Friday Cat Eulogizing

There won’t be many cat pictures after all. We put her to sleep this morning.

One Saturday, when I was thirteen years old, my brother knocked on my bedroom door to tell me that there was a cat in our garage. Our parents weren’t home, or I’m sure he would have hidden her. She was lying under my dad’s workbench, clearly malnourished and ill. My brother, age seven, said he was sure he knew where she lived, and so would I please get her out and go with him back to her house. I reached in and very gingerly stroked her head. When she didn’t snap or growl, I lifted her out of her hole. She curled right up against my chest. I don’t think she weighed more than six or seven pounds, and she had wide running sores on her neck that she proceeded to rub all over my shirt. Her gentle passivity was a sign of how very unwell she was.

I followed my brother around our neighborhood for nearly an hour. I’m not sure if he thought her owners would be out looking for her, or what, but we eventually gave up and took her home. By the time our parents got home, we’d already set her up in a cardboard box, with a bathmat for insulation and a saucer of milk. We all desperately wanted furry pets, but they had never let us own any, because they thought furry pets would shed and shit all over the house (they were absolutely right). After this cat made it through, my brother brought home a “lost” tabby,* a retriever-beagle mix, and three secret hamsters.**

My parents agreed to take her to the vet. They paid to treat her fleas and her infected fleabites, as well as a deep cut on her left hind leg. Spending four hundred dollars on her made her our cat.

She gained weight. The fur grew back over the bald patches on her neck. She started to explore the house and the yard. She brought us birds. She adopted me as her owner and started sleeping on my bed. She had definitely been a house cat, since she was already spayed and housetrained.

She was not an easy cat. She would not be moved from chairs or keyboards. She growled when people shifted their laps under her or their feet near her corner of the bed. I was the only one allowed to pick her up. I was loved; everyone else was tolerated. She fought with the tabby, twice her size and twelve years her junior. The dog lived in fear of her until the day she died. When my brother’s best friend brought a kitten home to visit for an afternoon, we caught her creeping towards it from behind the couch, belly to the ground, tail twitching.

She was not a young cat when we found her. When we took her in for a follow-up appointment a few months after she came to us, the vet estimated her age at twelve. That was ten years ago. I choose to believe that she was twenty-two when she died, because she was just that scrappy, and because she really did look like Sophia Petrillo. She made cats of nine and thirteen seem spry. She had a kinky spine, a bent tail, a sagging stomach, and a threadbare coat. She was never able to jump onto countertops or bookshelves. I never saw her run.

She gradually declined. She mellowed a little bit. She wasn’t any kinder to other members of the family, but she liked to be near them for protection. She would curl up on the arm of the couch where you were reading, or follow my dad into the living room where he did the bills. She ate less, and spent much more time sleeping. Every March, she would shed her winter coat and we would see how much thinner she had become. She stopped staying out overnight. Her circuit shrank from the neighborhood to the yard, and finally to the doorstep. For the last few months, she was afraid to go outside at all. She couldn’t climb the stairs. She would sit down in the middle of rooms to rest. She camped near her food dish rather than go to far away. She was afraid of the dog.

She was also in increasing pain. She was arthritic when she came to us. Her lower back and legs were always off limits. As she aged, she became more sensitive. By this morning, I couldn’t really touch her anywhere but her head. She was too stiff to hop onto the seat of a chair, and she had trouble curling up in my arms.

A few months ago, she went through a bad spell. She wouldn’t eat. She barely moved. My parents called to tell me that she was finally about to go. Since she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, we thought it would be okay to let her go by herself. She recovered, a little. She started to eat again, and walk around the house. But she was painfully thin and very weak, and she started to seem fretful, confused, uncomfortable. She started to have accidents all over the house–not because she was forgetful or incontinent, but because she couldn’t get into her litterbox.

