Time To Kill The Cat

I’ve always been more of a dog person, but Bob loves cats. Once you get started with one type of pet, it’s hard to switch. Cats tend to do better in pairs. They keep each other company while you’re running around away from the house. They groom each other and give each other exercise and comfort. If one dies, the other tends to mourn and generally appreciates a new companion.

Back when Mom was living with us in 2010, we had two cats: Grady, the elder gray tiger, and Max, the younger tuxedo cat. They got along pretty well despite their age difference, but Grady became impatient with Max as he became enfeebled and eventually succumbed to cancer at 16. We were grateful that Grady managed to stay functional until after Mom returned to Florida so she didn’t have to witness his coup to grace.

Knowing that the mass twisting his body was an inoperable malignancy, Bob and I agreed that once Grady hit certain benchmarks, it would be time. If he stopped eating or appeared to be in pain, we would end his suffering as soon as possible. As long as he had quality of life, we would spoil him and love him all we could. The day came when he would no longer eat. I made the appointment.

We brought Grady to our vet who assured us we were doing the right thing. Grady was contorted by a huge tumor. He was anemic. He’d had enough. We petted him and wept as the doctor administered his sweet release.

Sad as it was, this was a “good death.” Grady had a good, long, happy run. We loved him dearly and still miss him, but it was clearly his time and we accepted it.

Max missed Grady. He would start up with me, initiating cat fights. I figured we’d eventually get him a playmate. Max was 6 and had feline company all of his life.

One of our neighbors asked us about taking in kittens TWICE. We eagerly said yes, but each time, she’d give away the kittens to others or decide to keep them for herself. So I decided to look at shelter kittens.

The local shelters post descriptions and pictures of their adoptees online. One caught my eye: “Kohl” a long haired baby of five months. Could we go take a look?

Bob and I went to the shelter and looked at every cat they had. Lots of cuties to break your heart were looking for homes. I asked about “Kohl.” We were brought to his cage. When the door was opened, the kitten in question literally leapt into my arms. I was on the hook. This dark brown, long haired beauty was coming home with us.

Problems soon followed. Being locked up in “juvey” for five months, this kitty was damaged. Skittish, plagued with chronic diarrhea and fear of being handled for drug administration, he was a tough case. He did like music and rolled around on Bob’s amp as he played his bass. He also watched TV and tried to catch birds and other critters he saw on the big screen. He even proved to be a good hunter, having killed a baby mole and leaving it in our bedroom jammed under the baseboard heating register. And he would cuddle with me, but only when I was sleeping so I couldn’t do anything to him.

We renamed him “Cody” (a nod to his obvious enjoyment of music, inspired by the term “Coda”) and tried to help him settle into life with us.

Mom saw him a couple of times before she moved to assisted living. She was impatient to see the kitty. But he wasn’t cooperative. When she’d get near, he would hide. She did comment that his tail looked like a bottle brush.

Rather than acclimate to being handled and cared-for, Cody became more skittish. He’d hiss, scream and squirm away when I tried to give him any kind of medicine. He would only be brushed where he didn’t need brushing. He looked like no one cared for him because no one could. It was maddening.

Eventually, he developed gingivitis. We’d had another cat with chronic gingivitis: Marty. He was a sweet, loving cat who’d let me do anything to him. We had taken him in when he was about five months old and he fit right in with two other cats in the household (one of whom was Grady). I gave him antibiotic drops almost daily for most of his nine years. He even allowed me to brush his grotty gums (which was like trying to mop a dirt floor). Eventually, he developed kidney failure from the poisons in his gums. All things considered, he had great quality of life. He was worth every moment, every cent worth of care he required. He returned our love ten fold and I still miss him eight years after his departure.

But Cody was a completely different story. The older and stronger he got, the harder it was to do anything for him. Bringing him to the vet for his check up and shots was a two day process, figuring out how to get him in the box and transport him safely to and from the vet. In fact, he pooped himself once in the box, and then busted out of the cardboard carrier after being placed in the car. During that check up visit, his gingivitis was diagnosed. I asked the vet for tranquilizers to give him to see if I could calm him down to care for him further.

I managed to get a pill down his throat one time. It made him a little wobbly, but no easier to grab, hold or manage. I tried putting the antibiotic in his food. He wouldn’t touch it. It was becoming obvious that this was one sick kitty who would only get worse.

