My friend Denise, the feral caretaker on my street, had one of her cats put to sleep last week. I did my best to help her with comfort, practical planning and decisions, hoping that I could leave her with more time to focus on Mango.
Having had many of my own losses, I know that the time leading up to The Day, and all the decisions that go into care and planning, are difficult. Self-doubt, grief, money, time, we often have too much of some of those and not enough of others and end up with a fair share of guilt and regrets. Through it all, we have to do this, we have to care for our pets, keep them as comfortable as possible, and sometimes make the most merciful and loving decision, to end their life before their terminal condition takes it first, causing extreme pain and suffering and reducing the quality of life to less than zero. It doesn’t matter how sound that decision may be, even if you know you’ll end up at that place, just accepting that it will happen is like trying to pass through a brick wall. Yet it’s also oddly freeing, letting go of the fear of waiting too long, not recognizing pain and suffering so not treating it properly, not being able to give some palliative care ourselves because of skill or our own fears, and just being with your cat and focusing on that final time and communicating your love for them.
Mango had started losing weight last year but blood tests showed nothing definitive and he was otherwise well, so a veterinarian advised her to feed him as much as he wanted and keep an eye on him. A couple of weeks ago he began to lose his appetite, and nothing really brought it back. The first decision involved getting him to a low-cost veterinarian rather than just guessing, then treating the symptoms to see how he reacted to palliative measures, which he did not. He was moderately active and participating, still exploring the house, but in suspected end-stage renal failure he could continue deteriorating and linger in great discomfort for weeks. Trying to determine what was the best treatment for him by observing his actions and reactions was a constant thing.
Finding the where and when for an affordable euthanasia was the next decision. After calling around and looking at hundreds of dollars in office or in home, we found one lower cost veterinarian, then one of the vets I know who offers house call euthanasia though it’s not her regular thing agreed to come to her house, and that was Friday. Somehow, through all the finances and guesswork, everything worked out well for Mango and everyone else: as the day arrived he was just beginning to slow down and act as if he had pain he did not want to bear, and even quit drinking water. He put up no resistance, and the final procedures were quiet and gentle and respectful.
Sometimes just having someone there is strengthening, they don’t even need to do anything. I do know so many people who provide services to pets and can usually find what’s needed and help make decisions for care at home, and I know how empowered I feel that I can do that for myself. I’m glad I can help others at this horrible time, and just be an understanding presence.
And even in those moments, while all my household of cats are healthy as rocks, I still know that someday soon enough I will be making those decisions for one or more in my own household, I think about what would help me the most, and I can do that for another. But it’s still a sobering, saddening thought.
Please send some love and purrs to Denise and Mango, and to anyone else you know, including yourself, who is losing a beloved animal companion.
Mimi and I visited our kitty memorial area in the back yard on Sunday, surrounded by the symbolic periwinkle, daffodils and rhododendron. I leave the leaves banked up against the kitty, and it will take a few rains to wash the winter leaf stains off her, but she’s been my place for a contemplative symbol for me to visit.
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And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!