I’m not a cat person. Heck, I wasn’t even a pet person until I met Sara and somehow her pair of yappy little Pekingese sisters endeared themselves to me. But cats? Neither of us had any interest, especially me, because I’m quite allergic to them. Usually I’ll enter the house of someone with a cat as a pet, and within minutes my eyes are red, my chin is itchy and my nose is running.
So when a scrawny tabby showed up in our backyard several years ago–technically, on our backyard wall–I never expected it would end up becoming a beloved pet. But she suckered us, being all pretty and sweet and sad and hungry and we went from feeding her on the back patio to letting her sleep in our bed with us in the span of about a week. And, miraculously, I didn’t have a violent allergic reaction to her mere existence.
Kat (yeah, I know that’s an awful, uncreative name. I actually just called her “cat” without a funky spelling, but Sara amended it so it would seem less haphazard) became just as much a part of our lives as the dogs had been, despite their early protests (one of the dogs, Rosie, liked to snap at Kat’s face; Sophia just ignored her). But eventually, even the dogs were won over (kinda), begrudgingly letting the cat sleep in their bed with them or cuddle up next to them. But Kat LOVED the dogs, always wanting to hang out, drinking from their water bowl, trying to win their love.
We didn’t know how old Kat was; when we first took her to the vet after she showed up, both to get an exam and to try to find her owner, the vet estimated she was maybe 3 years old; we found out later she hadn’t been spayed yet, so we assumed she had to be pretty young. Other than that, though–and the fact that she only weighed in at about 7 pounds–she was very healthy, active, and surprisingly well-behaved. She cuddled more than most cats we’ve seen, always trying to climb onto my lap or curl up in between Sara and I in bed. She like to go outside and pretend she was a tough feral cat, but she’d always return pretty quickly to one of our doors to return to her life of luxury.
About two weeks ago, I took her to the vet for her regular annual check-up. She was down to about 4 pounds, 10 ounces–a significant weight loss for a cat that only weighed 7 pounds to begin with. We found out that they’d actually weighed her in that light a few months earlier when she had a routine dental cleaning, but no red flags went up for anyone. Her blood work was good, she hadn’t been experiencing any abnormal behavior, she was just a slightly tinier cat than usual.
But the veterinary assistant felt some lumps on her lower abdomen that seemed abnormal. And when the veterinarian came in, he found she had some serious (as the vet described in an email, “horrible”) skin and subcutaneous masses. He also felt swelling in her thyroid gland. She almost definitely had thyroid disease, which would explain the dramatic weight loss, and would be treatable, but the other thing? Very likely mammary carcinoma. Kitty breast cancer.
We were in pretty serious denial for a while. Mixed with guilt. How did we miss this? The masses on her were huge, reddish and spread all over her lower breast and upper thigh. But she never showed any signs of pain. We never really saw that part of her, because she was always so fluffy. She had been a bit more mellow lately, but we figured she was just getting older. She still came upstairs every morning to hang out in the bathroom while I took a shower. She still climbed up on my lap any chance she could get. She still purred loud as a diesel engine.
Her chest X-rays showed signs that the cancer had metastasized into the lungs. We had a biopsy done anyway. It took a week to get the results, which we only got on Thursday, and which confirmed what we already knew: It was aggressive, malignant mammary endocarcinoma, and by all accounts, she only had a week or two to live.
We had already decided not to kid ourselves or try to draw things out for her. She was barely eating, and what she did eat she just threw up. We finally got some pain meds for her yesterday, hoping that would at least make her more comfortable. Kat finally ate some turkey we hand-fed her, about one cold cut slice total, and then we gave her the pain meds and she peacefully slept. Later on, she wouldn’t eat anything else, and at this point, she just spent most of her time lying head-down on the kitchen floor near her litter box.
This morning around 6 a.m., we were lying in bed when we heard thumping sounds. It was the cat trying to climb up the stairs. She made it to the second step, but was weak and shaky. If we didn’t know better, I would have thought she was drunk. I carried her back into the kitchen, where she shakily climbed into her litter box, and then started to have convulsions. I appropriately freaked out. Turns out it was just dry heaves–she was nauseous but had nothing in her system to give up. I tried to get her to drink water. Nothing. Tried some food. Nothing. She wouldn’t even look up at me, and her bushy tail that normally twists and curls playfully was just jerking in a weird pattern.
I went back to bed, where Sara and I came to the realization that we’d (typing this sentence through blurry eyes here) have to put her down today. We didn’t think she’d make it another day, and I’m not sure our hearts could, either. Being a Sunday morning, our regular vet was closed, so we had to take her to the emergency animal hospital down the street, who thankfully opened at 7 a.m. When I carried Kat down the stairs to put her in the car, she suddenly became very alert, meowing as normal and obviously anxious about where we were going. It made the trip that much harder.
The hospital put us into an exam room with a clean blanket waiting for Kat. As we waited for the vet, we started to notice all of the decorations and client-sent cards on the walls were all memorials, remembrances and platitudes. This wasn’t just any exam room. This was THAT room. It … didn’t help things. It also didn’t help that Kat was being very active despite being very weak. She was looking all around, meowing occasionally, and for the first time in several days, making eye contact. (The above photo was taken in that room.) So when a vet assistant came in to have me sign the euthanasia release form, I stopped everything. What if we were jumping the gun? What if she just was in need of an IV full of nutrients to get her going again? What if we were wrong?
Although we had just met this vet, he was very helpful. And very blunt. He knew this wasn’t easy, but he also knew that if this were his cat, he wouldn’t let her suffer any longer. He had just put down one of his own dogs last September. He gave us time to make a decision. Sara and I talked about it. We had a good cry. The cat started to relax again, putting her head back down quietly. Her breathing was short and labored. It had been for a while. We knew it was time.
When it happened, it was … too fast. Even though the vet explained how everything would go, administering a drug to put her to sleep first before delivering the one that would put her to rest forever, it was still unnerving how quickly that happened. She was so weak, there was no dramatic final moment. He gave her the three syringes in a row, within about a minute, and she just … passed. No big final breath. No weird body spasms. Just … (there go the eyes again)
He left the room and we started crying like babies. Her eyes were still open, and I just couldn’t look. We pet her for a minute or two, but she was already cold. It was done. We’d done all we could to give her the best life possible, and we didn’t want her to suffer the worst life any longer.
I don’t deal well with mortality in general. I don’t even like thinking about it. And I’ve never felt like this before. I feel guilty about it, because I’ve had other loved ones die … almost all of them from cancer. And though those were all sad, this is the first time I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. Like a hole has been cut out of me. I know people with human children mock us pet parents when we say that the furry loved ones are our kids. But fuck it, they are. My baby just died. And I’ve never felt this sad in my life.