[Warning: Long, sappy, cat-focused blog post ahead.]
We all bid goodbye to our family cat, Smitty, today. It was a sad occasion, one that I won’t get over for a while. She was a part of my life for fifteen wonderful years: a significant portion of my life. I took it for granted that she was always there, that she would always be there. Its so hard to say goodbye.
I saw she wasn’t feeling well in the last day or two. She was talkative when she normally wasn’t, with a look of need in her eyes. Yesterday she spent the entire day asleep on Hallie’s bed before switching in the evening to our bed. She managed to get herself downstairs on her own while we were fixing dinner but it was clear to me that she was sick. I had a strong feeling this was her time to go.
Kelly was ready to put dinner on the table. The kids were watching their Popular Mechanics for Kids video for the day when I interrupted them. Not knowing how to go about this, I just laid it all out.
“Kids,” I said, “Smitty is very, very sick, okay? And she could die very soon. I think we should all say goodbye to her tonight because we may not see her in the morning.”
The kids blinked. Travis began playing his drum on the floor. Hallie’s face reflected the gradual understanding of my words. I put Smitty on the couch and snapped pictures of them all. Kelly took pictures of Smitty and me alone. We got out the video camera to take some last footage.
Travis remained oblivious to the situation while Hallie bawled through dinner and most of her bedtime routine. Soon T was tucked in and Hallie had calmed down, seemingly accepting that Smitty would soon die. Soon they were asleep. As for Smitty, she had tucked herself into a corner of our sitting room, right behind my guitar. She always hid like this when she was in pain.
I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was worried sick and dreading the day I knew was ahead. I got up periodically to check on her only to find her head still upright, eyes closed and dozing. By 3 AM, I took a melatonin pill and slept shallowly until 6:30.
I threw off the covers and checked on Smitty. She was alive but clearly suffering. Our normally nocturnal cat hadn’t moved a muscle the whole night. I stroked her with my toes for a moment and was rewarded with purrs – my last from her. Normally Smitty would join me in the bathroom after my shower, too. She never bothered to try today, simply parking herself outside the door.
I would be taking her to the vet first thing, so I made my way downstairs and sat down with my laptop. Smitty soon hopped up on the nearby table and then invited herself back onto my lap for one last visit. Even the kids bellowing from the top of the stairs wasn’t going to end this special visit.
“Smitty can’t type!” Hallie teased as she saw paws overtaking my keyboard. Smitty was a big cat. Man, could she take over a lap – when she felt like being social, that is.
I finished breakfast and bid goodbye to the family. The kids got in some final head scratches for Smitty and then I packed her in her cat carrier for the vet. It was the last ride she would take.
Smitty usually gets very vocal when indignantly locked in her cat carrier. Strangely, she barely said a word on this, her last trip. We were shown a room almost immediately and I watched amused as Smitty prowled around the floor. It was clear from watching her walk that she wasn’t the same cat she used to be. She was practically skin and bones. She weighed in at 8 pounds, 4 ounces; a far cry from her previous weights of 12 to 13 pounds. Had I really not noticed her weight drop?
Smitty was somewhat calm while the staffer took her temperature. However when the vet began to check her heart and digestive tract, Smitty became quite combative. The claws came out, the hissing began, and the teeth were out for flesh!
Slash! Smitty put a scratch on the vet’s hand. She clawed the staffer, too, who jerked his hand up and took Smitty with it! When I tried to pull Smitty off the staffer’s arm, she yelled even louder: her belly must have been wracked with pain.
With the cat back on the floor and the vet staff nursing their wounds, the decision was made to do her bloodwork. I had a work call I had to take at 9 so I let the vet take Smitty for her tests while I went home to start work. I was home in time to say goodbye to Kelly and the kids before Kelly drove them to school.
As soon as the kids were out of sight, I picked up the shovel and picked out Smitty’s final resting place. I’ll never forget the way the wind rustled the leaves as I carried that shovel into the woods at the back of our yard. I’ll never forget the feeling I had as I forced myself through a task I really, really, wished I’d never have to do.
As it turned out, my conference call got cancelled. Soon after, the phone rang again. It was the vet and she bringing bad news.
Smitty’s bloodwork showed that her kidneys were failing. Some of her measurements were off the charts. She was dying and all that could be done was to prolong the inevitable. We discussed treatment options, including vet hospital stays where her kidneys were flushed. Proceeding with that was no guarantee she’d live even another day, though. The most that could be gained was two months to two years, if we were lucky.
