Sunday, June 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Today is different.  Today, I don't want to talk about the things this blog is supposed to be about.  This weekend I lost one of my closest friends.  Closer than that.  I had to put my cat to sleep. 

Pets are in a different world than any of our human interactions and we don't really have a good word for it.  I'm not talking about working dogs, or working animals, which don't share that sort of relationship with us.  I'm talking about house pets.  They're not kids, although many people refer to their dogs or cats as their kids.  They're not just friends, they are closer and more intimate in many ways than any friend.  They see us as we are all the time we're home.  We are completely ourselves with them - and they with us.  They love, or they don't, in a more pure way than many of us can.  Gun people seem to be a bit more dog people than cat people.  While I have nothing against dogs, I've always preferred cats around the house. 

Spot was a storm orphan who we adopted in April of '05.  Our last cats had died two years and one year before and it had taken us a while to get over the emotional rides of that time.  One had gone fairly quickly.  A gregarious, maybe even outrageous personality, Fourier was a chocolate point Siamese who could best be described as a living, breathing, exclamation point.  Everything he did, every emotion, every game - everything - was at full-tilt, all out level.  An exclamation point.  One Friday evening, he got up off the sofa to go into the kitchen and fell over, his legs not working.  It had never happened before, and I scooped him up to hold him.  He buried his face tight against me as if asking for my comforting.  In a few minutes, he got up and jumped down on his own, resumed his activities. Still, by the end of the weekend, he "just didn't seem right".  He was sleeping too much, not active, not moving around.  We took him to the vet on Monday morning and nothing appeared wrong (how do you tell your vet, "my cat sleeps too much?").  Tuesday, we made an appointment for a more complete workup.  The next morning, I woke to find he had died in his sleep.  He was 18 when he passed away. 

A more gentle soul, his "brother", adopted separately as a 3 year old, a few months before Fourier adopted at 8 weeks, Spook (a black mostly-Siamese) was a gentle, loving giant, probably 18 pounds at his peak weight, compared to 10 pounds for Fourier.  His last year was a slow descent into complete kidney failure.  The patient Mrs. Graybeard would give him liters of saline solution injected under the skin of his back and he would willingly live with that, just to sit on her lap and interact with her.  He lived with us a year that way.  We believe he was 20 or 21. 

When we decided to adopt another cat, we looked online for a local shelter that was "no kill".  We found an adorable Lynx Point Siamese girl whom they called Olivia, and who was said to be a storm orphan from a housing area destroyed in the '04 hurricanes.  We met her, decided she seemed nice, and took her home. 

It became evident immediately that she didn't know the name Olivia, so we decided to rename her.  After some searching, we noticed that on one finger of each hand and one toe of each foot, she had a black spot.  The idea of calling an obviously striped cat Spot stuck, and her name was given.  Plus, Commander Data's cat (on Star Trek: TNG) was named Spot, and was also a striped cat. 

Spot was the most remarkable cat I have known.  Amazingly intelligent, she learned words in one or two repetitions.  Have you ever drummed or scratched your fingers on the bottom of paper sack to play with a cat?  Every other cat I have ever known dives into the bag to see what's going on.  Spot looked into it, and walked around behind the bag to see what was making the sound.  I was stunned.  While this may seem to be stretching the bounds of anthropomorphism, she was demure, a girly-girl personality.  She would purse her lips and act shocked if we did something that she thought just wasn't proper.  Example: after about 6 months, Mrs. Graybeard asked me if I had ever seen Spot use the litter box.  I realized I hadn't.  She said that she hadn't either.  Spot would only use the litter box if no one was looking.  Likewise Spot would accompany her into the bathroom, but not me.  It just isn't done. 

