Warning: This blog will be quite emotional. It is about having to put my beloved cat Sweetie to sleep.
As my husband and I were moving into a new apartment back when we lived in Seattle, we had a surprise visitor. An adorable, fluffy cat came to welcome us to the neighborhood as we moved in our boxes. She followed us into our apartment, used my cat's scratching posts, played with toys as though they were for her, then sat in front of the fireplace like she lived there. We fell in love with her instantly. She didn't have a collar and appeared to be a stray with her scraggly, dirty fur, but we didn't want to assume anything. We gave her a little cat treat, then sent her on her way.
It was a few weeks later, but she returned. I opened the door to take the trash out, and there was this cat again. She walked right though the door like she was coming home. We wanted her, but we didn't know if she belonged to anyone. My husband went to the local pet store and bought a collar with a tag on it that said, "We would like to adopt this cat. If she belongs to you, please call xxx." We put it on her, then sent her on the way.
The following day, my husband received a call from a neighbor a couple of buildings away from us. She said she was looking after the cat because her brother didn't want it, but she would be happy to give it to a new home. Speaking to the woman about the cat's history, it seemed she had been passed from home to home unwanted. We asked what her name was, and the woman hesitated. She said the brother called her, "Creepy."
We renamed her "Sweetie" because she was so genuinely affectionate. She seemed to love everyone.
After she was in our home, we made her an indoor only cat, which she didn't like very much. We started to see some behavioral problems that indicated why it seemed she was passed around between people. The last caretaker just pushed her outside because she didn't know how to handle her. Sweetie was sometimes not so sweet as she clawed viciously if she didn't get her way. She peed on our sofa a few times. She didn't get along with my other cat.
But despite her issues, she was so lovable. She loved to be around us, and followed us from room to room. She literally squealed with delight when a can of tuna was opened. She ran with a spring in her step as we put the food bowl down. It was hilarious the first time we gave her catnip. She rolled on the floor and waved her paws in the air.
She slept on my pillow, sometimes pushing me off. It was annoying.
And in time, with a lot of love and patience, her behavioral problems went away. Her semi-feral nature to claw and draw blood eventually tamed to a typical pampered housepet. She didn't howl to go outside anymore. While my other cat and her never became friends, they did learn to share the humans.
She so, so loved attention. Everytime you pet her, she purred. If you scratched the side of her cheek, she leaned into it. If you picked her up, she curled into your arm. Whenever my husband came home from work, she headed into the kitchen and asked, "What's for dinner?" While we ate dinner, she sat on one of the empty chairs. We called her our "dinner guest." My husband gave her little bits of whatever we ate because he couldn't resist how adorable she was. Sometimes she stomped her foot on the table to get attention like she said, "Ahem! I'm here! I'd like my salmon served rare, please." It's a bad habit having pets at the table, but we couldn't refuse her.
About a month ago, I noticed that Sweetie wasn't eating much of her food. She licked the gravy off the canned food, but she left most of the meat. She's never been a really big eater, but there was a declining interest. I complained to my husband for feeding her so much of our food at dinner, she was no longer interested in her own food. A couple of weeks ago, he gave her a little tuna, which made her squeal with delight, as usual. But then, I noticed that her poo in the litterbox wasn't quite right. So I asked my husband not to give her any more non cat food because it was upsetting her stomach.
She gradually ate less and less. She stopped socializing with us, and spent all her time under the bed. Then a big alarm bell went off when she got violently sick on the floor. I won't go into details, but it wasn't normal. We took her to the vet the next day. The vet took tests, and the only thing she noticed was a low red blood cell count. Could be internal bleeding, and her dark stool indicated it might be, or...it could be cancer. We didn't have a lot of evidence for the latter, so we went with the former. The vet gave us medicine for us to treat her digestive upset as an ulcer. She gave us formula cat food.
We took her home, gave her medicine...then she completely stopped eating. I was so freaked out and desperate for her to eat something, I tried to coax her with tuna. She refused. Something was seriously wrong. She was so thin, she was barely there. When I pet her, all I could feel was her spine and bones. I cried all night.
I took her back to the vet the next morning. She developed a respiratory problem, and struggled to take a breath. We tried giving her an appetite stimulant, and she still refused to eat. We finally took xrays. The results were confusing. She had some fluid build up, like with pneumonia, but there was another strange mass in her lung. Her intestines didn't show up on the xray because they were so inflamed.
The vet tried to administer antibiotics through an IV over two days, but it had no effect. The vet found a strange mass in her leg - most likely a cancerous tumor that went undetected because she was a long hair cat. We never saw it. Her progress deteriorated, and she still wouldn't eat. The most likely scenario was the tumor in her leg metastasized and spread to her lung.
We could take her home, but we were warned she might suffocate to death as her respiratory condition worsened. Her body temperature was cooling. All signs indicated her body was shutting down. The vet said we could take Sweetie to an animal ER for 24 hour monitoring.
My husband and I came to the painful decision pretty quickly that we had to let her go. If there was any chance at all she could recover, we would have done whatever necessary. But all signs indicated she was dying, and nothing was going to save her. We could take her to the ER for force feeding and maybe prolong her life by hours, days or maybe even a week. But she was not going to get better so she could come home. I didn't want her spending her final days in a cold cage with strangers.
We informed the vet of our decision, and she said she didn't think it was a wrong choice. She asked if we wanted to be present. I said yes. It would have been easier for me not to be there, but I didn't want my Sweetie to die without us there, stroking her fur until her last breath, knowing that she was loved.
The vet said it was a very noble and selfless act, but I felt utterly selfish as I cried in anguish as the injections were administered. I wish I had been more brave and said more soothing words of comfort as she passed from this world to the next. I know the instant that she died - she took a breath, then seemed to relax.
Her body was already in the process of dying, and the sedative pushed it over the top. We should have had about 2-5 minutes of her calm before the injection to stop her heart was given, but unfortunately, the sedative was her body's last straw. The doc had to administer the second shot to stop her heart. She assured us that Sweetie wasn't in pain, and she not conscious.
After it was done, I sobbed over her body and stroked her soft fur. The vet cried with us, and gave us a hug. I folded her body into a ball like she was sleeping. I covered her with the blanket, and said my final goodbye. They asked if we wanted her ashes, and I said yes. Next time my husband and I go back to Seattle, I plan to take her home, back to the forest-like area where she used to spend her days before she found us. Where I imagined she used to chase birds and squirrels.
I miss her so much. The house feels so empty knowing that I'll never find her sleeping on my spot on the bed again. I walked into the house today and imagined her little ghost walking towards me, wagging the tip of her bushy tail. I so wish she would sleep on my pillow.
We had no idea she was so sick. I am racked with guilt about it. If I had known she was so sick, I would have given her all the tuna and catnip she wanted. I would have done more to ease her way. But she never complained to let me know she was hurting.
I'm glad that she came into our lives, and I hope we were able to give her a better life than the one she started with. All she needed was someone to love her, and she gave it all back and then some.
I hurt so badly, and the temptation is to push it away and make it go away. But I choose to embrace my pain and heartbreak and wrap it in love. If I didn't love her, it wouldn't hurt so much. I don't know where we came from, or where we go when we die, but for me, the meaning of life is to love and be loved. I can't know that she knew that we were with her at the end because we love her, but I hope she did.
I love and miss you, Sweetie.