Is it really time to say goodbye to my cat?

< I just had my cat put to sleep – my silly, snarky (yes, she was that in real life too), sweetly devoted blogging cat, Sparkle. She made what could have been a very hard decision easy for me because I was willing to listen to her. She left with grace and style. This hasn’t always been the case with my cats in the past.

The first time I had to make this decision was so long ago, it’s hazy in my memory. I was in my very early 20s, and my boyfriend at the time had given me an adorable, gray kitten to keep me company, and to be a companion to the cat I already had. She loved everybody and was the nicest little girl, but as the months passed, she never seemed to get much bigger than kitten sized. Sometime after she was around a year old, she started to get sick, so I took her to the vet. They cut her open – and found her body was riddled with tumors. I was so heartbroken, I just told the vet on the phone to put her to sleep and send me the bill. I couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t get a second cat again for years.

The next time was the cat I had concurrently with the little gray girl. He was half Siamese and 100% black. As is the case with many Siamese and part-Siamese cats, he was utterly devoted to me and mistrustful of anyone else. Being very young and restless, I abused his devotion horribly. I would leave town – once for several weeks – and leave him in the care of whoever was convenient and relatively responsible. These trips of mine must have been very hard on him, now that I look back, but at the time I just took my traveling for granted. In fact, late in his life, I had an editorial job that sent me out of town to interview rock bands quite frequently. That is also around the time he developed chronic renal failure. I did the best I could at the time for him, but as anyone with a CRF cat knows, it’s a mean disease that sucks the life out of a kitty. His health deteriorated by degrees and he ate less and less. Finally, I returned from one trip to find him curled up in his litterbox, the food left for him, uneaten. He weakly looked up at me and I could tell that he was dying. The only reason he was still alive at all was that he had been waiting for me to come home. So even though it was close to midnight, I did the only thing I could for him. I picked him up, went back down to my car and drove him to the emergency clinic to have him put out of his misery.

Harlot, my soul cat, gave me the hardest time because she never seemed to lose her will to live. When she was diagnosed with bone cancer, the vet gave her about 6 months to live. She lasted a year and a half, and for over a year of that was still catching birds and mice. Harlot’s heart and spirit were the outdoors, so when the vet told me that amputating her leg wouldn’t lengthen her life by much, I opted out of the surgery (she would have had to become an indoor-only kitty) and let the disease run its course. It was the right decision for her – she continued to hunt and climb trees and yell at me through the window of my home office and jump through second-story windows. But eventually the tumor overtook her whole body. Even then, she showed no loss of spirit, no desire to leave the world. Towards the end, I kept thinking (almost hoping) that I would wake up one morning and she would be gone, but she kept on going. Finally, her tumor got so awful and so bad I knew I had to put her down. I went to the store and bought her some deli chicken, sat her out in the sun and let her eat as much as she wanted. Until the end, she had a healthy appetite. Then later that day, I took her in and had her euthanized. It was the toughest decision because she seemed so oblivious to the fact that she was dying. Maybe that is how most wild things are at the end.

Along with her sassiness, Sparkle knew her own mind, even more than most cats – and you always knew where you stood with her too. Above all, she always looked out for herself, whatever that meant for her. When it meant that eating did not make her feel good, she simply wouldn’t eat. In the last few weeks of her life, after she was diagnosed with CRF, it meant she would eat little or nothing at all unless I force fed her. It seemed like I was always sticking something down her throat, whether it was anti-nausea meds, appetite stimulants or food. What a stressful time for both of us. But she coped with it gamely until the last week of her life. Then she fought me when I tried to feed her, doing her best to spit the food out. She withdrew and spent most of her time crouched under a table or sleeping in her fluffy white bed that I’d just bought her the month before. Binga and Boodie understood what was happening. At one point I found the both of them lying near her in afternoon sun puddles they didn’t usually frequent. I think they were telling her good-bye. I’m almost certain of it because the next day was when I took her to the vet for the last time.

In the past five days she had lost over 10 ounces, even though I had continued to feed her regularly until the day before when she looked too pathetic to force anything more on her, and even though she had gotten sub-q fluids three times. The vet ran a blood test on her and found her kidney values had gone from early CRF level to sky high in less than three months. She suggested that it was possible to hospitalize her overnight to see if there was an infection that could be treated … but she didn’t seem hopeful. I hesitated. When it comes to my cats, money means nothing to me, and I wanted to do what was best for her, not what I felt my pocketbook could handle. Unsure of which path to take, I asked the vet to leave me alone with Sparkle for a little while.

I took Sparkle out of the carrier where she had retreated and looked at her. She was so sad, and her eyes were dull. She was a little cat with no life spark left, who did not want to be bothered anymore. She purred very, very quietly. This cat, who was usually so timid and scared at the vet clinic that she trembled in fear, was purring. It was not a purr of happiness. It was the kind of purr a cat does when she feels so badly she is trying to comfort herself. I knew she wanted to go, so I let her.

Thank you, Sparkle. Not just for giving me an awesome life and a fun feline voice for 12 years, but also for helping me help you with your transit. You may not have been my soul cat, but in some ways you were my best cat.

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