There are moments in life where everything stops suddenly. Perspective shifts almost instantly, knocking the breath out of you. For that moment nothing else matters, even if it should. I had one of those yesterday.
I think my cat is dying.
Beans has been with me for 18 and a half years. I’ve known this moment was coming. I’ve been dreading it for years. I’ve grown used to her disappearing from time to time, wondering if this time it’s her final game of hide and seek.
Last year I took her to the vet for her annual geriatric visit. It’s a fifteen-minute drive that feels like eight hours underscored by a pathetic, high-pitched, mewing stuck on repeat rattling every last nerve. After five minutes in the exam room, I knew we were in trouble.
The x-rays showed arthritis, which I sort of expected, since she’s 18 years old. What I didn’t expect was the extent to which it was plaguing her. Her bone spurs had grown inward, like the scales on a triceratops, only pointing inside rather than out. Tiny, finger-like spikes were poking at her insides every time she moved.
I’d noticed that her bum hovered about an inch off the floor while she was eating or drinking, but I’d seen her sitting so I didn’t think much of it. Apparently, the bones in her back legs had fused, so they no longer allowed her to sit properly. She’d been leaning to one side and flopping on the floor, sort of like a fuzzy mermaid preening on a rock. She never made a sound.
Even though she’s hardly complained about anything other than the crafty tomcat who likes to visit her at 3 AM, the signs were becoming clearer. There were more missed attempts at the litter box, meaning a routine morning patrol and lots of Nature’s Miracle. She kept making the journey downstairs, though, so we left it alone. As long as she was eating and showed interest in the family, the vet and I agreed, we’d see how well she did.
Then we went to Pennsylvania for a long weekend this summer. We set up the automatic feeder, loaded up the big water jug and, cleaned out the litter box before we left. This has never been a problem for Beans and I swear she prefers it that way. You can almost hear her sigh of relief as she settles in for a long undisturbed nap on one of her favorite spots amongst the many rugs she’s adopted. Never the memory foam cat bed I bought with her aging limbs in mind.
We came home to a feeder overflowing with food. It didn’t look like it had been touched all weekend. There was still plenty of water in the jug. Worst of all, there were no accidents. We were gone for four days. There’s no way that cat didn’t have to go in four days.
Now, Beans does have a mean streak in her and while she’s never taken a claw to anyone in anger, she does know how to throw up a tail and shake it in your face. It was entirely possible that there was either a present waiting in a new, yet undiscovered spot, or she was saving it for when we came home to deliver maximum impact. I cleared out the food from the feeder, gave it a wash and started her back on our usual routine.
Three days after we returned home, I still don’t think she’s eating. Hubs swears she’d drinking water and I know I’ve seen the used box, but I can’t shake the feeling that this time there’s more to it.
It has been insanely hot and we do not have central air, so it’s entirely possible that it’s just too hot to eat. We’ve certainly been known to have ice cream for dinner when it gets nasty out, but I can’t imagine she didn’t get at least a little bit hungry.
I know I need to take her to the vet. I know this moment will be real soon enough and I need to face it. I also know that there’s a six-year-old girl in the next room whose heart will break when she learns her best friend is gone forever.
So now I’m faced with this horrible decision. Do I drag this out and see if Beans can go another year or do I send her off with what dignity she has left? I don’t want to cut her life short, but I have no way of know just how much she’s suffering.
She is in pain. We do know that. We tried medication and it did nothing. There’s no surgery that can help her. We’re in what the vet calls hospice for cats. It’s not a question of if, it’s when. So that’s the real question, isn’t it?
When is the right time to say goodbye? Should it be before the end of camp, before we go to Disney or should I wait until after school starts again? Maybe right before Halloween or Thanksgiving?
I had to suffer through this with my 14-year old cocker spaniel, but that decision was made only slightly easier by the fact that his quality of life was demonstrably worse. I couldn’t leave him alone for more than two hours and even then there was a 50/50 chance I would come home to find him lying in his own pee. I couldn’t bear that for him any longer and I chose to let him go to spare him. My only regret is not being brave enough to stay with him until then end. I chickened out and had to leave the vet’s office, tears streaming down my face, my heart twisted in a mix of sadness and anger. My guilt is still overwhelming and most definitely hampering my judgement with Beans.
It still doesn’t help me decide what to do. I used to think Beans would honestly outlive us all. We were made for each other. Opinionated and belligerent with little regard for others. Well, unless we want something, then we get real cuddly.
She isn’t too interested in cuddling much anymore. She’s also been pretty quiet. She’s so tired lately.
I’m just not ready to say goodbye.