Last evening my husband made the decision to have his cat, Vanzetti, euthanized. She was battling some health issues for several years and in the last several weeks had gone through a steady and rapid decline. She became a mere shadow of her former self -very thin, frail and had difficulty eating and walking. You could see suffering on her face and it was heart breaking to witness. Even though we know in our hearts that it was the most humane thing to do - to give her the opportunity to die peacefully, without prolonged suffering - it didn't make it any easier or less painful to say goodbye to her.
The procedure took place with our vet in our own home (not in an office). My cat, Elvis, was given the opportunity to say goodbye, but he already knew what was happening given his lack of appetite and hiding. He hissed and ran to the bedroom closet to hide. Some cats sniff and walk away solemnly while others hiss and retreat like Elivs. Satch wanted to see her and we allowed him. We explained in simple terms what death means and showed him that she was no longer breathing and that he could no longer feel her heart beating. We explained that all living things die, usually when they are very old, and that Zetti was very old and her body stopped working right. We explained that animals do not live as long as people. We explained that when animals and people die, their bodies go back to the earth. Then our little family buried her at the entrance of our garden between the foxglove and echinacea...and we said goodbye.
I have to confess that I complained a lot about this cat because, for the last year and a half, I never knew where or when she would poop, pee or barf. She pooped in Satchel's former tent twice. The second time, I'll spare you the details, I couldn't even bring myself to put it in the washer. We purchased a new tent for Satch and she pooped in it once, but I was able to run it through a wash cycle and it was fine. She pooped on our bed and on Satchel's bed too, so we started closing the doors to the bedrooms and to the bathroom because the throw rug became a poop target. She peed on my very old, thread worn quilt so we had to send it to be dry cleaned. I then had to make sure Satch picked up any quilts or play rugs when he was finished with them to prevent her from soiling them. Then there was the barfing. During her worst episodes, I was cleaning up cat barf several times a day, trying to out run a curious toddler who liked to touch everything in his world....and I DO mean everything. I'm ashamed to say it, but I was a begrudging caregiver, mumbling profanities under my breath with every wipe, scrub, sanitize or wash cycle. And yet, none of this would prevent a smidge of the sadness I would feel at her loss.
My biggest fear was that one of Satchel's friends would come over to play and find a big puddle of barf on the floor or poop on the rag rug. I worried that one of the moms would get so grossed out that it would prevent her from bringing her child over to play with my son. My fear was manifested about a month ago when Satch, my friend M and her son H returned to our house from a lunch at the pizza joint. My friend walked into the living room and stepped right smack into a puddle of slimy brown cat barf....IN HER SOCKS. I can tell you how gross this is first hand because it had happened to me a number of times in the last year and a half. I offered to wash her socks, but she graciously declined and put them in a plastic bag while I cleaned up the mess. What made this event even more profound, was that after I apologized profusely, M said something that touched me deeply. She said, "Wendy, just because I don't have pets does not mean that I don't like animals or that I do not understand. I understand that it is not your fault and I understand that it is not the cat's fault that she is old and sick".
Naturally I felt better about the situation than I had in a long while, but I also felt guilty about the resentment I had felt about cleaning up after Zetti all day. I kept wondering, and still do, how I could have such conflicted feelings. How is that I could both care about Vanzetti and yet resent all the messes? And I feel like such a rotten person for owning that bit of resentment. The only conclusion I can come up with is that it was because she was not my cat or perhaps it was a way to detach myself emotionally. I had gone through a similar situation with my cat Sid in 2002 who became terminally ill and after numerous trips to specialists, he eventually had to be euthanized. It was also performed in our home, our bed (his favorite place), with a combination of cuddling, love and many tears. It was heart wrenching and there was nothing I wouldn't do for that cat. I was devoted.
So yesterday I cried. And Satch tried to comfort me in his own way saying, "don't worry mama, I dry your tears...watch a beautiful movie". He was so tender and so sincere. I explained why I was sad and that sometimes even mommies and daddies get sad. I told him that I would miss Vanzetti and sometimes we get sad when we miss someone.
Vanzetti, also known as Zetti, Deetee, Deetala, and Deetareeno was 88 in human years. She had a deliberate walk...like someone trying to balance on very high heels. She had the loudest and raspiest meow I've ever heard and howled for no apparent reason, often in the middle of the night. She was spunky and very VERY sweet. Her absence is palpable. Above is a photo taken before she became ill. That is how I wish to remember her.