“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”Jean Cocteau
A memorial to my cat, the soul of my home
I’m going to state out the outset that this post has almost nothing to do with personal finance; I’m writing it purely because I need to talk about my cat and her passing away. If you want to share your own experiences in the comments, please go ahead. If you’d rather skip this one, that’s fine too.
Friday night (25 October) – thoughts and ruminations
My beautiful tortoiseshell cat turned 21 sometime in the first week of this month – hardly a baby, I know, but she was my baby. If she was human she’d be around 101 years old. I don’t know her exact birth date, just that she was 14 weeks old when her first family adopted her from the RSPCA in early January 1999.
Her family moved interstate later that year; luckily I had spotted the ‘give away to good home’ notice in the local vet’s window just in time to rescue her from being returned to the RSPCA (not that they wouldn’t have been able to find her a new home, but it might have taken a while given that she wasn’t a kitten anymore).
The brief trip home revealed that she had quite the ‘singing’ voice. Car travel left her deeply unimpressed, so much so that she escaped the box she was in and, after jumping around all through the car, ended up on the rear window sill of my Toyota hatchback. The view in my rear view mirror was dominated by a big, pink, be-fanged maw, wide open in order to release the most horrific yowling I’d ever heard in my life. After all this time her attitude to car trips has never changed, even though the only place she goes (the vet surgery) is quite literally all of five minutes’ drive from home – she has certainly never been shy about making her displeasure known!
The RSPCA had given her a masculine/kind of unisex name for reasons known only to them, and her first family hadn’t changed it. Rather than confuse her with a new name, I just changed the spelling to make it seem a bit more feminine. She was a remarkably placid cat – nothing much seemed to faze her, although she’s never been overly fond of other people. She loved her food, and weighed in at a hefty 7.8 kilos as a youngster.
Over the years she’s been a lovely companion. Her first family used to leave her outside 23 hours out of 24, only allowing her in for her evening meal. (Who treats a pet like that, seriously?!) I recall it taking a good 18 months before I felt that she had truly accepted that she was my cat and my home was her home. Once she came to live with me she spent the days outdoors, but was kept inside at night until I installed a cat door, at which point she could come and go during the day as she pleased (but night time was still indoor time, to spare the native animals). Sadly for her, this arrangement changed after my house was broken into in 2011; I wasn’t prepared to leave the sliding door open with only the security screen for protection – they’re easier to ‘pop’ from their tracks than you might think. She became an exclusively indoor cat from that time onward; outdoor time was only allowed when I was home to supervise.
As a young kitty, she loved it when I changed the bed linen, racing in to take a flying leap onto the bed as I shook out the sheets to position them. I’d remove her so I could continue making up the bed, only for her to jump back up. One day I gave up and just left her in there, making the bed with her in it. She also enjoyed psyching out the budgerigar (parakeet for those of you in the US) by jumping up on top of his cage and lying on it (the cheeky devil!).
Generally she’s remained pretty healthy and robust over the years, even though she got into a neighbour’s yard and was attacked by their dog a couple of months after I first brought her home. She’s lucky they were home and immediately went out to see what all the ruckus was about, otherwise all nine of her lives might have expired that very night. It eventually became obvious that she had suffered some muscle damage to her hindquarters as a result of that incident, though, as she’s had a degree of trouble with jumping ever since, and the muscles have wasted quite significantly as she’s gotten older. Now she’s virtually blind, and I’m pretty sure she’s also fairly deaf. She used to be terrified of the vacuum cleaner, but now she doesn’t seem to even notice loud noises at all.
She’s also always had a bit of a touchy stomach; she’s been a vomiter from way back, to the point where she’s been on medication for years to help prevent it. Nowadays, I’m watching her eating habits and everything is so different. She used to hoover up her food, whereas now she’s more of a grazer, and lately she might eat a few mouthfuls before abandoning her bowl. She’s become so very thin – from the 7.8kg that she was in her youth, about 10 years ago she went down to around half that after the vet had me put her on a weight control formula to slim her down a bit – but as of yesterday she’s down to 2.7kg. Her bones are prominent and I can feel every vertebra in her spine when I run my hand along her back. Her muscle tone is almost non-existent, particularly in those back legs, and sometimes now she struggles to stand up at all, especially if she’s feeling sick. The vet has recently tried a different medication to help manage the osteo-arthritic pain but, after finding blood in her vomit only a couple of days ago, I’ve been advised to stop that medication as it may be causing stomach ulcers. Managing her pain is the primary challenge going forward.
