This is a sad cat story, I’m afraid.
Attentive readers will remember Nellie, one of our five cats, and one on the larger side, so large that she had difficulty cleaning her deepest, darkest regions. First thing every morning, she would follow Deb or me into the bathroom and meow her pitch for personal hygiene. We would proceed to grab a baby wipe and clean her. Who trained whom in this scenario is up for debate.
You’ve probably already noticed I’m using the past tense. Days before Christmas, we chose to end Nellie’s suffering after a sudden and rapid decline.
It started on a Monday when we noticed she wasn’t eating. Nellie not eating was cause for alarm. Just two days prior she had been bopping around the house, climbing up on us, being smelly, making serious eye contact and chatting with us like the loquacious cat she was. But now she was lethargic and dull.
On Wednesday, I took her to the vet in Coaticook. I can’t say enough good things about those people, not just this time but any time we’ve had a sick animal. I explained the situation. They had a struggle getting blood, her pressure was so low. Her results were all over the place. But worst of all, they discovered that her abdomen was full of fluid, a likely indicator, the vet said, of some kind of advanced cancer.
We went over our options, and, after calling Deb, we decided to bring Nellie home, essentially for goodbyes. We were given supplies to keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as we could: anti-inflammatories, painkillers, appetite stimulant and saline fluid that I was to inject under her skin to keep her hydrated. It’s not something I thought I’d be comfortable doing, but when something is suffering you put squeamishness aside.
Maybe I was simply now hyper-aware, but Nellie seemed to worsen even from the time we left for the vet to the time we came home. She continued to deteriorate. Over the next two days, she got weaker and weaker, no longer willing or able to eat even cat treats. It was hard to watch and, when she yowled plaintively, difficult to hear.
On Friday, I convinced Deb that it was time. We drove together to the vet. We didn’t want to shove Nellie in the cage for her last trip, so we lined a cardboard box with a towel, and Nellie and Deb drove in the back seat. At the vet, Deb held the cat as the vet sedated her, and when it was time, we stayed with her, stroking her fur, until Nellie was quietly gone.
We weren’t prepared for this. Nellie and her two sisters are only 11 years old. We expected that they would age slowly, that we would accustom ourselves to their eventual leaving. Deb always referred to them as “my girls,” and she took it—is still taking it—incredibly hard.
“Who’s going to follow me to the bathroom every morning?” she sobbed that first evening.
(She’s okay with me writing about this. She requested only that I ask people not to talk to her about it.)
It’s in the nature of pets to leave us. You would think that with four cats remaining and a dog, we wouldn’t really notice, particularly me, who has been pretty clear about my ambivalence towards them.
Still we think of her every morning when we scoop out four slops of tinned mush instead of five. When no cat hops up on the stairway newel post to greet us home. When no cat meows back when you meow at her. When I look under the bathroom sink and find baby wipes. When I look at the cover of my latest book and see Nellie sitting front and centre. When we get to June on the Town of Stanstead calendar and have 30 days of Nellie standing on my back, a photo I submitted last year as a lark, never imagining that it would turn into a kind of in memoriam.
Losing a pet is a sort of amputation. It requires healing, for some of us longer than others.
As a precaution, we’ve since taken Nellie’s sisters to the vet, and all seems well. If anything, they’ve suddenly become more affectionate—or at least with me. Recently, Ollie (thankfully the lightest of the siblings) has been seeking me out whenever I’m reclined somewhere with a book. She rubs her face against my beard, which feels nice (for her), and eventually settles purring on my chest. Polly has been doing it too, lately, though she’s a heavier cross to bear.
And here’s the really weird thing:
I’ve been letting them.
I am sad for your family, Ross. A pet becomes an important part of everyday life for sure.
Gosh I remember that photo…weird. Sorry to see her go, RIP Nellie…touching story, lovingly done.
Thanks. I could have written this last week but it seemed off to open a new year on a downer. I don’t do downers too often.
Hey man it’s a big deal. I actually gave our kitty an extra hug today on account of yours. Tell Deb hi for me and sorry for the loss, it’s a big deal. Especially when they’re chunky monkeys like Nellie! Ha!
Heartbreaking news, Ross.
It’s tough. But this is a nice remembrance you’ve written.
At some point during my childhood, I realized I’d spent more hours in the company of my dog, than with any of my high school friends. It sometimes sounds a bit precious, when people refer to their “animal companion” instead of just saying, “the cat,” etc. but oftentimes, it’s simply true.
