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.