I thought about the options. Then I remembered the earlier look on Smitty’s face. It seemed she was telling me she was ready to go. After talking it over with Kelly to gauge how the kids would react, we agreed that it was time. I returned to the office knowing I would be seeing Smitty alive for the last time.
Walking in, I cleared my throat, stifled tears, and announced I was here for my cat, Smitty. My vet doctor walked by.
“I think I’m ready to say goodbye,” I said softly. She nodded solemnly and went back to prepare things.
As tears began to flood my eyes, I wandered to the far corner of the waiting room. In front of the office Christmas tree I sobbed quietly. A woman and her dog watched me from the other end.
“You’re making me cry here, too,” she called.
I laughed and sheepishy apologized. She’d done it once, too. We chatted a bit until a staffer called to me.
“Why don’t we check you out now so that you don’t have to afterward?” she suggested. I followed her to the counter and blindly signed the credit card receipt.
I could see Smitty in the room behind her, looking around in her cat carrier.
“You can go back there if you’d like,” the girl offered. She handed an euthanasia consent form over for me to sign.
I walked into the room, alone with Smitty for the last time. I spent the next twenty minutes hugging her and telling her goodbye. She was in little mood to be held, though, and spent some of that time prowling around some more. I put her on my lap and looked into her eyes. Don’t you get the message, I thought. This is it.
When I’d said my peace, I poked my head out for the vet. “It’s time,” I said. Again she nodded and picked Smitty up. At least, she tried to pick her up! Smitty would not be held, and even a blanket did little to calm her Claws of Death. The vet called for backup and soon had Smitty in the back room.
The procedure called for a catheter to be inserted into Smitty’s skin, after which an overdose of sedatives would be administered, stopping her heart in seconds. The problem was that Smitty was in no mood to be messed with. She put up another royal fight: hissing, clawing and being a total menace to the staff.
The next thing I know the door opens and in pops the vet. “We’re, uh, going to have to sedate her in order to get the catheter in.”
I laughed a bit and agreed. “Be careful!” I called as she returned to the table.
More hisses and commotion followed and then Smitty yelled loudly again. Most likely it was the sedative, the vet told me Smitty would feel a sting. Moments later, the vet returned with Smitty in her arms. She was completely limp and dazed, and I felt sorry that she’d have to go out this way. I moved my chair to be face to face with her and spent the next few minutes stroking her as she breathed very slowly and her eyes began to drift back in her head.
“You’ve been a great friend,” I told her. “I’ll never forget you.” Though she seemed oblivious at that point I hoped and prayed she could hear me.
I opened the door yet again and nodded at the vet, who took Smitty to the vet’s operating room. With Smitty safely sedated, I watched as the vet shaved Smitty’s right paw and inserted the catheter. Next she gave a dose of saline solution to prepare the site. We made small talk about each of our Navy careers as she got the sedatives ready.
“Now this is it,” she told me as she held up the needle. I nodded solemnly again and watched her administer Smitty’s fatal dose. Before the sedatives had all been administered, Smitty stopped breathing. There was a little movement in her upper body and that was it.
“That’s it. She’s gone,” the vet whispered, removing her stethoscope from Smitty’s chest.
I stood there without anything to say as the radio filled in the silence with Pink Floyd’s Time. Before me lay a cat once full of life for sixteen remarkable years, now made lifeless.
Here was my friend, a cat who was always there for me. I had cursed her, cared for her, laughed with her, and loved her for almost half my life and now we were parted. I wasn’t quite ready for this. I’m still not quite ready for this.
It was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever made, but it was undoubtedly the right one. When she wouldn’t drink from my hands last night, when she wouldn’t chase Hallie’s ribbon when it was dangled in front of her, I knew she was going. But that didn’t make it any easier! I travel for work the rest of the week and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for her when it was her time. It had to be today, and for the sake of the kids I had to do it this morning.
One of the wounded staff members wrapped Smitty up in a blanket and placed her in her cat carrier. “Try to enjoy the rest of your day,” he meekly offered as I smiled and walked through the door.
I placed my dead cat on the car seat and drove slowly home, my head still spinning from what I had just occurred.
Smitty stayed in the garage until her “funeral” tonight. I tried to hold things together today and work, but my nerves were shot. Her absence was noticeable. I quickly realized how when Kelly left each day Smitty was always there to keep me company, even if she was just napping somewhere in the house. Now I was truly alone when I worked from home, and I felt it.
Its going to take some time for me to get over losing my loving, feisty cat. Rest in peace, tiger.