Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My huge responsibility.

I was the teenager who loved cats. I talked about them so much that to this day, people I knew back then will ask me if I am still cat obsessed. When I was a Junior in high school, one of our cats, Scoby, was run over by a car while I watched from our front yard. It was terrible and as I sat in the road, holding his dying body and crying, I knew that I never wanted to lose another animal like that. Months later, a friend's cat had a litter of black kittens and he gave me one to cheer me up. We named him Othello and my dad promptly shortened his dignified, Shakespearian moniker to Otis. He was an adorable kitten, good natured and people loving, and everyone loved him. He had a great life and over the years he got fatter and fatter, as his lifestyle became gradually more sedentary with a move to CT and confinement indoors, away from prowling coyotes. He topped out at 25 pounds, largely due to the fact that my father fed he and his brothers people food all the dogs, corn chips, salsa: you name it and they ate it, usually from Dad's paper plate.

After my father passed away my mom got a dog. Well, not quite a dog. She got a chihuahua, a gift from my sister so that she would have a needier companion. The three cats (Otis and his brothers, Dracula and Clovis) spent most of their time outdoors, where they were free to hunt small animals and bugs and were generally very happy. Gradually Clovis and Dracula passed away, one due to unknown causes and one because of cancer, and my mom acquired a second chihuahua, which left Otis the odd man out. When we lost our first cat, Thisby, to chronic renal failure, we knew that our remaining kitty, Saoirse, would need a friend. After some deliberation, we asked my mom if we could bring Otis to MA to live with us, so that neither he nor Saoirse would be alone.

Otis came to us in June of 2009. I was three months pregnant and he weighed over 20 pounds. We started him on a diet and the weight gradually came off (of him, not me) and by the time our son was born in December, he was down to a respectable 14 pounds. Preoccupied with a new baby and confident that this was a good weight for him, we maintained the status quo and he continued to have more energy, though he never stopped begging for food.

In late 2010, it became clear to us that Otis was still losing weight, despite being fed regularly. Bloodwork confirmed our worst fears; Otis's kidneys had started to fail. I was prepared to deal with diabetes or pretty much anything else, but the awful waiting game of chronic renal failure was something we were too familiar with and loath to go through again. We started subcutaneous fluids and various meds to keep him happy and comfortable and for months he did pretty well, though he continued to lose weight and move at a slower pace.

I was on a business trip a week ago when my husband gave me the bad news: Otis had stopped eating. He would eat lunch meat in small quantities and drink water if it was seconds from the tap and had ice in it, but his appetite was almost completely gone. Our vet suggested that it may have been due to my absence, so when I got home I was eager for him to improve quickly and return to his happier self. I got back 5 days ago and he is still struggling. He has moments where he is happy to see me, but they are less and less frequent and he rarely emerges from the kitchen cabinet where he has set up camp. I can tell he is uncomfortable and he is eating less and less and now I am faced with the enormous decision of when to let him go. Every time he perks up I get excited, thinking this will be the time that he will rebound to his previous state and we can push off the decision a little longer. But then he heads back to his cabinet and sleeps and I know we have crossed a line that can no longer be uncrossed. In my head I know that this is something I need to do for him. He is a cat and has no family to care for, no responsibilities left to fulfill, and only peace waiting for him. But I am a person and as such, my heart is protesting and I am struggling with the heavy burden of deciding to end a life. Ending a life. I just can't escape the enormity of those words. I want to do what is best for him but deciding to put him down feels like giving up, like giving up on him. Like I am failing him. I know we can't make him better. But how do I know how much time I am losing with him? Does he have another 3 months? 2 weeks? I can't possibly know that, but I do know that he is in pain, and prolonging his suffering to give me peace of mind or more time with him is selfish and cowardly. I know what we need to do and I hope that he knows that if there was a way to make it better, make him better, we would find a way to do it. I love my old man and hope that our decision helps him to avoid the terrible last few days that Thisby had, or the moments that Scoby had, and that he is able to go in peace, surrounded by the family that loves him. I have to find the strength to let him go.

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