Two days ago, Sharon and I made the hardest decision for a pet owner to make.
Jenny the cat was suffering, failing. Of that there was no doubt. She was having trouble moving. She had lost a lot of weight in the past few weeks. She was eating much less and throwing up much more. Her front legs had collapsed to the second joint, and she was peeing over the edge of the litter box. We took her in to see our vet, and discovered that her body temperature was well below normal. The evidence mounted.
We had known that she was suffering from kidney disease for several years, and we knew that made her days finite. The vet was good. In all honesty, I came away from the experience understanding what a fine line a veterinarian must walk in that kind of case. He knows us well enough to know that we generally opt for aggressive treatment. In fact, with our weighty pack of animals, he probably has a hot tub named after us. Over the course of a lengthy philosophical conversation, he understood that we may not opt for treatment this time, and managed to walk deftly between the two extremes. In each case, he kept it as scientific as he could manage. In a nutshell, he told us that treatment would involve a lengthy unraveling of problems, and could kill Jenny at any point.
Sharon and I have different approaches. She calculates and analyzes. I fly on instinct. My instincts told me the cat was suffering badly and was ready to depart. I had no doubt. Sharon needed to cover all the contingencies, and we are thankful that our vet handled it so well. In the end, we decided to euthanize Miss Jenny. She had nearly 18 years of the most conscientious pet ownership a critter could hope for.
The end was incredibly peaceful. Of course, we’ll never know what the cat experienced, but while I was in the midst of my sadness, Sharon’s sadness, and the hollowed out professionalism of the two caring techs, I watched her little blue-green eyes go out. I felt a sudden strange sense of relief and happiness. The incongruous mix of emotions was strange, but I was left with the understanding that she was indeed done with this life, and that we did the right thing.
The problem, for me, is that powerful events are something to understand as fully as possible. I understand Sharon’s relationship with Jenny. They were together for Jenny’s entire life. Sharon was the only safe place in the world for a prickly little feral cat. Only when everything was settled and safe did Jenny venture out of the bedroom closet, and only to go straight to Sharon. My relationship, my presence, was a minor threat to Jenny. Only in the last year or so did she learn to ignore me, and then only if I made sure to move slowly and keep my distance. If I sat still long enough, I could pet Jenny without witnessing a rapid kitty escape over the side of the bed.
Not being a cat person, I’d realized that the only way I could really frame Jenny was with our other feline. Donner was a happy accident in my life, and the exact polar opposite of Jenny. Donner was adopted for a step daughter in a former life, and as I’ve heard said happens with cats, he picked the least cat oriented person in the house – namely me. I have no idea why that cat thinks I’m so great, but he finds a hundred ways to show it during the course of any day. He’s not exclusive, though. He’ll greet anyone in his almost dog-like fashion, he’ll come when I call, and we can negotiate the terms of his cushy imprisonment without any trouble.
Before our close friend and neighbor passed away, Donner spent a good portion of his day across the street, hanging out with Bill. I can’t count the number of times Bill would come to watch me work in the garage with Donner in tow. Bill would say, “Hey, Jim,” and Donner would say, “Squeak!” Bill would always say, “I call him Squeaker. You know why?” I would think, “Because he squeaks?” And Bill would say, “Because he squeaks,” and laugh like he had discovered a particularly ironic secret. It was a ritual, until Bill was gone, and Donner lamented his passing for weeks.
Right now, Donner is coming to grips with the disappearance of his grouchy old girlfriend, and Elke the OCD dog is still staring at the closet door, waiting for Miss Jenny to make one of her rare appearances. I’m left wondering about how long it will take before two animals give up on their friend, and what it says about the way that animals feel about such things.
I’ll be the first to remind Sharon that our pets are here for us, and that there is a limit to what we can and should do for them. We can feed them, love them, buy them fun toys and fluffy beds. We can train them and play with them until they drop into contented sleep. But in the end, at the ultimate and hardest point of decision, the best thing we can do for them is to save them from pointless suffering, and hope that the next hard decision doesn’t rear its head for a very long time.
(Apologies for the title. I couldn’t resist) Thanks for reading!