Unlike other cats I've had, she would watch TV for long periods.  Her favorite show was a episode of Sunrise Earth from Discovery HD; Sunrise on Cape Cod.  We have it on DVR and would show it for her every now and then.  She would watch those birds as if they were in the house, with a longer attention span than many adults I know.  One night I left some science channel on when a show on Jupiter came on and left the room.  A half hour later I got up and saw her sitting up, leaning on one arm watching it intently.  This got me; I couldn't figure out why a cat would be watching a show about Jupiter, so I started watching her.  She turned to look at me and gave me the most perfect "What??" look I have ever seen from a cat.  She was not your everyday cat. 

In April of '09, the Mrs. took her in for her annual checkup.  The vet said, "I can't hear her heart".  Within an hour or so, she was at an animal internist for x-rays and ultra-sounds.  A biopsy was taken.  She was diagnosed with a thymoma, a tumor in the thymus gland.  The veterinary surgeon was optimistic that she could remove the tumor, but the risk was that these tumors can grow intimately around major blood vessels and the heart itself.  I asked her what the chance of surviving the surgery was and she told me 30%.

Now I'm a pretty rational guy; at the least, it's certainly easier to talk with me than a cat, but if you told me I had to have surgery and I had a 30% chance of surviving it, I'm not sure I'd sign up for that.  Add to that, her rib cage would be split completely open, and she would be hospitalized for at least a week.  Then there's the chance of infection.  We asked how long they thought she had, and they told us "weeks to a few months".  After a lot of prayerful reflection, we both decided to just try to keep her as comfortable as possible. 

Before that day and for a long time she never showed signs of being a sick cat.  This April, we took her in for another annual checkup.  This time, the vet noticed she was slightly yellow; jaundice.  We began treating for that, but the last two months has been a fairly rapid downhill.  Still the remarkable girl that she was, she started out hating the medication (someone insists on making antibiotics for cats in children's formulas, like bubblegum and other tastes they hate) but got to where we would say "Pill" and she would walk down to the bedroom where we would give her the medication and hop up on the bed. 

When they told us she had a thymoma that would eventually crowd out her lungs and heart, I expected that one day her breathing would start getting rapid and shallow.  I took to counting her respiration rate (I was an emergency room nurses' aide in another life). 

Saturday, I woke and she wasn't in the bedroom.  She had not come up to snuggle with me in the night.  I immediately thought something was wrong.  She was sitting still, breathing in shallow breaths.  No interest in eating - her appetite was great until then.  By early afternoon she was visibly gasping for breath. I realized she was within minutes of dying right then and brought her to the emergency room.  After some examination, and a talk of history, the vet said there was nothing we could do.  The only compassionate thing to do was to say goodbye. 

I'm not afraid to say I cried like a little girl.  And I continue to. 


  1. My deepest condolences. All anthropomorphism aside, pets are often a lot more intelligent than anyone gives them credit for, and there are those who just touch your heart in ways that nothing else can.

    I put my Black Lab down fourteen years ago - I have not been able to bring myself to get another dog. Our cat is now pushing fifteen, and I am dreading the day that will soon be coming.

    Hold on to those memories - they're precious.

  2. Thank you, Kevin.

    I know exactly what you mean. The two previous cats I talk about both died in their sleep of "natural causes", but the two before that had to be put down. With one in particular, we were so upset we were both still not sure it was the right call. As a result, it was extremely painful to make the call with Spot.

    With Spot, as a supposed five year old when we got her, if we hadn't adopted her, she may never have gotten a home. My wife once told the vet we were lucky to have found her; the vet told my wife Spot was far more lucky to have found us. We had over four delightful years and a few tough months.

    The last months were tough, and it will take some time for the roller coaster of emotions to settle down. We don't miss having a cat, we miss her, the unique personality we lost. At some point, we will probably want to let another furry person or two into our lives.

  3. Deepest condolences, to you and Mrs. Graybeard.

    (Incidentally, we lost our little Shih Tzu, Bandit, a few year's ago, at a slightly younger age, when I had to have her put down due to kidney failure.) That was one of the roughest days I have ever had.

    Furry friends are some of the best unconditional friends of all.

    Take care. And, remember the good days.



  4. I'm so sorry. :(

    Nothing that touches our lives so much should leave so quickly.