My parents wanted to put her to sleep rather than wait for her to worsen. I had my reservations, but when I went down to their house last night to say goodbye, she was noticeably less comfortable than she had been a few weeks before. I could feel every bone from her neck to her tail. She bit me, hard, when I scratched behind her ears. My brother gave her a saucer of milk after dinner. She spent her last night alternately sleeping next to me and demanding attention. She peed one last time against the wall of the guest room.

In the morning, I fed her into the pet carrier and we drove to the vet’s office: me, my mother, my father, and our cat. She was well-behaved on the way, only letting out a few peevish meows. We were led into a tiny exam room with light blue walls. The veterinary assistant verified our billing information and talked us through our options. We decided against communal cremation and scattering her ashes in the Garden of Companions in Monterey. I let her out of the pet carrier to explore the examination table, which was covered with a waterproof pad, blue with pink butterflies. She was calm and relatively happy, probably because I was there.

The veterinarian came in to meet us. She was a kind, personable woman, obviously very generous with animals. We explained the age, the stiffness, the exhaustion, and the pain. I don’t think she completely understood; I glanced at her notes when she was handling my cat, and they read, “does not go outside to eliminate.” She argued with us. Not in a, “How dare you kill this animal?!” way, but she talked about how “bright” and “alert” she was. She mentioned possible medications and therapies, suggested a thyroid problem. We explained that she had never weighed very much. I felt horrible.

The vet wanted to give her a sedative injection in the back room, so that she wouldn’t freak out in the exam room. She was growling and stiffening when the vet tried to pick her up, so I stroked her head and kept her quiet until the vet had her settled in her arms. The vet called her good girl and little girl, and I was vaguely offended. My cat was never anything other than an old lady.

We waited for ten minutes or so; it seemed much longer. I heard my cat let out a fighting yowl just once. The vet brought her back in, and said that she had been given a high dose of painkiller since the vet’s first choice of sedative was unavailable. The vet left us alone while we waited for the sedative to take effect. She was already woozy and shaky, and her pupils were dilated. I sat down in a chair with her, and she dozed on my lap. She twitched every once in a while, probably afraid to fall sleep. She never really went under.

The vet came back in with the second injection and asked if I could help get my cat onto the exam table. I think the vet might have understood a little better then. After a dose of painkiller that left her legs useless and her pupils the size of dimes, my cat was still uncomfortable enough to growl at me when I tried to lift her out of my lap. She was too alert to put up with the electric razor, so the vet decided to inject into her foreleg without shaving first.

A lab tech was called in to help hold my cat down. She struggled a little, more against anyone touching her back than anything else, but sagged after the first few drops and curled up on the table. The vet listened to her heart for a second and pronounced her gone. I hadn’t expected it to happen instantly. I had assumed I’d have another few minutes with her. The assistant folded the short end of the pad over her neck and the long end over her body. The vet thanked us for taking such good care of her for so many years, and I started to cry. They told us to take all the time we needed with her, and left us alone. Her eyes were wide open, and her fur was warm and soft. She didn’t seem any less alive than she had been a few moments before. I stroked her head a few times, although it felt embarrassing to be comforting a dead animal. Then my dad picked up the empty pet carrier, and we left.

*He decamped when the retriever-beagle mix arrived. We suspected he’d been living a double life for several months prior.

**Champion mouser, my cat murdered them all despite my brother’s attempts to secure them. After the third one was decapitated, its head left in my brother’s doorway and its body ten feet away, my parents decided that there would be no more rodents in the house.

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44 Responses

  1. Chris Clarke
    Chris Clarke January 28, 2006 at 1:14 am |

    I’m so sorry, piny.

  2. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 January 28, 2006 at 1:31 am |

    I’m sorry, piny.

    I’ve always loved animals, especially cats. I’ve decided that I’ll always keep one for the rest of my life. They’re the best of companions.

  3. Lux Fiat
    Lux Fiat January 28, 2006 at 1:33 am |

    I’m very sorry, piny.

