We'd spent a year cleaning cat pee from our bath mats, our children's toys, and our clean laundry basket. The vet had run tests ruling out urinary tract infections, kidney stones, parasites, thyroid disease, gastrointestinal disturbances, neuromuscular problems, infectious diseases and cancer. We'd gotten a special litter box and a new type of cat door and different food. In the end, the vet told us that the standard treatment for what he called "inappropriate elimination," or "house soiling," was Prozac.
And so we put our cat on antidepressants.
People have a long history of functional relationships with animals - we domesticated cows and sheep and goats and chickens, feeding them and fending off predators in exchange for their milk and wool and meat and eggs. These give-and-take relationships have worked exceptionally well for humans; for the animals, well, that's a debate. But since most of us are not farmers anymore, we don't expect the animals we see every day to give us anything but love.
Sometimes what helps us enjoy our pets doesn't necessarily benefit them: we cage rodents and birds and amphibians so they don't run wild in our homes. We de-claw cats so they don't damage our furniture. We dock Dobermans' ears so they look more appealing to us.
Some veterinary treatments exist to manage medical conditions created by the environments we give our animals. We give farm animals antibiotics to avoid infections bred from too-close captive living. We interfere with our parrots' hormones for what vets call "chronic egg-laying," a condition that we enjoy in chickens. And, it seems, we put cats on antidepressants when they pee in the wrong place, when in the wild, there really isn't a wrong place to pee.
Humans try to strike a balance between caring for our animals' health and maintaining them as, well, pets -- animals we rely on for comfort and company, who serve our aesthetic preferences and connect us to the natural world.
Do our human-animal relationships benefit us more than the animals? Do the lengths we go to treat our pets help our pets, ourselves, or both? What's going too far? A cat on Prozac?
I don't know. I'm just sick of my clothes smelling like cat pee.
With a Perspective, I'm Marci Riseman.
Marci Riseman and her exceedingly patient husband are raising one cat, two rabbits, three chickens and two children in San Francisco.