Farewell, my feline friend

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Back in June I wrote about our cat, Kelly, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last fall. I described what life has been like for her — and for us, as her caregivers, and our struggle to identify the right time to let her go.

When is the humane time to euthanize a beloved family pet? 

The answer was never as clear as I expected it to be, even with a cat who suffered from daily seizures and who was in steady decline. The date of my last post about Kelly was on June 6 and I had an appointment to euthanize her that day.

I didn’t follow through, not for another six weeks.

I can’t remember why exactly. She must have eaten a little or taken a few sips of water or purred too contentedly in my lap that afternoon.Kelly never stopped showing us the love and that confused me. As I’ve written before, I wanted a sure sign she was ready to go, and she either couldn’t give it or I couldn’t see it.

Twice she escaped and wandered away from home, behavior that was not unusual for the old Kelly, but not for the ill one. The first time, my next-door neighbors found her sprawled and dehydrated in the driveway underneath their car. The second time, neighbors down the street found her wandering near the woods next to their home. If animals do go off on their own to die, then perhaps these were Kelly’s ways of telling me it was her time, but I let her live for another day and the day stretched into weeks as I made and canceled — at the last minute — two more euthanasia appointments.

My new veterinarian, who does house calls, was patient and understanding. Last minute cancellations were part of her business. “You’ll know when it’s the right time,” she continued to assure me.

In late July, I scheduled the final appointment and this time, I followed through. My family said their goodbyes and not wanting to witness her passing, they went out for the day. I felt differently about wanting to be with her. I waited at home with Kelly and our dog, Bella, for the vet to show up. Kelly was clearly not well that morning. She was circling and stumbling. I was oddly grateful for the sign.

I greeted the vet at the door with Kelly in my arms. We moved to the couch as I continued to hold Kelly and we went over the procedure. No turning back: I was ready.

First, the vet injected Kelly with anesthesia. After a few moments, Kelly relaxed and looked like her old self, stretched out on the sill of a window, soaking in the warmth and life of the sun. I felt relief in seeing her relief.

Our dog, Bella, did not. She sensed something amiss. She avoided the vet’s eyes, hid in the other room for a while, returned and voiced some anxiety, and finally, lay down protectively at my feet, resigned.

We all waited. The vet wanted to make sure Kelly was fully asleep before administering the euthanasia injection that would stop her heart.

I kept my hand on Kelly who still lay in my lap.

“Is she still breathing?” I asked. “It doesn’t look like it.”

The vet laid a hand on her, and agreed she didn’t seem to be breathing.

We thought maybe she had passed.

“In my 20 years of practice, I’ve only seen one other animal pass from just the anesthesia,” she said.

In other words, if Kelly had passed from a small amount of anesthesia, it meant that her body was really ready. I wondered if I had waited, if she would have died that day naturally. This was more a more peaceful way, I hoped.

The vet got our her stethoscope. She couldn’t detect a heartbeat.

We waited some more.

Then suddenly, Kelly took a small, but visible, breath.

“There she is,” the vet said. “She’s still there. Her heart is very faint, very slow. Let’s give her a few more minutes.”

The vet took her paw print in clay. I continued to comfort Kelly.

And then it was time. The vet administered the euthanasia drug.

Moments later, Kelly was gone.

“Poor little thing,” the vet said at some point in the process. “She was ready. You have done a remarkable job taking care of her. You’ve done the right thing.”

I so needed to hear that and I agreed. I’d done the right thing.

While the vet packed up and brought her supplies out to her car, I said my final goodbye to Kelly. I thanked her for being such a good cat and for being a loving part of our family. I held her still body, and it did not bother me. I felt good about my decision. I felt good that I was able to hold her as she passed in the comfort of her home.

The vet returned and I handed her Kelly’s body. She would later hand Kelly over to a pet cremation service and in a few weeks, we would receive her ashes. We plan to scatter them close to home.

I closed the door and returned to the quiet of our family room where my dog Bella waited. Her eyes were wide, and she sat straight and alert next to the couch where Kelly died. She looked truly alarmed at my empty arms.

“Aww, sweet Bella. It’s OK. You are safe. It’s not your time,” I said as I went to pet her.

We comforted each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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