During my early years working at KTVU Channel Two News in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often found newsroom staff members so overcome with grief over the loss of a loved one that they were unable to come to work for days after the passing. I certainly understood. It was after all a tragedy to lose someone so close.
But when I found it was the family cat or dog that had died, and not a human family member or close friend, I became irritated. How could our best cameraman, Don McCuaig, not show up because his black lab passed unexpectedly? But that cold and caustic attitude quickly changed when we welcomed animals into our own home.
First came Molly, a yellow lab beautiful inside and out, who drove me crazy during her messy training period. We found her at a “lab factory”, one of those places that make money by breeding the popular dog, then selling it for the best price. Now she is a love of my life. Shortly after, we were gifted with Mikey, a Christmas present from a brother-in-law who didn’t know I did not really like cats. But Mikey was from a shelter, so we kept him. Or more accurately, my wife Jennifer kept him, because it was love at first sight.
But Mike was a handful. At first, the vet said he had a rare disease some cats are born with that would doom him to a short life. He beat that. Then a year later he jumped on a ledge and fell two stories, breaking his leg. It was painful for him and expensive for us, but we patched him up good as new. Well, almost. He did sometimes limp when the weather turned cold and damp.
Then there was the Christmas a few years back when Mikey ate all the tinsel on the tree. An emergency room vet opened him up and extracted the deadly but glittering material from his gut just in time. Mikey had the guts to survive. About then we figured he did have 9 lives, and maybe more.
To keep him company into old age, we adopted a young cat left on the doorstep at our vet. Doctor Campbell had called my wife, because she just knew Jennifer could not say no. That’s when Newton came into our life, and gave Mikey a little brother, playmate and friend. They did fight, or play, depending on what you believe about animal behavior.
At times, I felt married to a rancher, not a successful business woman. Especially around 2 am, when Molly the dog joined cats Newton and Mikey at the foot of our bed. I woke easily, and re-awoke at dawn, irritated that this little girl and two boys could ruin a good night’s sleep. Yet as Molly the lab developed arthritis, common for labs, I found myself actually helping her into bed each night. How attitudes change when love enters the picture.
And that love was tested recently when Mikey the older cat started to develop seizures. Just like a human, he would roll on the floor in pain and surprise until the seizure passed. Despite multiple trips to the vet, and every test possible, we could not find a reason or a cure.
Today I found the little guy resting on his favorite closet shelf. But he wasn’t moving, or breathing. I rushed him to the vet after closing time, and banged on the door, hoping his vet was still inside. Doctor Campbell was there, and pronounced Mikey had indeed passed, most likely from the repeated seizures that finally took him from us.
Every evening my wife Jennifer arrives at the back door after a long day at work, energized by the animals greeting her. Tonight Mikey was not there to put a smile on her face. Giving her the bad news was heartbreaking, and took me back to the KTVU Newsroom. I now understood why that professional cameraman who had captured so much human tragedy in his lens, felt so devastated.
Our good friend Tony La Russa, manager of the Saint Louis Cardinals, spends his off-hours running AFR, the Animal Rescue Foundation. Tony has dedicated himself to saving animals from abuse and neglect in part because he thinks doing so can help us all value the precious gift of life, both animal and human. Tony may be on to something. Perhaps caring for animals can help us all learn to take care of each other more humanely.
We will miss our little friend Mikey. So will Molly and Newton.
(Brian Banmiller is a national Business Correspondent for CBS News Radio, writer and public speaker. The former television business news anchor in San Francisco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
This article originally published on June 26, 2009.
CBS News Radio national business journalist Brian Banmiller has spent more than 40 years in the news industry, covering business, politics and the economy on television, radio and in print. Currently, his “Banmiller on Business” reports are delivered to an audience of millions nationwide.