The past month has been one of the worst of my life. Although I’ve witnessed the slow decline and eventual passing of my own senior cats, and all the fear and sadness that brings, I’ve never watched it happen to a mere kitten. It is so much worse because there’s the added tragedy of the full, long life that never got to be lived. The family I imagined coming to adopt him, never came to the door. The joy he’d have being loved and cherished for a lifetime, was taken away by a fatal disease.
Yesterday afternoon, Fred made his journey over the Rainbow Bridge.
The past month, I’ve had to face Fred’s decline, despite so many efforts to revive him, find an answer, at least keep him stable for a while longer. I’ve had to watch him as he lost use of his back legs. He could still get around after we made changes to his living space to make it easier on him to still have some freedom.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney often tried to get Fred to play, which I discouraged. Eventually, Barney realized his brother couldn't play with him any longer.
He became incontinent. Not surprisingly because he couldn’t get to the litter pan. We just made more adjustments and bought a lot of “wee-wee” pads. The goal was to keep him comfortable, hoping we’d get enough time for the test results to come back or to start another treatment.
I set up the web cam so I could watch him when I wasn’t in the room, but felt sick to my stomach every time I looked in on him. Seeing him struggling broke my heart. There was a time I saw him slip and fall off the pet stairs onto the floor. I raced up to the room to help him back up. He seemed so confused about how such things could happen to a once agile creature. I kissed him and told him to hang on that I would find a way to make it better.
I realized I was running out of things to hope for last week. I realized how ridiculous it was to find myself hoping Fred had lymphoma, instead of FIP. Both were fatal, but at least with lymphoma Fred could live longer, maybe over a year. It was crazy to hope that, at least, Fred wouldn’t lose use of his front legs, too, but eventually he did. He could sit up, but other than that, he didn’t move around. Sam and I took turns changing his position or location in the room. I’d place him on a bed in the sunshine and he’d groom himself, perked up by the joy of being in his favorite place.
Fred hadn’t eaten anything on his own over the past week, not even his favorite chicken treat. Sam and I fed him three times a day via a syringe. He struggled at first, but as the days passed, he just took his food without a fuss. Sam would hold him against his chest, shielded by a pad because Fred would often urinate when we held him up to feed him. We’d cheer him on when he peed because that meant his body was still functioning normally. A few times we even got him to poop, which caused us to be even happier. He still had some strength. It wasn’t time. We still had a chance.
I would focus on coming up with the tastiest, most nutritious, combinations I could put into the blender to make Fred enjoy his food. He would take a taste, then smack his mouth with his tongue. He’d look up at Sam with this silly, sweet expression and Sam would look down so lovingly at this little cat. I’d syringe a tiny bit more food into him and he’d swallow some and dribble some onto his fur. Between syringes of food, I’d carefully wipe Fred’s face with a paper towel I’d wetted with very warm water. I wanted to recreate the feeling of his mama washing his face. He seemed to like it and often purred.
When we finished feeding, there were the many medications, eye drops, bad things. I washed Fred again and we’d put him on a soft bed. We’d take turns brushing him, again, anything to help him feel clean and comfortable. Some times Barney would come over and lick Fred’s face, ears, or paws. Fred almost smiled at Barney’s attempts to connect with his brother.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred (front) and Barney (by the pillows).
I found I couldn’t focus on work or eat much. My only respite was sleep and I couldn’t get to sleep unless I was exhausted. I’d get a few hours, only to wake up as the first glow of sun peeked over the horizon. My gut would go back to its familiar ache. Should I look at the web cam? Is Fred still alive? Did he pass away over night?
Time was quickly running out for Fred. Tests kept coming in negative for lymphoma so for certain it was FIP. Fred’s condition got much worse on Tuesday night. We had to hold his head up to get him fed. He was much weaker. I’ve never seen a cat, while still alive, who was so very limp-everywhere. Fred couldn’t lift his head or lick his paw. He could flick his tail ever so slightly-and that’s how I knew it was time to change his wee wee pad, but that was it. After we fed Fred, got him cleaned up and on a fresh blanket, we left the room. I broke down in tears and said to Sam that it was time. He agreed. We were taking turns changing Fred’s position every hour and making sure he wasn’t urinating on himself. I was to call Dr Larry in the morning to make the appointment for that day. We couldn’t wait any more. Now my last hope was that we could end Fred’s life in a peaceful way and without pain or fear.
Sam and I discussed what we would do, how it would be done. I made a promise to Fred-no more Vet runs and that the Vet would come to us. Sick to my stomach, I made the call. Dr. Larry was out sick that day. My only option was to bring Fred to them and have Dr. Mary put Fred down. Sam and I discussed it and felt we could keep Fred going on more day, so we made the appointment for yesterday afternoon.