Cody started to shriek for no apparent reason. He’d try to eat and then scream. Clearly, his mouth was sore. He wasn’t eating much. Bob and I compared notes.

Meanwhile, Max had developed health problems. First, he was vomiting almost daily. Then he was losing hair on his thighs. I brought him to the vet and he was given cortisone shots, the idea being that he might have food allergies.

Sickly Max

During the holidays in 2011, Max had lost almost half his body weight. He slept by the fire a lot.

The vomiting stopped, but Max lost weight at an alarming rate. He went from 16 pounds to 11.5. He screamed for food constantly and continued losing weight. He was also thirsty and peeing a lot. He  developed a cough, too.

Max had become diabetic and required injections of insulin twice a day. We dreaded this at first, but Max accepted his treatment gracefully, barely taking notice of the thin needles. He got better. He gained weight. The drinking and peeing slowed and went back to healthy levels. I took him to the vet weekly to monitor his blood glucose levels and titrate his insulin doses.

During one visit to the vet, I voiced my concerns about Cody and my inability to treat him. She knew I tried. She knew I was a caring pet owner. I told her what I’d been rolling around in my head; that maybe it was time to put Cody out of his and our misery. She kindly told me that what I was thinking was not a bad thing. Some pets are simply not meant for this world.

I told Bob. He was more than supportive. He blamed Cody for Max’s deterioration. We decided we’d bring him in on a Saturday so Bob could help corral Cody and keep the plan on track.

We plotted Cody’s capture and managed to get him into the cardboard carrier. We actually had to put that box inside a kennel with metal bars in order to get him to the vet. He busted out of the box while in the kennel, but the kennel contained him.

We arrived at the vet’s office and I informed the receptionist that Cody had pooped in the box and maybe should be sequestered from the waiting room. We were ushered directly into an exam room.

A different doctor attended to Cody. He extracted him from the kennel and removed the poop, shaving sticking turds away and checking him over. Yes, his gums were mighty inflamed. They could pull all of his teeth, or give him steroids. But we’d have to give him drugs at home, bring him back and…

I started to sob as I once again explained the trouble we’d had trying to care for this poor damaged animal. It wasn’t like we could put him up for adoption by anyone else. And it wasn’t like we hadn’t tried every other reasonable option.

He understood. He asked a few questions, had us sign some papers and brought Cody to another room to administer his last treatment. He said we’d feel crummy for a few days, but he agreed we were doing the right thing.

Lap Cat

Restored to "only cat" status, Max resumed sitting in our laps for extended periods and sleeping with us after a year-long absence.

Max improved almost immediately. He’d been putting weight back on, but now he was back in our laps, sleeping with us, playing with us and acting the way he used to a year ago. I couldn’t believe how much he’d changed and how quickly he’d changed back. Now I felt bad for putting Max through all this trauma. But I was glad he wasn’t suffering any longer, and thrilled that we weren’t either.

We tried so hard to do all the right things. In the end, we had to recognize the true problem and eliminate it for the greater good. Sometimes, you have to do the hard thing. If I had to put down one sad creature to save the life of a cherished pet, I’m OK with the choice. Max is once again thriving, happy and healthy. He may even regain the ability to make his own insulin. It’s never an option to take lightly, but sometimes, you just have to kill the cat.

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About traceysl

Digital Artist, creative technologist, problem-solving lover of life. Having cared for my mother, who died on April 14, 2015 after a long fight with dementia, I have refocused professionally to helping others through my experience. I have started a company called Grand Family Planning to provide unique Family Support Services. In this way, I share my knowledge and give meaning to the tragic turn of my parents' journey through the misery of dementia.
This entry was posted in aging, caregiving, cats, Family, pets. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Time To Kill The Cat

  1. patriciacvener says:

    Hi Tracy. I am also an artist and caregiver for my mother who has advanced Alzheimers. I just read the last year’s worth of your posts. It’s interesting how different our experiences are and yet, how there are some things so much in common. I care for my mother at home, by myself, for the most part. Reading your blog inspires me to maybe start a second blog about my adventures in caregiving.

    • traceysl says:

      Hi Patricia, Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. My advice is to do anything you can to take care of yourself. It’s the most important thing we tend to neglect when care-giving others. Writing about your experiences can be very cathartic. I always feel better afterwards. I figured sharing my perspective might have value for others, so it was natural for me to blog. I wish you peace, health and fulfillment on your journey. Best wishes, Tracey

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