Holidays and the beginning of a new year create a time of reflection, of renewal. So does news of loss, especially when you think it’s someone you just met and established some sort of relationship with – even though it was by afar. This past summer, I read Homer’s Odyssey, a delightful book about Gwen Cooper’s life changing after she adopted Homer, a blind cat. However, I recently learned that the second of his beloved sisters, first Vashti, and now Scarlet, has passed to the Rainbow Bridge.
My heart goes out to Gwen because one could tell from her writing and her blog that she truly loves these cats, and making the choice on whether to prolong one’s pain or have their misery come to an end is no easy task, whether it is for a loving best feline friend, or a person that you dearly love.
This subject has touched me on many occasions on both levels. There was a choice on whether to continue chemotherapy for lung cancer for my significant other almost 20 years ago. There was a choice on whether to adopt a very strong do-not-resuscitate order for my mother with Alzheimer’s. There was a choice on whether to disconnect my dad from a respirator following a heart attack, stoke and leg amputation.
There was also the decision on whether to put down my Victoria. She was my first cat, an absolutely beautiful tabby coon. I met her on the streets of a small New England city. She was lonely, afraid, and deserted. She became my first cat, one that shared my heart for the next 18 years. She had developed kidney and thyroid problems. I chose to let her go on. She died, I believe from a stroke, walking across the floor.
Smokey Blue came into my life about ten years after Victory stole my heart. Gram had died that past March, and he thought he’d like a kitten to be company with their older cat. When we went to the Animal Shelter, this beautiful Russian Blue kept putting her paw out to get my attention. She gained my heart, something she shared for the next 20 years. Smokey came with a rash of issues, unbeknownst to me. She developed horrendous diarrhea, as a result of ring worm. It was almost six months before she was diagnosed and treated. Hundreds of dollars later (this was in the early 1990’s) her problems were cured, and she became the most loveable cat on earth. She’d come up and coo, like a bird, when I was on the phone. Smokey did well for years except for some dental issues and many teeth being removed. She’d bounce back to health. Then, age caught up with her. Her thyroid became weaker. She wouldn’t take the pills (seems to be a problem with many cats).
Some years later, my mom had lost her cat, and she didn’t know if she wanted another. So I took it upon myself to go to the shelter. I adopted a beautiful sleek, silky six-month old kitten. She had a pink collar and pug face. The only problem is that Smokey liked her too, and so I decided to keep her, and go find another for my mom. A lovely skittish tuxedo cat became her best feline friend. The pink color stayed with me.
Alzheimer’s was taking its toll on mom. Having lost my job at the non-profit organization, I sold my condo and moved back home to help her. The two of us and our three cats were co-existing together very well.
Perhaps it was fate, but a neighbor moved away leaving his little black kitty. I felt bad for him. I’d feed him. I thought perhaps I’d adopt him, so I captured him, and took him to the local shelter to be tested for leukemia or other transmittable diseases that would be detrimental to Smokey, my pink collar or her Clyde.
The stray was diagnosed with leukemia, and the shelter manager recommended putting him down. I was distraught. I had brought this poor kitty to the shelter to be doomed.
But then the shelter manager introduced me to Linus, a beautiful five point Siamese with steel-blue eyes and the personality of a human. I was smitten. He had to be mine. There was no question. But there was a hitch. He came with a twin brother, who was coal-black with the exception of traces of white hairs on his chest. I hadn’t bargained for two more cats. That would bring the household to five felines. Oh well, it was the trade-off.
You see, Linus and his brother Tubby, both about one year’s old, had been in an apartment with a bag of food and the toilet seat up. Their owner, a college student, had graduated and couldn’t take the cats back to her parent’s house. The apartment owner found them and took them to the shelter.
Perhaps that explains why Linus has a propensity for hanging out in the bathroom today, some six years later.
These two cats were spectacular entertainers. They’d race through the house, wrestle, and pounce on one another in boxes. They were both sweethearts. Smokey still had her share of attention, but she was getting older, and really didn’t appreciate their antics. She was also getting thinner and thinner and thinner. Meanwhile, Clyde and pink collar seemed to be able to fend for themselves.
As her age took hold, she also was more afraid. She knew she was becoming more defenseless against these youngsters. She’d stay on the back of a favorite chair. She’d hide among the cans in the cupboard.
As the fall approached, I took her to the vet, knowing that I might have to make a decision about her future life. I put myself in denial. No, not yet, I said. But when the vet put her on the scale and it said less than four pounds, I knew I owed it to her to put her out of her misery. I stood there and held her paw as they put in the needle. I watched her draw her last breath. I cried and cried, and I knew I wanted her with me, so I agreed t have her cremated with her ashes being returned to me. She sits in the glass cabinet, on a special cat shelf today.
A few months later – it was mid-January, the weekend of Martin Luther Kings Birthday – I couldn’t find Tubby. While all the cats showed their love for me, Tubby was the most faithful. That cat slept with me every night from the time I adopted him. It was out of character for him to disappear. Had he slipped out the door when bringing in some wood for the fire?
