December 18, 2007

Goodbye to the cat

So, I had the cat put to sleep this afternoon. The kidney issue could possibly have been maintained for a few years, but the anemia he developed as a result of the renal failure was too severe. When the red blood cell count falls too low, not enough oxygen is carried through the blood stream and breathing becomes difficult.

When I first noticed a week and a half ago that the cat's breathing had become labored, the vet said that we could try a blood transfusion and a few treatments of
EPO (Ironically, had the cat lived, he would never have been allowed to race a bicycle professionally. Sorry, lame joke that couldn't be resisted since I'm into cycling. Anyway...). He said straight out that he couldn't guarantee positive results, or how long the results would last if there were any. For the first few days afterward, though, it was like having the old goombah back again. He was alert and hungry, climbed his scratching post, and even ran across the living room one evening when I walked into the kitchen. By the end of last week, though, there was an obvious decline. By this past Monday, his rib cage was heaving again and he wasn't eating much. So, this morning I called the vet's office at 7:45a.m. and said that I needed to bring him in. Blood and urine samples showed that his stats were worse than before the transfusion.

The decision itself wasn't hard. As I wrote
earlier this month, I've always known what I would do. What's difficult is dealing with the timing of it all. You go along with everything fine, then boom, the animal is suddenly sick. You balance that shock with trying to understand the situation and how to treat it, then boom, the condition is too far advanced and nothing you do will have long-lasting positive results. Even if the animal's condition drags on for years, I think that final realization is still a sudden thing, no matter how often you've considered or how long you've anticipated it.

The vet and her assistant were very nice, and very efficient, which was what I needed most. They gave me some private time to hold the cat, but he was too freaked over being at the vet's office to respond to my affection. The longer we sat together, the worse it would have been. When the vet came in, I put him on the table for her to administer the injection. It took effect immediately, and the cat slumped into a soft, limp bundle. I stroked him a few more times, then the vet checked his heart and said that he was gone. It was quick enough that I was able to keep from dissolving into total blubbering and managed to hold my voice steady while I thanked the vet and her assistant for taking care of him.

I chose to have the goombah cremated, so I left his body there and headed straight up the highway to
Sugarloaf Mountain. Going home would have led to blubbering and brooding, but in the woods and on the mountaintop I can think instead of brood. I know I'll cry more over the next few days-- when I go to bed alone and the cat doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night to beg for attention and food; when I clean up his toys and food dish and litterbox; when I go to work tomorrow and have people ask me how I am; and when I begin to think about whether it's time to go out and find another cat.

There is a part of me, though, that feels relieved. That might seem callous on the surface, but I have to be honest and admit that I'm relieved to not be dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of the last couple of months. I'm relieved for both myself and the cat that we don't have to go through the twice-daily torture treatments anymore. And I'm relieved that he's no longer nauseous and laboring to breath.

My plan for the cat's ashes will involve a hike up another mountain. When all of this started and I began to anticipate the end, I thought about what I'd do with his remains. I don't want to bury them where I live. It's not the only place the cat and I lived together, and I wouldn't want to leave him here if I move. And I don't want an urn or box of ashes on my bookshelf. I may have morbid tendencies, but that isn't one of them. But there's a spot in the Catoctin Mountains called Cat Rock that's reached by a couple of nastily steep, though fairly short, trails. Back in my younger years, I hiked up there a couple of times and had some great moments of reflection while taking in the view. And the symbolism can't be denied. There are tons of beautiful places in Maryland where I could say goodbye to the goombah, but will I remember where I did so in 10-20 years from now? How could possibly I forget that I scattered the cat amidst the boulders at Cat Rock?

And now I'm at home, trying not to look for the cat out of the corner of my eye and wondering how many days it'll take to be ready to clear out all of his toys and other stuff, not to mention the kitchen counter full of medicines and IV bags. And, hey!, I can set my alarm clock back to it's usual time and not get up early to administer morning tortures!


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