by Greg Mayer
Peyton, the Philosophical (or Philosophickal) Cat died Wednesday. She was 14-15 years old. Peyton was familiar to WEIT readers, making her first appearance early in WEIT’s history, and her last (save this one) was last Christmas.
Peyton had been ill for about a year. The first sign was a behavioral issue—urinating outside her litter box, on carpets and the like. As part of dealing with this, a trip to the veterinarian to check for underlying kidney issues revealed that she had had substantial weight loss, for no evident reason. Various behavioral interventions got her back to the litter box, but the weight loss continued, and eventually became visible. A checkup this spring showed very high white cell counts, and over the last month, her decline in health accelerated, with behavioral changes, lethargy, and a return of urination and defecation issues. She began ignoring her previous favorite foods (except for chicken; our pet shop suggested a food which was able to stimulate her appetite). We adapted, putting in fences in the house and closing doors to keep her on cleanable surfaces, carrying her up and down the stairs at her request, and bringing food and water to her. After a final consultation with the vet late Wednesday afternoon, we concurred that it was time, and Peyton was euthanized.
I learned a lot from Peyton over the years, and I shared some of this with readers here, from her instantiation of Steve Pinker’s rudimentary moral sentiments (see here for video of her morals; videos of Peyton are gathered here), to her realist stance on the external world. One of the most fascinating, and rewarding, things about living closely with an animal is getting (or at least trying) to understand the sensory and cognitive world of another species.
There was much about that world that differed from ours, and many ways in which our human cognition was superior—I have a vague recollection of Darwin once making a remark to the effect that dogs could not develop the calculus (although they might intuit it). I think it no accident that Darwin, who lived most of his life in the country, raised pigeons, and always had dogs—and children—which he studied carefully (see especially The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals), was able to see that there is a continuity and development of the social, cognitive, and moral worlds within the animal kingdom. I also think it no accident that the animals whose worlds we as humans come closest to sharing are small predators, as we share sensory modalities and “outlook” with them. (One reason I think that anoles are so often studied among lizards is that their world, like ours, is so evidently visual.) Peyton helped me to see her world, and I’m eternally grateful to her for sharing it with me.
(I’ve always been puzzled by biologists, like Francisco Ayala and Francis Collins, who think there is some unbridgeable gulf between animals and humans. Haven’t they ever had a few pets, or even just a dog? As Darwin wrote in Descent of Man (vol. 1, p. 77): “I have myself seen a dog, who never passed a great friend of his, a cat which lay sick in a basket, with-out giving her a few licks with his tongue, the surest sign of kind feeling in a dog.”)
Peyton’s final resting place is under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.