When you know your cat is going to die and you know when, you can’t focus on anything else going on in your life. Any other issues fall to the wayside. The irony is that through this past month, Sam and I have been working on refinancing our mortgage so we can stay in our home. I’ve been so sidetracked I ignored all the calls and paperwork. I even put off the Closing last week so we could watch over Fred. We managed to get everything taken care of and in the end it saved us a lot of money. We should have been happy since it’s been a constant worry for us for a long time, but we were both like zombies, signing papers, nodding yes or no to any questions our Lawyer had, hoping we’d just get it over with. We got the job done and raced home to be with Fred because we knew we had less than 24 hours to be with him.
The last twelve hours were spent with Fred. He was not left alone, even for a second. Around 10pm on Wednesday, we put or pajamas on and set ourselves up in the foster room with Fred and Barney. Fred was either on a cozy cat bed between us or on Sam's chest. We each were petting him or holding his little paws. They were starting to feel cooler and I wanted him to feel the warmth of my hand. We didn’t say much.
I thought Clark would be a good name for the next cat we rescue, then I caught myself. The next cat? Would there be one after this?
We tried to include Barney or play a little bit with him. He was somewhat curious about what was going on, but eventually settled down on a blanket near Fred, too. We formed a circle of loving kindness around Fred. His breathing was slower. He reacted to less and less. I started to hope that Fred would hang on because I didn’t know how the FIP would kill him. Would he suffocate and struggle? Would his heart just give out? I just wanted this one thing since I couldn’t have anything else. I couldn’t have Fred rebound or recover. At least he could die without pain.
Sam slept with Fred that last night. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t see him in such terrible condition for hours on end. I still got up at 4am and again at 7am to check on Fred and to clean him up because he was urinating on himself. Every time Fred peed we still cheered him on. “Good boy! Okay, let’s get you cleaned up. Oops! Here’s some more! Get another pad. Okay, good boy, Freddie!”
But this was it, the morning of the end. I did all the chores getting our other cats feed, watered, boxes cleaned out, so Sam could stay with Fred. I was so busted up that seeing him was killing me, too. I had to go back and face him because time was running out. We got the room cleaned up and got ourselves washed and dressed. Fred was very frail now. We both sat on either side of him, petting him, talking to him. Telling him we loved him. He was barely conscious. It was devastating.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Sam holding Fred before we start feeding time. You can see how limp he is in Sam's arms.
It was a gray day. I was hoping for some last rays of sun for Fred, but it rained. Around 12:30pm, the clouds opened up and it started to pour. I saw Dr. Larry’s car come down the driveway and my heart sank. This was it. It was time. I got up to answer the door, but my legs felt weak. Dr. Larry and super-Deb said hello as they entered the house. My mouth opened to reply, but no words came out.
We went upstairs to the room where Sam was waiting with Fred. Dr. Larry was quiet, then sighed and looked at Fred. He and Deb got to work. I had to sign a form saying Fred hadn’t bitten anyone in 15 days and that I was giving my consent to have him euthanized. Dr. Larry talked about how tough cats are and that he could see Fred living a few more days even though he was barely alive. He said that Fred’s body condition looked really good because we’d been constantly feeding and cleaning him, but that, too, it was clear it was time for Fred to be helped to pass away.
I asked if Dr. Larry could take a look at Barney first. I was worried that Barney could get sick, too, because I’d heard that FIP can hit siblings since they have the same DNA. He and Deb examined Barney and felt he was okay, but we would keep a close eye on him going forward. He suggested we thoroughly scrub down the room and get rid of the cat trees and bedding, just to be safe. We couldn’t risk having an unhealthy environment since I still have three adult foster cats in my bathroom who would benefit being in a bigger space. Although I knew it meant more fundraising to replace all the cat furniture, I agreed it made sense.
There wasn’t anything else I could do to put off what was to come next. It was time to let Fred go. Dr. Larry explained that we had to be calm because Fred’s veins were compromised by the steroids and that the needle might blow out a vein and that we had to not get upset. Sam was still sitting on the bed next to Fred so he lifted the cat bed with Fred on it into his lap. I gave Fred a few kisses and moved aside to hold his front paw while Dr. Larry slipped the first needle into his vein. Dr. Larry fussed over the placement, but the vein held. Fred didn’t even react to the sting of the needle. Fred was already so far gone that when he passed, none of us even saw him go.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred's last night. Sam held him for hours.
I kissed Fred a few more times and told him I was sorry and how much I loved him. Deb carried him out in her arms. He was still on his comfy cat bed. She said she didn’t want us to see her put him in the black plastic bag and I agreed I didn’t want to see that either.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fly free, sweet Fred. We will love you and miss you, always.
I closed the door and came close to fainting. I was crying so hard I couldn’t stand. I willed myself to go back to the foster room, which had so often been a place of joy, to find Sam on the bed, weeping.
I sat on the bed, in the same place I’d spent the better part of the last day, but now we were on the other side of this journey, the side where the questions are answered and where the real pain begins.
A loud rumble of thunder traveled through the house. I said to Sam; “that was Fred. He’s on his way to be with the children and they’re celebrating his arrival.” He looked at me through tear-filled eyes and nodded “yes.”