There was a black cat that looked just like him hanging around the car. And so I tried to catch him. I knew cats can be skittish, but this was an absolute no go. Tubby, or I thought it was Tubby, wasn’t coming in with me. I put out food, hoping to entice him back in. I was frantic. What was I to do?
The next morning, I awoke to see this black cat trying to walk across my bedroom floor. He was thin and frail. Oh my God, it was Tubby, but what had happened? It had only been a few days. He looked terribly sick. I thought, he must have eaten a ‘bad mouse.’ He’ll get better in a few days. I picked him up in my arms and carried him downstairs. I had a dropper, and tried to give him some food. He wasn’t interested, but he did drink a little bit of water. I had bought him a special cat bed. I carried it up and down stairs with me. He was too weak to make the stairs. He was too weak to jump on the couch.
I was befuddled. He was so young. He was only about a year and a half old. The only symptom of illness had been that he would sneeze and then shake all over. But that was a momentary shake.
A few days went by, and I said I have to take him to the vet. Mind you, this is New England in January. I put him in a pet carrier, and took him into the office 20 miles from home while we waited for the afternoon appointment. I took him in a bit earlier for testing, and went back to the office awaiting the results. I was afraid of what we might hear. I didn’t know what, but I had a gut feeling, it wasn’t going to be good. But I also knew I was going to do whatever I could to help this poor suffering kitty.
The prediction was for a major snowstorm, up to 24 inches of snow later that day. The regular veterinarian was not in. A retired gentleman who had once owned the practice was filling in. He seemed old-practice to me with an attitude that a cat was a cat and replaceable. I think the vet techs could pick up on that feeling. They said you might want consider taking Tubby to a specialist in Portland, some 100 miles away. I can set up an appointment for you if you want.
The vet Dr. P called me in. Tubby’s gallbladder was not working right, and he seemed to have some liver issues. He recommended putting him on prednisone for a few days and bringing him back.
Upon leaving his office, I asked to set up the appointment in Portland. If I could get there by 5 pm, they could see him. It was after 3. I had no time to spare. Even though I’d lived in Portland for several years, I did have some difficulty locating the place. I’m sure that was partly because my anxiety was through the roof. Yet, Tubby was so calm, sitting in his pet carrier, looking at me with trusting eyes.
It had started to snow when I arrived. They took the films that had come with me, the blood test results, and asked for permission to run a series of tests. The vet’s assistant and then vet came in and asked a lot of questions. They said his age could bring suspicions of something called FIP, but more tests would be needed to confirm that diagnosis.
What was FIP? I’d never heard of this disease. Leukemia, distemper, cancer, but this FIP thing didn’t sound good. It sounded luminous, at best. The people at the desk said the veterinarian was one of the best. She had come up here from Boston, having specialized in cats, and had a very extensive knowledge about feline related illnesses. If anyone could help, they assured me, she could.
This hour reminded me of waiting for my significant other to come out of surgery for lung cancer – it was an hour that seconds dragged and minutes that would never pass.
I finally heard my name. I went into the cubicle. The diagnosis was FIP, Feline infectious peritonitis a fatal incurable disease that affects cats. It is believed to be caused by Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV), which is a mutation of Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV), which often affects cats in close environments, including animal shelters. It is most often diagnosed in very young cats.
Tubby would die. There was absolutely no cure and no treatments, but they suggested more tests to find out if it was wet or dry FIP. They said there were programs that would help pay the bills.
It wasn’t an issue of the cost. It was an issue of whether these tests would help Tubby or other cats suffering from this ungodly disease? I said I would consider it. They gave me the tests results, sending me back to confer with my regular vet, unless I chose more tests.
The snow had accumulated. There was a thin set of ice underneath the snow. With a sick cat, I couldn’t stay at a hotel. No one would want a houseguest with a sick cat. The only choice was to drive home. I stayed on some of the back roads. The snow got deeper. There weren’t many snow plows, or many cars for that matter. It was so bad that by the time I was 20 miles from home, I had to reduce my speed to 15 mph to stay in the road. It took over four hours to get home. Tubby was quiet. He was putting his full trust in me. I think he had more faith that we’d make it home safely than I.
I started giving Tubby steroids. He improved a bit. He had more energy. He could jump onto the couch. He was eating and drinking. That lasted a few weeks. Then, it went downhill again.
It must have been two days of crying before I finally could pick up the phone and call the vet to have him put down. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had to. It was a decision that had to be made, but I didn’t want to make it. There was no hope. And this cat had no life. He was suffering.
We went into the vet’s office. They inserted the needle. But unlike Smokey who had been so peaceful and looking at me with loving eyes, it was cold.
Tubby also adorns my special cat shelf with Smokey and other cat memories and memorabilia. It’s been almost three years since he died at such a young age, but I still remember him and think of him almost every day. And perhaps it was because he was so young that my heart still pours out to him.
Linus is doing well. About a year and a half later, my then boss, showed me this beautiful orange long-haired kitten that had been left in a barn. I adopted him, and that very night Linus adopted him, giving him baths and taking care of him. Now they race through the house, romping and wrestling. Every morning they delight me with one of their shows, and almost every morning I think of Tubby wrestling there too.