Farewell, Old Friend

A week ago today, when we went to bed, I noticed my 19 year old cat wasn’t feeling well. He hadn’t been feeling well for some time, having bad kidneys and sore joints and just overall being old. But, something was off. He was moving really slowly, seemed anxious and wasn’t acting like himself.

The next afternoon, we went to the vet, who didn’t like the looks of him at all. He’d been dropping weight pretty steadily for the past few years. One tenth of a pound here, two tenths there, he was hovering in the area of 7 pounds the last time we were in. On Thursday, he was 4.7 pounds. As soon as I heard that, my heart dropped. I was in mega denial, but a part of me knew this was it.

His gums were pale, he wasn’t controlling his bowels or bladder very well, he had stopped eating, and he was weak and lethargic. She took some blood just to see where his kidney levels were, gave him some drugs to make him comfortable for the night, and told me she’d call in the morning with results.

I knew the results would be bad. The vet wasn’t hopeful, and couldn’t even pretend to be hopeful to help me feel better. So, when she called with the bad news, she said it was probably a good time to put him down. Especially since we had plans to leave town for the weekend: “You might not even have a live cat to come home to if you left him there. It’s that bad.”

I made an appointment for 3:50. And I tried to fit in some snuggles, but the hours seemed to fly by. Suddenly it was time to leave.

I didn’t bring him in a carrier, we thought bringing home an empty carrier would be too much. Instead I wrapped him in an old towel, and snuggled him for the car ride. I didn’t let him go at all, except when they put in the IV. I held him to the end.

The vet cried with us, and then she said, “I know it’s hard, but you did the right thing.”

And I know I did. But, I felt bad for choosing for him when his life would end. I don’t know, it’s strange. Of course I didn’t want him to suffer anymore, but some part of me wishes his body would have given out on its own first.

Anyway, here I am without my kitty that I had since I was 14. I can hardly remember a time without him. I knew this was coming. I mean, I started writing this post a year ago for Pete’s sake. But still, it comes as such a shock.

How can I even begin to describe to anyone the relationship I had with him? All I can tell you is that we were together for nearly 20 years. The most exciting / tumultuous / important 20 years of my life: half of my teens, all of my 20s and part of my 30s. I went to high school, graduated high school, went to college, got married, graduated college, moved halfway across the country and had children, and my kitty was with me for all of it. Graduations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, celebrations, mournings, everything, my buddy was there.

That’s all I can tell you. And maybe you can feel 5% of how I feel about it. There are a lot of jokes and cliches out there about cat owners, and how crazy they are about their cats, and how they can turn into crazy cat people if left unchecked. But seriously, I would hope even the non-cat people could understand the idea of a constant companion, that adores you and wants nothing more than food and kindness from you (and, okay, they want you to scoop their turds), by your side for two full decades. Watching them go from bouncy little kitten to slow elderly gentleman seemingly overnight, which your brain can’t even process because in comparison, you yourself have not really aged all that much.

I had minor foot surgery when I was 15. The first few days of recovery were painful, and I was on some heavy-duty drugs which made me want to do nothing but sleep, and eventually nothing but vomit. Kitty, who I’d only had about a year at that point, was by my side the whole time. I mean, yes, I’m sure he got up to eat and stuff, but every time I managed to open my eyes and look around, there he was, a warm little fuzz ball curled up next to me. And that was him, always there, always offering a snuggle. Or a head-butt, he gave the best head-butts.

There was a period of about a year and a half between me leaving home for college and me getting my own place and being able to bring Nashua there to live with me (well, the landlord was a lot more clueless than my discerning R.A. so I brought him to live there even though looking back I’m sure I could have gotten my ass kicked out on the street). I missed him like hell and it was so fun finally having him back in my everyday life. After he’d been there only a few weeks, I remember running out the door in a rush to go meet up with some friends at one of the local bars, and when I got outside, I could see him looking out the window at me and I actually felt really bad for leaving him behind. And I made a mental note to always be there for him, and to be responsible so I could always be there. Original kid, I tell you.

And now, there’s a big space where he used to be. The house is so quiet, my lap is so empty. It’s hard to get used to. Bedtime is the worst. In the past year or so, I didn’t see much of him during the day. He was old and tired and spent his days sleeping and hiding from the preschooler. But he always came out at night, and when he could muster the energy, he’d hop in bed with us. Even the last night of his life, he snuggled all night on my pillow. Last night as I started to fall asleep, I thought I felt the familiar weight of him on my legs, where he always liked to curl up. This is going to take some getting used to.

I like to imagine him now in his own little slice of Nashua heaven: a huge, green, grassy plain to roam and munch upon; endless sunshine; a person’s open winter coat with the nylon lining to curl up on (he loved sleeping on them); endless supplies of ice cream and frozen waffles to dine upon.

No more rotting teeth, no more upset stomach, no more achy joints, no more dementia. Just a happy kitty again, finally.

I’m trying to remember him back in the day, when he didnt feel like a bag of marbles when you pet or held him, when he would run and jump and play with abandon, when he still had the energy to purr. That’s how I see him in his kitty heaven, or wherever those blessed pet souls end up at.

Newton

I got Newton as a birthday present for Brien about five years ago. Brien was dog crazy, but all we had were cats. So, I found some cheap beagle puppies in the paper, and we drove out to a farm on a cold January day and picked him out.

He was independent from the start. He was the only one of the tiny puppies to come up to us, smell us and let us pick him up. He also loved playing with all of his puppy brothers, and I almost felt bad plucking him from his family. But, he became our “baby”.

I wasn’t even sure at first that I liked owning a dog. We never really had one when I was growing up (once, briefly, we had a black lab, but that’s a story for another time), and I wasn’t cut out for all this potty training and sitting and shaking and learning to socialize with the other dogs…it was so much more exhausting than owning a cat!

But, eventually we bonded. Especially when we were moving to California. Brien went ahead of us, and it was just me and Newton for 6 weeks. And, several years later, when I was pregnant, Newton would cuddle by me and put his head on my belly like he just knew that his world was about to be turned upside down by a little wiggly baby, but he was happy for mommy and daddy. And he really was the first baby. We tried so hard not to shut him out once Bowie arrived.

Brien has always had bad allergies. He figured it was the pets, and put up with it for a long, long time. Medication seemed to help. But recently, it stopped helping. And he was having more and more really bad allergy days. So, he went in for an allergy test. And lo and behold, he’s allergic to many things, near the top being dogs. (Strangely enough, he’s not allergic to cats!)

So, we made the decision this past winter to find Newton a new home. Hoping to keep him in the area, we talked to a few friends about it, but nothing seemed to pan out. So, my in-laws have stepped in, and will take him. Back to Wisconsin.

To say we’re heartbroken is an understatement. Really, the only thing that keeps us going is that we know we’ll get to see him whenever we’re visiting in Wisconsin, and we know he’ll be well taken care of. I feel so much better now than I did when I thought we’d have to turn him over to strangers. But still, it’s hard.

I’m trying to learn to live dogless after so many years with a dog, a dog that was so much a part of our everyday lives. It’s going to be quiet around here. Bowie fills a lot of that void, but something about it is so different.

Miss you doggie. Have fun with Grandma and Grandpa!

Red-eyed Newton