  4. Trailhead
    Trailhead January 28, 2006 at 1:51 am |

    I’m a lifelong dog person, but I’ve developed an affinity for cats in the last few years. And I can’t help but love tough, take-no-shit cats like this.

    Thanks for sharing her story — I’m so sorry she’s gone.

  5. PurrpleGrrl
    PurrpleGrrl January 28, 2006 at 2:04 am |

    So so sorry. She was as lucky to have you as you were to have her.

  6. luckybuzz
    luckybuzz January 28, 2006 at 2:09 am |

    So sorry for your loss. I lost a 19 year old cat a few years ago, and I had to comment on this. I agree with PurrpleGrrl; you were both lucky to have each other.

  7. Robert
    Robert January 28, 2006 at 2:34 am |

    Sorry to hear it, Piny.

  8. Lauren
    Lauren January 28, 2006 at 3:11 am |

    I nursed the cat of my childhood, Miss Kitty, to her death at the age of 18. During her final year, she lived in my room, and I washed her vomit out of my sheets every night for months. We couldn’t just let her go. Finally, she begged to be let outside and she never came back.

    I loved that cat like crazy. One of my very first memories are of her giving birth to kittens and transporting her and her kittens from our house in Kentucky to here. I was two and a half at most, and completely intrigued. My second earliest memory is dropping her off of a balcony to see if she landed on her feet. She did, but I had my arms annhilated, as is justice.

    But I think of my kitties and how desperately and oddly I love them, and the idea of letting them go makes my heart sink.

    Selfishly, selfishly sorry, but I’m sorry. Once they become family, it’s heartbreaking to let them go.

  9. Amanda
    Amanda January 28, 2006 at 4:41 am |

    I’m so sorry, piny.

  10. Sarah
    Sarah January 28, 2006 at 5:10 am |

    Losing a pet is like losing a child.

  11. Melanie
    Melanie January 28, 2006 at 8:22 am |

    I am so sorry. So sorry that I am crying for you and your cat as I type. It’s never easy to let a beloved pet go, no matter how much it is for the best. Cherish her memory.

  12. The Happy Feminist
    The Happy Feminist January 28, 2006 at 9:00 am |

    My sympathies. It is like losing a member of the family.

  13. Meredith
    Meredith January 28, 2006 at 9:13 am |

    Oh, piny, I’m so sorry. I’m not normally sensitive, but that made me cry as if she were part of my cat herd. I have four, and it’s so hard to think about any of them going.

  14. Jill
    Jill January 28, 2006 at 9:22 am | *

    I’m so sorry, piny.

  15. Hugo
    Hugo January 28, 2006 at 9:28 am |

    As one who now spends a great deal of time caring for rodents (including the sort that cats enjoy decapitating), I nonetheless understand the grief completely — and I honor you for telling the story.

    I’m from Carmel; I know the Garden of Memories in Monterey well.

  16. Laurie
    Laurie January 28, 2006 at 9:48 am |

    I’m so very, very sorry, Piny. Pets are a part of the family, and it is so very hard to let them go, even when you know it’s best.

    I had to put down a very small kitten that I found a couple of years ago. I literally found him on the road — he’d either been hit by a car, or abused in some fashion, and had collapsed in the middle of the street. We were going to keep him, even though we weren’t looking for another cat at that point, but he had some odd physical issues and then started convulsing. And then the convulsions got worse and closer together. When we took him into the small animal hospital at the local university, they told us that he had severe enough brain damage that the prognosis was not very good at all. We chose to let him go rather than put him through any more fear and pain. I still cry when I think about him, and he was only part of our lives for about 3 days. I can’t imagine letting go of a companion who has been part of your life for 10 years.

    All the words in the world won’t help, but my sympathies and condolences anyway. The only thing I can say is that you and your family did make the right decision to let her go.

  17. AndiF
    AndiF January 28, 2006 at 10:11 am |

    All my sympathies as well.

