Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Goodbye Vanzetti

"My heart has joined the Thousand - for my friend stopped running today." - Richard Adams (Watership Down)

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.

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posted by Wendy at 5:34 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hugs and kisses my friend. I know all too well what you are going through. I have the greatest amount of empathy. Wish I could be there to sit with you.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Rowena said...

I had a very similar situation, where my partners old cat declined and became incontinent. He had a very hard time letting go of her, and when he finally was able to agree to putting her to sleep so she wouldn't suffer anymore, she went out into the back deck and went to sleep, for the last time, in the place she loved the best.

It was very hard, for him especially. But it was also a relief, knowing that she wouldn't be in pain anymore and there wouldn't be cat waste everywhere (I tell you, she didn't like that either, she just couldn't help herself.)

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like our troublesome, psychotic, noisy, embarrassing and detestable cat, she taught you to love the unlovable. And when the job was done, she was released from service. Good job, kitty.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous vickie said...

a beautiful post Wendy, so sorry for this loss. it made me think of our sweet dog that we have been angry at for so many of the same reasons you listed. satch is so sweet telling you to watch a beautiful movie, oh.



1:26 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Thank you all. Rowena, I would send you a personal reply as I so often do, but I do not have your email.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous pixie said...

Oh honeys. I'm so deeply sorry about Deetee and her old age foibles. It is so hard to have the aged disturb the harmony in our homes and have compassion for them at the same time. I can only imagine what it would be like to have to care for one of my parents someday. I hope they have good insurance... :)

I send you a million hugs. Bless you for not fearing for Satch-he is a brave boy and a deep soul and though this lesson always comes too soon, the way you handled it is so touching.

"I want to stay home and die here. Let me die in the house and do not do anything to it; it is an old-age hogan. I'm not dying of anything that you should be scared of; you should not be scared of those who die of old age."

--final words of Frank Mitchell, famous Navajo chanter

12:36 AM  
Blogger denise said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. We just went through this last month. The boys were there with our cat at the end too. So hard.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Wisteria Cottage Arts said...

Hello Wendy I am here by way of your post to Nina, then scrolled through your posts and landed here, having gone through many losses of dear pets, some I chosr others abandoned at my then home. Heck she has a barn, whats one more? You just open up your heart then the inevitable comes and you think if I hadn't I would not be facing the care the vet bills and yet another loss.....I am down to one old Kitty man now, fighting kidney issues. Although I know it's coming I look at him and think how? He still is himself, a most wonderful companion. It is OK to have mixed emotions..........
I am here in NH & I will see you in Ninas class. It will be wonderful.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I look forward to meeting you, Colleen. It will indeed be wonderful spending time with Nina...it always is.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Kate in NJ said...

I am sorry to hear of your family's loss. We have been there, and as we still have two kitties (one is about 13 years old),
we will undoubtedly be there again one day.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

thanks kate. love to you and yours.

10:17 AM  

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