The cat’s condition worsened this week, not dramatically, but in tiny ways that only we would notice. His movements were even slower and more tentative. He stopped coming in to sit on me while I worked at the computer. He ate, but the dent he made in his food was almost imperceptible. On Wednesday, I was adamant that the time to put him down had arrived, but Mike was unconvinced, so we compromised by taking Kittyboy to the vet for an evaluation. Then we could decide.
The tech put him on the scale. “Five pounds, ten ounces,” she announced, and I cursed out loud, something I try not to do in front of strangers. He’d lost almost half his body weight. The vet said yes, the end was close. Maybe a little pain medication would help him feel more like eating. Maybe he’d go for the prescription canned food. Maybe this is just prolonging the inevitable, I said, but Mike wanted to try it.
Lest I seem cold-hearted, here’s my thinking about euthanizing a pet. If an animal in the wild were in this weakened state, nature would have ended his life months ago. Since we have chosen to bring certain animals into our homes, made them dependent on us for food, and removed most of the “wild” from their lives, we cannot then fall back on the argument about letting nature take its course when they are dying. Nature is no longer part of this equation. As a pet owner, it is now my duty to stop their suffering when they’ve reached a hopeless condition. To allow a cat with congestive heart failure to die of his disease doesn’t mean he’d go peacefully in his sleep. It ends with respiratory distress — slow suffocation — and there’s no guarantee that we’d be at home or awake to help him when it was happening. With that possibility on the near horizon, I would rather risk putting him down a little too soon than be even a minute too late.
This is a difficult thing to argue about. There’s me, horrified at the possibility that we’ll wait too long and he’ll have a terrible end, so let’s do it soon. Then there’s Mike, who sees that Kittyboy still has a little bit of oomph left and doesn’t want to cut him off prematurely. Mike wants to come to a decision based on his own gut feeling, which I say is an unreliable indicator of an animal’s physical condition. I want to sneak the cat off to the vet’s office while Mike’s out, but this would be crossing a line in our relationship and I can’t bring myself to do it, no matter how right I think I am.
On Wednesday afternoon, we give the Kittyboy the new wet food, a substance that he has never in his life been willing to eat, and he goes for it a tablespoon at a time. That night, we dose him with a teeny amount of pain medication, which will make him sleep more (as if that’s possible). Thursday, he continues to eat the wet food, but even after the medication should have cleared his system, he’s sluggish and uncoordinated so we don’t give him a second dose.
On Friday morning, the kitty walks unsteadily down the hall into the bathroom and then meows, a sound usually reserved for when he wants to be snuggled or someone is standing on his tail. He can’t figure out how to turn around. I pick him up and take him into the bedroom. Later, as he’s coming back down the hall, it happens again: he can’t go any further and meows to be carried. He lies down under the coffee table, where he spends most of his days now. “It’s time,” I say. It is, Mike agrees.
I make the appointment for late in the afternoon, reasoning that if we’re going to ruin the day with the death of a beloved pet, we should ruin as little of it as possible. This logic turns out to be flawed, as the anticipatory grief makes us feel rotten all day anyway and the waiting is miserable. As I drive home from sitting with my hospice patient (who is suddenly declining as well), I pray: Please let him have died on his own, please… But no, there he is under the coffee table. “You’re such a jerk,” I say, lying down on the floor next to him and rubbing his chin. “You couldn’t have done this one little thing for me?” Whenever he finds me horizontal, he always climbs up on my chest to stick his whiskers up my nose, but not today. He leans his head against my side. He does not purr.
The boys say their goodbyes at home and opt out of the trip to the vet. Our daughter goes with us to the appointment, holding the Kittyboy in her lap in the car. While we wait for the vet, he struggles to find a comfortable position on the tile floor so we put down a towel, and he sits in the corner with his face to the wall. The ladies who work in the vet’s office are so kind to us, it’s almost unbearable. They will make a little plaster paw-print for us with his name on it. Afterward. I am so antsy that I straighten all the photos on the walls twice. If we don’t get out of here soon, I may start reorganizing the cabinets.
Then the moment arrives. The tech places a catheter in Kittboy’s front leg so there won’t be any chance of “missing” when injecting the medication. The vet comes in and we give her the go-ahead. Kittboy relaxes, and just that fast, we feel him leave. No matter how many times I have watched a pet pass on, it doesn’t get easier with practice. The hardest part of loving an animal is always at the end. This is the price we pay to love anything, I think.
We buried him in the back yard. We ate the comfort food Mike had wisely purchased ahead of time. I drank a little more wine than was prudent, and we went to bed early because our eyes felt like they’d been sanded from all the crying. This morning, I miss him but am also relieved. I hadn’t realized how chronic the worry had become and how much energy it was taking, trying to figure out the right thing to do. He was a very good Kittyboy. A weird one, which is why we took so many pictures of him, but a good boy. And now he’s been released.