    We’ve to do this three times with our dogs and it is very hard and very sad but I’ve also come to accept that to have the pleasure and joy of sharing their lives means an obligation to experience the pain and sorrow of their deaths.

  18. Tex
    Tex January 28, 2006 at 10:27 am |

    piny, it takes a special kind of love for a bitchy pet. While I’m sorry to hear of your loss, selfishly I also want to say thank you for sharing something so beautifully written and touching.

    A few years back we put down my family’s first kitty. He was only eight and it was Christmas Day. Very similar symptoms, not eating and then not moving, sore back.

    I hope that you won’t be lacking in cat for long. One of the great things about cats is the ways that they come into your life in unexpected ways, as your story demonstrates. When the time comes, believe you me, there will be kitty around somewhere.

  19. human
    human January 28, 2006 at 10:45 am |

    I’m sorry about your cat. That’s really hard. She sounds like she was a great cat.

    My mother had a cat who lived to be about 21 years old. I was 14 or 15 when she died. We didn’t get along very well when I was small. My mom insisted that I used to pull her tail, though I don’t remember ever doing that. But we settled into a truce and then became friends. I’d sit out in a lawn chair every morning in the garage to wait for the school bus, and she would jump into my lap and curl up there. After a while, I couldn’t get her out of my lap even if I wanted to. That was her spot and this was our routine.

    Cats are great. I’m sorry you lost yours.

  20. ginmar
    ginmar January 28, 2006 at 10:46 am |

    I’m so sorry.

  21. a nut
    a nut January 28, 2006 at 10:52 am |

    Thank you so much for sharing piny and, as others have expressed, I’m so very sorry.

  22. Emily
    Emily January 28, 2006 at 11:01 am |

    I’m so sorry. It’s so hard. We lost both of our beloved, beloved cats in 2004: Percy to abdominal cancer in January, and James to a jaw tumour in October. Percy’s death was completely unexpected — cats can get so sick without letting anyone know — and it hit me so hard I got pneumonia shortly afterwards. James had had diabetes for two and a half years before he died, and we’d moved heaven and Earth to make sure that he got his insulin twice a day, every day. (He’d yell at us if we were late with his needle.) He meant so much to us. After we had to have him put down at the emergency clinic, I tried to carry the box to the car, but I finally had to give it to my husband so I could throw up in the bushes.

    Percy and James came to me when they were six weeks old. They lived with me in six different apartments, and they were one of the few trappings of my old life in the States to stay with me so long after I’d moved to Canada.

    We have Martha and Charlotte now, and they’re wonderful, but I still miss our guys something fierce. Your entry brought tears to my eyes. These furry creatures can burrow so deeply under our skin.

    All my sympathies.

  23. kelly g.
    kelly g. January 28, 2006 at 11:30 am |

    Piny, I am so sorry. I’ve watched four of my childhood pets die, and it never gets any easier.

    Your old lady reminds me of my boyfriend’s cat, Ozzy. He loves the bf and “tolerates” me. Back when Ozzy used to sleep in bed with us – before we had any dogs – I’d sometimes wake up in the dead of night to find him sitting on the pillow next to my head or perched on my chest, his face just inches from mine. I could swear, at those moments, he was plotting my demise. I think he would have done it, too, if he could have figured out how to get rid of the body. Pure evil, that one.

    And I love him like mad.

  24. kate.d.
    kate.d. January 28, 2006 at 12:27 pm |

    sorry to hear about this, piny. i almost cried just reading it. my family’s first cat, a big fat Maine Coon cat with diabetes, lived to be 20 and we all thought he was immortal. he died in his sleep, which was shocking to everyone when it happened – my mom had to call and tell me about it, as i wasn’t living at home – but in the long run, probably easier than having to go through the process of putting a pet down.

    i’m sorry you had to go through all that.

