Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, ca. 2006-2020

July 31, 2020 • 10:00 am

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 by Jerry
Peyton, taken by Jerry in September, 2009. A copy of this picture hung in Jerry’s lab (I’m not sure if it’s still there).

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.

Peyton, July 27, 2020. This was taken at a “good” moment, when she was lying a bit upright, with her head up.

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 preparing to teach me.

Peyton’s final resting place is under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

Peyton’s final resting place, under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

31 thoughts on “Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, ca. 2006-2020

  1. So very sorry, Greg. My heart goes out to you.

    Obviously she had a full and long life. Unfortunately, they don’t live as long as we do, although I worry about mine being left to someone else’s care more than I worry that they will go first.

    When an animal lives a long life, you have to know that you contributed to that.


  2. How kind and thoughtful you were towards her infirmaty. It is so hard to make the final determination when to end it all.

  3. Sorry for your loss.
    I note that we allow our pet friends to die when they still have dignity, something denied to us.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so glad to hear how much you learned from your friendship with this lovely cat.

    I hope the following Kitten Update will be seen as bringing cheer to this thread, rather than a hijacking of it (if the latter, please delete my comment).

    So, Kitten Update:

    Older Cat (OC) seems to be tolerating Kitten (K) better and better. They’ve come nose to nose several times in the past two days without any hissing or growling. They slept together on the same couch for a few hours yesterday, though several feet apart, and I’m pretty certain that K planted himself there once OC was already asleep in what is his normal spot for that time of day. OC has gone back to his usual routines, but is still very wary of K. K has lately been running up to OC and then stopping a few feet short, seemingly in hopes of engaging OC in play. I’m hoping that they will be playing with and sleeping next to each other in the coming weeks, and OC could definitely use the play because he has very suddenly gained weight (as in we looked at him the other day and all said, “when did he suddenly get pudgy?”). OC has never been one to play since he became an adult, so he really doesn’t get any exercise.

    I’m happy to report that K’s nasal infection has almost completely cleared up, though the vet says that his eye will never heal any more than it already has, which means it will always be cloudy, watery, and a bit of a bother to him. I guess he got scratched pretty badly while living outside, and the condition is a result of scar tissue on the cornea.

    So, all things considered, the situation seems to be developing well!

    Again, my condolences, Greg.

  5. A difficult decision, and a painful loss. I lost a favorite cat to kidney failure too, so I know what you are going through. My deep sympathy, and take care.

  6. So sorry for your loss, Greg. Peyton sounds like a wonderful companion. For small animals that spend so much of the time asleep, their departure leaves such a huge hole in our lives.

  7. Heartbreaking, sorry to hear your friend is gone. Thanks for the poignant memorial…WEIT posts have been tearing me up lately.

  8. This is a heartbreaking time for you. Each time I have had to bid farewell to a member of my animal family, I declare that I will have no more animals because I don’t want any more broken hearts. But I renege.

    However, I have a store of memories which I can call a on to chasten or cheer me. I’m sure you have store to call on too.

    Best wishes.

  9. She was a goodish age for a cat, and had clearly lived a rewarding life – thanks, in part at least, to the devoted attentions of her staff. A life to celebrate as well as to mourn!

  10. Sympathies to you and your family for the loss of a 15 year companion. Knowing death is near doesn’t make it any easier.

  11. I am so sorry for your loss of Peyton–she was obviously a very lovely cat who was quite tuned in to her family. I have had quite a few cats over the years who have shown similar sensibilities. There is absolutely an inter-species connection present, and they are as aware of it as I am.

  12. I’m so sorry. It’s such a difficult decision to end the life of a loved member of the family. But it’s even more difficult (and, frankly, cruel) to prolong suffering when there is no hope. It was the best gift you could give her after a good life – a good death.

  13. I am so sorry that you lost your sweet kitty. She was fortunate in her choice of family and her family was fortunate to have had her in their lives.

  14. Farewell furry angel. Your family will remember you to the end of their days. Those memories will make them smile.

    To the family – sorry for your loss, but it was time for goodbye and of course you did the right thing.

  15. Looking positively angelic on the book. So happy she had a wonderful life, and did not suffer at the end. Condolences.

  16. So sorry for your loss.

    The two supposedly smart people who deny such traits in animals are prefect examples of motivated reasoning.

    I wouldn’t trust a single thing a person like that said, about anything, seeing as they have demonstrated severe mental lack on at least two counts.

    Especially as the first belief, God, is the great corrupter. As proven here.

  17. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Peyton was very fortunate to have you for her staff. You gave her a lovely memorial.

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