However, I’m at that point of wondering whether the time to ‘give kitty her wings’ might be nigh. Maybe it’s just me, though – it’s easy to overreact when it comes to someone/something you love. Every time something goes wrong (e.g. the blood in her vomit) it makes me feel terrible for her that she could be in pain and/or distress. Her distress makes me distressed, and I worry that I’m prolonging her discomfort, not to mention that I can’t tell how bad it actually is for her so I find myself getting somewhat panicked when she’s clearly upset – cats are masters at hiding their pain. It’s really hard to take an emotional step backwards and look at this situation objectively. For the past couple of weeks toileting has become problematic, and she’s often unsteady on her feet. Coupled with her failing senses, I imagine it must be quite frightening for her to be feeling so poorly, especially during the day when I’m at work and she’s alone in the house. Yet, other than at these times, she’s fairly relaxed (she spends most of her time asleep after all), and she likes to come up for cuddles when I’m watching TV, whereupon she purrs away, seemingly quite content (hence my wondering if I’m just freaking out in the moment). As I write, she’s snoozing at the other end of the couch, appearing completely peaceful and relaxed. Yesterday the vet showed me how to do some kitty physio to maintain the range of motion in her legs, so I’ve been doing that to see if it helps.
Saturday morning (26 October)
The past several mornings I’ve been woken at 3am because kitty has been crying out. The past two mornings she’s tried to get up and fallen off the couch. This morning she couldn’t get to her feet at all, so I picked her up and held her while I sat on the couch. I tried going back to bed after about twenty minutes or so but come 4am she was yowling (she ended up vomiting), so I got up again to cuddle her again and syringed a small amount of water into her mouth. She feels so light when I first pick her up, but after some time has passed she feels heavy in my arms. It’s been a long morning already this morning, and it’s only just a few minutes before 8am. I’ve spent a good hour and a half on the internet already, researching pet cremation services and crying on and off.
I’ve offered her water and food this morning, but she’s just not interested. She’s been whimpering and her body twitches, and her breathing is very shallow. This is a horrible decision to have to make. Even though she looks quite good for a cat her age, she’s clearly not doing well – I try to get her to sit up and she wails like a banshee. The vet surgery opens at 8:30, so I’m going to make the call.
The vet surgery has booked us in for 11:30am. I would’ve preferred to go straight away, but I don’t question the time slot (in hindsight, I should have asked to come sooner). They close at midday on a Saturday, so my guess is that they schedule these sad procedures at a time when there are less likely to be other patients waiting to be seen, to prevent causing distress to others. I’ve also called the pet cremation service to make initial inquiries, and cried over the phone to the lady who answered the call – she handles it well, so I expect they’re very accustomed to emotional clients. (Actually, I cried on the phone to the vet’s as well.)
I lie down on the floor next to my girl and stroke her as gently as I can while I say meaningless things in a soft and reassuring tone, letting her know that it will all be over very soon and she won’t be in any more pain. A few minutes before 11am, though, her paws feel cold to my touch, she takes a shuddering breath and all four legs suddenly stretch out straight before her body seems to collapse slightly and she becomes still. I could swear I can still see very shallow breathing, though, so I still pop her into her carrier and take her up to the vet’s, but in the back of my mind I know she’s already gone.
The vet’s surgery is empty of other clients when I arrive, and I cry again as I tell them that I think she’s already passed. The vet confirms it, and hugs me and cries with me – my girl has been a patient at this surgery all her life, including the time she lived with her first adopters, so she’s well known here (and quite the legend for her whinging meow). The vet asks me what I’d like to do – leave her with them or take her home; either way, the pet cremation people can accommodate it. As it turns out, the company I’d chosen is one that the vet recommends, and she has her assistant call them for me with my details so they can collect her from me at home.
When the crematorium driver arrives a couple of hours later, he’s kind and patient, and handles my girl’s body with respect and dignity. He also hands me an information pack about their services, and takes my baby away.
I spend the rest of the day bursting into tears at random. In the late afternoon I go over to my sister’s place, where she pours me a ginormous glass of wine and we sit and talk and cry some more for while before I head back home. My now empty-feeling home.
Today (29 October)
It’s felt weird, the past few days – when I get home and come into the house from the garage, I still automatically look towards her spot on the couch before catching myself. Parts of the house where her things lived are now bare. I can come and go between the house and the garage without having to close the door behind me to keep her out of there. The atmosphere, the vibe, is different.
I’ve taken yesterday and today off work, partly to take care of a few things, but also to spare my colleagues my grief. Most of her stuff I’ve cleaned up already and will pack away in the next few days, and I’m donating her unused food to one of the local cat rescue groups this afternoon. The tears are coming less frequently now, although they still come out of nowhere. All the cremation arrangements have been made and, after visiting their premises yesterday to choose a receptacle for her ashes, I will collect her on Saturday (delivery windows meant I’d have to wait another week for a Saturday delivery, so I’ve opted to pick her up).
So, this is it, really – I don’t have anything more to say, even though it feels like a rather abrupt end to the story. I debated whether to include the financial aspects of pet ownership, but decided I’d rather not; it doesn’t feel appropriate to the nature of the post. Another time, maybe.
Farewell, my beautiful baby girl – fly free over the Rainbow Bridge and be at peace. Your paw prints are etched on my heart forever.