  25. The Countess
    The Countess January 28, 2006 at 12:41 pm |

    I’m so sorry, Piny. You sound like you had a great cat.

    Your cat reminded me of one of my cats, Mulder. She was also a grouch who didn’t like to be around people and other cats. She could growl and eat at the same time. She loved me though. She started out as a cat that would let anyone near her to a cat who sat in my lap. She growled if I tried to move her, too. She was very stubborn. She always stopped my circulation because she was a big cat. She died of renal failure last year. I was glad we were able to keep her home so she died in the bedroom with us, while we were with her.

    You have my condolences. Your cat was a good companion, and you and your cat took good care of each other.

  26. zuzu
    zuzu January 28, 2006 at 1:18 pm |

    Oh, God, Piny. I’m in tears.

    I’ve had to let go of several pets along the years — my family had two Seeing Eye puppies that we had to give up at 14 months or so, and our dog TJ, a shelter dog, was put down on the operating table during exploratory surgery — but the one that hit me hardest was my dog Carrot, my first on-my-own dog, who had behavioral issues. I had to put her down after she attacked me. She tried to tear my face off — I had puncture wounds on my chin and on my brow bone — and after intense remedial training, it was obvious that there were too many basic problems to just pass her on to someone else, possibly someone with kids who’d get very hurt.

    It just tore me up to have to put down my young, healthy dog, and three-years-plus later, it still just makes me dissolve into tears when I think about it. Honestly, I’ve cried far more for my dog than for my father. It was probably a draw with my mother.

    But it does get better, and Junebug is a far, far better dog than Carrot ever was — at least in terms of relating to me and not trying to be Alpha Bitch all the time. But I do want to just address one thing:

    My parents wanted to put her to sleep rather than wait for her to worsen. I had my reservations, but when I went down to their house last night to say goodbye, she was noticeably less comfortable than she had been a few weeks before.

    I’m very glad you decided to take her pain into account, rather than your feelings. When we had to get TJ surgery, my mother drew on her experience of letting the dog my parents had when they were first married, and Old English sheepdog they used to show, linger too long after she developed hip displaysia. My sister, who then lived in Virginia, wanted to have TJ kept alive until she could come back to say goodbye, but Mom said that she’d never again let an animal suffer, and had the vet put her down when it was obvious the cancer was too extensive.

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss.

  27. tigtog
    tigtog January 28, 2006 at 1:23 pm |

    Oh piny. I’m waiting for my own 15yo Princess to get so weak that I have to let her go – she has a tumour in her jaw, and surgery would mean losing her mandible and being unable to go outside any more, which I just can’t do to her, especially as it would only give her another year at most.

    I chose her as a kitten because she was the one who came out from under the friend of my flatmate’s bed to sniff me while her siblings held back. She is the smartest cat I ever owned, and I can’t imagine what it will be like not to watch her climb that back fence and inperiously inform our neighbour that we still never feed her so hurry up with the chicken.

    Losing beloved animals sucks.

  28. Anne
    Anne January 28, 2006 at 2:05 pm |

    So very sorry, piny. It sounds like it was the best thing to do for her, though, and I’m glad you were able to be with her when the time came. I lost one of my cats, Fox, two years ago to renal failure (my dad had to put him down while I was away at school), and I think it was even harder our other cat than it was on me. They were inseparable, and Wizzle grieved long and hard. Big virtual hugs, and thanks for sharing her with us. Again, I’m so sorry.

  29. Laura
    Laura January 28, 2006 at 3:35 pm |

    Sorry for your loss.

  30. stellans
    stellans January 28, 2006 at 3:56 pm |

    I’m very sorry for your loss, piny. I’ve been through this 3 times now in the past 21 years or so, and while it doesn’t get any easier, the loss becomes a little less sharp. Especially if you rescue another in your old lady’s name.

  31. June
    June January 28, 2006 at 4:10 pm |

    I’m sorry.

