I don’t so much write personal blog entries anymore, but I need to get this out. If you aren’t interested in the memoirs of a crazy cat lady, you’d be wise to do something else with your time.
I’ve been very fortunate to have very little experience with death. I have had relatives die, but they’ve all been people I hadn’t seen, or, in some cases, even spoken to, in over a decade. I’ve comforted friends when they’ve lost loved ones. While I can certainly conceive of their pain and empathize, the closest I’ve come to first-hand grief is with pet death.
More often than not in my life, I’ve owned a pet of some sort. A human is, in all likelihood, going to outlive his or her pet. It’s something that everyone knows when they decide to adopt an animal. As we grow to love them as part of our family, we try not to think about it until it’s staring us in the face. When our pets get old, we expect their imminent death and try to make them comfortable toward the end. But sometimes, our pets don’t have a chance to get old*. As a jerk who has mostly eluded first-hand loss, it’s kind of a big deal.
I’ve had Tobe for 8 years. He was approximately 1 year old when I rescued him from the shelter. It feels silly to say “rescue” in Tobe’s case because he is such an awesome cat that he would not have been there long. More accurately, I snatched him up. Later on, I learned that he is, at least mostly, a type of purebred cat called a Ragdoll. They are large, fluffy things, designed to live in your lap. Tobe has zero hunting instincts. Once, I saw him watching a flock of birds in our yard, tail swishing all the while. I decided to let him out to see what he would do. He went bounding out of the door like a dopey puppy and the birds flew away instantly. I wish I’d gotten it on video because he’s never tried to stalk anything since.
Tobe is a mama’s boy. Before my daughter was born, he was a near-permanent fixture on my lap. The common scene for us was as it is right now. He’s draped across me as I type. Every once in a while, he gives me an appreciative nudge. Whenever I’ve been sad, just burying my face into his big, furry belly always made me feel better. Many people tell the same story. My relationship with my cat is not unique. Nonetheless, it feels special to me. I’ve always been a cat person. But Tobe is more than a cat to me. Tobe is my baby.
When I first got pregnant, Tobe knew something was up. He started getting grumpy and peeing inappropriately (i.e. all over my breakfast nook). After all the tests came back negative, the vet surmised that Tobe was depressed. He somehow knew that he was about to be put on the back burner and he was not happy about it. Fortunately, anti-depressants work on cats. That’s right. My cat has been on fluoxetine for 3 years. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a lot nicer than cleaning up pee every day.
As my daughter has required less attention, Tobe and I have been able to re-forge our relationship. That’s why I really noticed when he stopped hanging out with me. It went on for a couple of weeks. He’d been slowly losing weight over the past couple of years, but he had some extra love in the beginning. When he reached a healthy weight, I expected the loss to taper off. It didn’t. He got thinner and thinner, but all the tests came back negative. When he became reclusive, I knew there was definitely something wrong. The vet did some more tests including a “senior panel”. At 9 years old, it seemed early for that. But it succeeded in finding the cause of his weight loss. He had low protein levels indicative of an issue with his digestive system. I nodded throughout the vet’s speech, but I’d stopped listening after “low protein”. When she suggested I schedule an ultrasound, I laughed a little. Obviously, that was going to be pretty expensive. I said I’d think about it.
Tobe seemed to be complaining about his cat food. He’s always been on a dry food diet, and, though he can be choosy, at that moment, his bowl was filled with his preferred brand. He meowed at me in his way (which doesn’t sound much like a meow…more like a “meh”). He is almost always silent unless he really wants something. I realized that it had been at least 24 hours since I’d seen him eat. On a whim, I pulled out a can of wet food, and he actually got up on his back paws and meh’d at me again. I have never seen him do this before. I put the food in his bowl and he devoured it. I immediately bought more canned food. His appetite was back. He started hanging out with me again. “Great!”, I thought. “He’s getting better! He just needed more protein”.
Denial is a motherfucker.
The vet called me about a week later, concerned that I had not yet scheduled an ultrasound. Through the course of that conversation, I realized that the results of his senior panel were much worse than I thought. Whatever was causing his low protein levels was certainly deadly. There was a slim chance that it was something curable, like liver disease, but more likely, it was something much worse. The doctor explained that if we find out what it is, we can at least make him more comfortable. Still in shock, I made the appointment.
On the ultrasound, they found 1 mass on his colon and 1 on his small intestine. They did a non-invasive biopsy and the results came back today. Lymphoma.
My cat has fucking cancer.
Now, there are all kinds of expensive treatments I could administer that might prolong his life up to a year and would require monthly blood tests. There is also a minimal treatment that requires only another daily medication and would give him 3-6 months of comfortable existence. “Maybe longer,” she said. But I think that was for my benefit, as she could probably hear the sniffling through the phone. As much as I’d love to be the crazy cat lady spending all my savings to keep my baby around longer, I’m not going to do that. He would hate me for taking him to the vet once a month and he’s already not thrilled about taking a pill every single day of his life. Now I’m adding one more. With the “aggressive treatments”, it would be 2-3 more medications. All to put off the inevitable. I’m not doing it. Do I feel guilty about that? You bet your ass I do. But I also know it’s the right thing to do.
The next couple of months are going to be really fucking hard. I did not expect to have to explain death to my 2 1/2 year old. But she’s going to wonder why mama is constantly sobbing into Tobe’s fur. Eventually, she’ll ask where Tobe went. She probably won’t even remember him when she’s older. I had visions of her devastated at 5. That might still happen with our other cat, Lucy. She’s 16 goddamned years old. She went to the vet for the first time ever this year and she had NOTHING wrong with her. She’ll probably live to be 20. She’s the Mr. Burns of cats. I didn’t expect her to outlive Tobe. Very few things turn out the way you expect.
Death is a hard lesson for a 2 1/2 year old. It’s even harder to learn when you’re a full grown woman. I’m fortunate to have experienced very little tragedy up until now. I know I’ll move on and everything will be fine. I’ll eventually get a new cat. But Tobe is going to be a tough act to follow. He’s still here now, snuggling up to me as I type. I hope that I can cowgirl up and make the most of the rest of our time together. But right now, all I can think when I bury my face into his now emaciated (but still quite fluffy) belly, is “I’m really going to miss this goddamn cat”.
Thanks for reading.
*When I linked to the Ragdoll Wikipedia page, a sentence stood out – “One study utilizing Swedish insurance data showed that of the common cat breeds, the Ragdoll and Siamese have the lowest survival rate, with 63% living to 10 years or more for the Ragdoll and 68% for the Siamese”. I’m sure that fact is prevalent in Ragdoll literature. Apparently, I’m awesome at glossing over unpleasantness. Though it is somewhat comforting to know that he is among the 63% of “long-lived” Ragdolls. Purebreeding is a motherfucker.