with.
For a few years of my life, I believed that humans would become gods after they die. I was never really that into the idea, because the thought of having too much power kind of repulses me, but I loved thinking that there was a being greater than me with endless compassion and unconditional love for people. While I don’t believe that’s a reality anymore, I’ve realized that I can be that greater being to my cats. They don’t understand me very well, but I understand them better than they understand themselves. They don’t know why I give them food every day, but I give them food every day. They may not grasp that going to the vet helps them stay healthy, but I take them anyway, even if they scratch me to try and get out of it. If God is a being greater than us who takes care of lesser beings purely out of love, then I am a god. Not a perfect, omniscient one who expects complete devotion, just a regular human whose love for her cats defies logic and brings joy that doesn’t depend on meaning.