I’ve never had that true bond with a pet. But I do like the dog when she warms my feet.
I’m touched and very saddened for you and your family at the loss of Nellie. I remember only too well how this feels. Possibly the other pets miss her, too:)
It’s hard to say. Who knows how their little pea brains work.
Your post reminded me of the two times we have had to put down cats in the last several years. My cat had been with me for 19 years, and my daughter’s cat for 14. It brought tears to my eyes just reading this since it sounded very similar to our trips to the vet. They seem fine one day, a rapid decline, and then you’re left with holding and stroking them as they pass to chase string and mice some place else. It’s never easy. You have some great pictures as memories and those bring comfort, but as you say here – there is a little hole left in your life.
I should have titled this “The Inevitability of Pets,” because it’s never easy, no matter how old they are.
That’s true. I grew up on a “farm-ish” piece of property and we always had dogs and cats and other animals and death was part of living in the country. They would disappear and never come back. As I got older, I realized that while I had become callused to the loss of pets in that manner I hadn’t had the experience of taking them and holding them as they left. A whole different experience and feeling.
We lost 2 cats that way in a short space of time. Just disappeared. We’ve convinced ourselves that one in particular walked onto a school bus one morning and drove away. Not kidding.
Such a lovely story. And I like the reference to the amputation, because that’s exactly what it felt like when we lost our dog. Like he took a part of us with him.
When the dog goes — she’s 11 too — this is really going to hurt. Luckily she’s a mutt and in good form.
So sorry for your loss. We become so attached to our pets, whatever they may be, and suddenly when they aren’t there it can be really, really tough. Plus making that decision to sedate them… ugh, we’ve been there and I don’t wish that on anyone. We just lost one of our goats that we’d had for 10 years. To think you could get that attached to a goat! Yep, I sobbed a few times…
We all should have known from the sobbing we did when Charlotte died that this was never going to be easy.
I’m so sorry, each one has a place in your heart and your’ve memorialized her so well here
So sorry, Ross. I get it. One of our cats disappeared over four years ago and I still look for her. Hugs to Deb
We had two disappear; last year, our daughter sent a picture of a cat in Lennoxville we were convinced was him. She even contacted the older. But no; just an old cat.
Ross, this one slipped my attention yesterday. Sorry for your loss of a family member. No matter how light-hearted you try to write about it, that is what they are. I lost my FunTom 2017, he was … 11 Advanced kidney disease, stopped eating, blood report came back with so abyssmal numbers that there was only one option – put him out of his misery rather sooner than later. It is never easy, our last, biggest responsibility. But we do it, because we love them.
That is true, though I admit with reluctance. And that’s a touching way to put it, Fran. Thanks.
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Absolutely touching story. Thank you for sharing it.
Thank you for reading.
So sorry for the sudden loss. I remember you writing about her. It never gets easier, no matter how full the house.
Thanks. No, it doesn’t.
Thanks. I could tell the painful story of how our most beloved cat died, taken suddenly ill, just as you’ve described, but you’ve already taken me every stage of that journey, including the two days of treatment and hoping, then her easy and quiet death, at the surgery. Four years later, still miss her so much -..
Sorry to hear that.
I’m so sorry for your loss. We had a cat that deteriorated rapidly and we had her put to sleep (Skip was her name) and then in late 2018 one of our twins went missing and Rene just never came home. We still don’t know what happened. We still have 3 cats and they have a wonderful little hierarchy going on but you never forget those that left a small little pawprint on your heart xx
We lost two to the unknown in short order a couple of years ago. That was rough on the household too.
So sorry, Ross.
Sorry for you guys. It’s such a difficult thing to have to do. Our buddy Cosmo is graying and aging, like us, but in such an accelerated fashion. I dread the day we have to make that choice again.
It’s never easy. Enjoy his company.
Ironically and sadly we also had 5 cats and lost our baby, Dice on December 31st to a completely unknown heart condition and blood clot. He was only 4. We are devastated. For a few days the “Firsts” were breakdowns. Cats have souls. We will see them again in heaven. Nellie and Dice are in heaven with God now in no pain. It’s those that are left behind that are no longer graced by their presence that have to suffer. The good memories, however, will last forever in our hearts.
thank you for sharing
I’m so sorry. Losing a pet is like losing a member of the family. However, you are finally admitting that you are a latent cat lover.
They wore me down. Like a scratching post.
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