Thursday, May 21, 2009
The one I almost gave away
My cat, Dot, was put to sleep at 4 p.m. today. Jean and I were there to bid her farewell.
It's hit us pretty hard, in part because it happened so suddenly, and without the multiple medical professionals who worked on her ever being able to give a definitive answer of what was wrong.
She had the sniffles on Monday, and by Tuesday night her breathing was labored. I tried to get her into the vet Wednesday, but Thursday morning was the earliest they could see her. In between visits to the vet and the pet hospital this morning, she was walking around and even accepted several treats from my hand.
I won't bother with the medical details -- beyond saying her vitals were all way down, and her prognosis was poor. Veterinarians are understandably reluctant to tell their clients what to do, but I used the inquisitive skills I've picked up in my career to get her to answer two basic questions: Are our continued efforts just throwing good after bad? What would she do if it were her cat? Both responses confirmed our decision to give her peace.
I am ashamed that I found so few tears to let pass for her. I am not an overly emotional person by nature, and I subscribe to old-fashioned mores about men putting their feelings on display for any other than those closest to him. Still, it pains me to think that the last time I went through the euthanasia process at a vet clinic, it was for a dying dog I found on a lonely road, and I wept openly. Why could I have such an outpouring of grief for a strange animal, and not for my companion of the last 13 years?
Perhaps it's more helpful if I talk about our life together.
I have never admitted this to anyone, but I only got Dot in order to give her away. I was in a relationship with a girl that was circling the drain, and getting her a kitten was my pathetic attempt at solidifying the fracturing connection between us. She refused the little kitten, which I'd gotten from a co-worker, but insisted that I keep it myself.
In that parting, I found a new bond.
I was so inept as a first-time cat owner that I didn't even know the basics of their bathroom habits. Her first bit of "business" was done into an old frying pan lined with newspapers.
The co-worker who gave her to me said she was eight weeks old, but experienced cat owners told me she was probably closer to five. She was so tiny that she would curl up in the narrow pencil drawer of my desk. On her second night with me, she somehow got herself trapped in a kitchen cabinet, which led to a frantic search in the dead of night trying to locate her by her tiny peeps.
A few months later, her brother came to join us. The family that adopted him had to give him back, and he had essentially become a stray hanging around his mother's house. Their initial reuniting was a tense standoff. But after a few days, they seemed to remember their kitten wrestling matches, which they resumed with relish. To this day, they had regular play-fights, usually instigated by Dot, and usually ending with her leaving the room in a huff.
I have to admit that she was something of a bully early in life. My third cat came along a year later, and Dot mercilessly dominated the juvenile male. But he soon outgrew her, and the tables were turned. She became something of a deposed queen, vying for attention and hissing whenever her usurper came near.
All my cats grew monumentally fat, as I found it more amenable to my crazy schedule to leave a feeder allowing them to eat whenever they wanted. Dot tipped the scales at 18 pounds at one point, which brought all sorts of warnings about her health. Over the last three years I'd had them on a careful diet that allowed them to shed weight, and she was 13 pounds on her last day -- just a pound or two more from ideal.
I'm a firm believer that every pet's personality is unique, and Dot found many ways to distinguish herself. Her favorite way to greet me was to get our faces at eye level, push her snout into my eyebrows, then slowly trace her nose up my forehead to the hairline, sniffing, then back down again. This was generally followed with a flop onto her back, giving me her belly for the prerequisite tummy rub.
Lately, her best sleep spot was in a cushioned bed underneath my nightstand, so she slept but a couple of feet below my head.
Being 13 years old, I knew she was coming toward the latter part of her given span, but she surprised me with her continued vitality. Not two weeks ago, she brought a live chipmunk into the house that she'd caught. As I shooed the frightened but unhurt critter out the door, Dot shot me a look of undisguised pride.
Just a few years before, as the vet expressed concern about her weight and I proposed that she could be supplementing her diet with wild fare, the vet confidently told me that Dot was much too old and fat to catch the swift lizards and small mammals that make up feline prey. I'd laughed at the doctor's unintended comedy at the time, and recalling that I looked upon my aging kitty with newfound respect.
I never intended to become a cat owner. But it goes without saying I'm glad Dot came into my life. Until I met Jean, she was the only female in my daily existence. Jean used to joke that it was her and Dot against a household of boys. Now she's on her own.
So I bid adieu to the companion I intended for someone else. Life has such crazy sharp turns and sidesteps, but being with Dot was a path I'm glad I stumbled upon.