    One of my cats died very unexpectedly last fall. Your observation about your cat appearing to still be alive, as it lay on the vet’s table, really hit home.

    It’s hard. It doesn’t get better, exactly, but eventually it doesn’t hurt as often.

  32. Aaron F.
    Aaron F. January 28, 2006 at 4:15 pm |

    :'(

  33. Shrubbery
    Shrubbery January 28, 2006 at 4:33 pm |

    Thought you might be interested. Enjoy!

    http://fluffyblogggy.blogspot.com/2006/01/feminism-redux.html

  34. Otter
    Otter January 28, 2006 at 5:38 pm |

    I never expected that when I followed a bloglink from an irreverent, generally left-leaning blog that I would end up reading something that made me cry like this post did. My deepest sympathies to you and your loved ones on your loss.

    As for me, well… right now I’m going to stop blogging for the night, and go hug my own current cat companion very closely, and reflect upon the several other fine and wonderful cats that I’ve been fortunate enough to have choose to share the journey with me so far.

    requiescat en pace cattus,
    Otter

  35. Josh
    Josh January 28, 2006 at 9:54 pm |

    piny-

    Thank you for your words here. I was moved to tears by your friend’s story.

    Your old old friend was obviously very loved by you, and she knew it. I’m sure of it.

  36. Nicole
    Nicole January 28, 2006 at 10:09 pm |

    Piny-
    Thank you for sharing your experience, it brought tears to my eyes. Just remember the Sophia in her and smile.

  37. Craig R.
    Craig R. January 29, 2006 at 6:41 am |

    We lost one of our girls recently.

    She had been weak for some months from thyroid problems (and giving her pills twice a day) but at the end she was simply not getting any better, losing weight and energy.

    The vet gave her a “flush” to clean her kidneys,and even with IV fluids she was not getting any better.

    My wife and I dicussed it, and agreed that it might be time to let her go.

    In one of the exam rooms at the vet. clinic I sat and stroked my cat’s head while the vet injected a double dose of the anathesia, which was easy because she still had the IV port from the fluid intake.

    She had one shudder, I presume when her heart stopped, and then she was gone.

    We told the vet that if it would be of use for either research or for training of vet. students, they could do an autopsy, rather thaqn simple cremation or our taking her body home.

    A few days later the vet called to let us know that thew autopsy had shown liver cancer, and that there wasn’t much we would have been able to do, especially that would have made her life much easier.

    We had had her since she was a kitten, from a no-kill shelter in NH.

  38. Chuck
    Chuck January 29, 2006 at 11:52 am |

    :-( So sorry to hear the news, Piny!

  39. Sonda
    Sonda January 29, 2006 at 5:24 pm |

    I’m so very sorry. Reading your story brought back so many memories of our pets. One of our beloved cats, Matisse, we only had for one year. I adopted him from the humane society where I used to volunteer in Illinois. He had been there for months and looked awful, he was missing fur in odd patches all over his body and no one wanted him. I had been looking for another cat, we had one 9 year old neutered male, Sydney, and he and Matisse, also a neutered male, got along very well. One of my fondest memories is the two of them sitting in a screened-in window together, looking out at the birds. We had Matisse just one year before he died suddenly of previously undiagnosed cardiomyopathy. I remember sitting on the steps of our house and sobbing-he was only 6 years old and I had anticipated many more years with him. One thing our wonderful vet said brought me some comfort-he said “He had a really good year with you, you gave him everything a cat could want.”
    My heart goes out to you.

  40. Starla
    Starla January 30, 2006 at 10:30 am |

    I am so, so sorry to hear about your “old lady”.

    Your story moved me tears and made me realize how old my “kids” are.

  41. Erica
    Erica January 30, 2006 at 4:16 pm |

    I’m sorry, piny. Your eulogy brought tears to my eyes.

  42. pmoney
    pmoney January 31, 2006 at 1:18 pm |

    That was absolutely beautiful! xoxox

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