That Big Litterbox in the Sky
When You Have to Put a Cat Down
A little over 5 years ago a coworker comes up to me and said, “Rumor has it you’re looking for a cat. How would you like two of them?” I truly have no idea how he heard I’d been considering adding a feline to my delightfully empty post-divorce nest, but whatever. He said they were 11-year old female litter mates, both spayed and declawed, and had no health or behavioral problems. Apparently he’d had them since college and, a decade or so later, they were no longer fitting with the “mix” of three kids and a Jack Russell terrier. Gee – ya think? I hadn’t planned on getting two cats – but he assured me it would only be like having one cat, since Husker was almost always hiding, and generally only came out for food and to use the litter box. He said she’d always been very skittish and shy. So I said sure – why not, and decided to take two cats sight unseen. I figured having two cats hand delivered to me by a coworker would be easier than trying to pick just one from the heartbreak hell that is your local animal shelter.
A couple days later he delivered Herbie and Husker to my door. A tortoiseshell and tabby with truly odious names, but then again I’m not a sports fan. Both cats were at first as described – Herbie was unnaturally sweet and cuddly, and Husker ran to hide under the bed. A few days went by, and Herbie couldn’t get enough attention – I swear that cat would crawl in through your mouth and curl up inside your thoracic cavity if you’d let her; I’d never encountered such a cuddly, constantly purring cat. Husker, however, I saw maybe a half dozen times, and she hissed at me every time I made eye contact. I felt bad for the shy, scared little thing, but was okay with the situation, and figured since she’d been like that for 11 years that she’d always be like that.
On Day 6 of them coming to live with me, I was on the phone and felt a cat come up behind me on the back of the sofa to scale down my arm into my lap. Naturally, I assumed it was Herbie, and nearly dropped the phone when I saw that it was Husker who had come to make herself comfortable on my person. I petted her gingerly a few times, not wanting to break the spell. But I really had no reason to worry; from that day on, “the shy one” would be surgically attached to me nearly as often as her sister, and it was all good. It took awhile getting used to two attention-starved cats swirling around my ankles as I walked across the room, but I usually didn’t mind unless I was carrying a vision-obstructing load of laundry or was painfully hung over.
Husker proved to not only be sweet, but inadvertently funny as well. Clumsy, CLUMSY cat – she was forever misjudging leaping distances and landings, and walked more like a bulldog than a cat. That first Halloween she was rounding a corner and saw the lit-up jack o’ lantern for the first time and jumped a full 4 feet backwards and probably 3 feet in the air before falling to a very ungraceful splay on the floor. Now that’s good TV. As the weeks went by she became ridiculously affectionate and had delusions of being a Siamese with her constant questions and commentary. She developed a fixation with crocheted blankets and any and all dairy products and would beg like a dog for a sliver of butter or a lick of ice cream. She would perch on the edge of the bathtub when I’d give my daughter a bath, taking every splash and squeal that came her way like it was her job. She made life pretty amusing for about 5 years.
A couple weeks ago she started vomiting a lot and bleeding out of her hindquarters. I think I was in denial for a few hours until I saw that she was really struggling to move and was trying to find a place to hide. I put her in the travel crate and headed to the vet’s, knowing it was unlikely she’d be coming home again. Housecats typically only live about 15 years, and Husker was pushing 17, so I knew it was probably her time.
Once I sputtered out to the vet what was going on, she gave Husker a quick once-over and said it was probably kidney failure – the usual cause of elderly cats. The vet said I could spend an exorbitant amount of money running tests to figure out what she already suspected and come up with a treatment regimen that might buy her another couple of months, let her go home to die in probably a day or two, or have her put down. I chose the latter. As much as I adored Husker, I don’t have thousands of dollars on hand to treat a dying pet – I just don’t. I also didn’t want her to suffer and end up dying alone in the back of the closet. The vet took her out of the room for a bit to insert the catheter and ready the syringe. She came back with a plunger loaded with barbiturates, and said Husker would essentially get high as a kite and go peacefully to sleep in a state of mellow we humans only wish we could legally achieve. I’d say she was right. During the 5 minutes or so it took for the plunger to go down and Husker to take her last ride, she had the same goofy half-grin as she did when she’d found the perfect sun patch to snooze in and get a simultaneous belly scratch. So that made me feel a little better, knowing she was experiencing something akin to dropping off to sleep on a massive dose of Nyquil and enjoying the buzzing tumble into sleep, and would never again get scolded for trying to steal food off our plates or scooting her ass across the floor.
She still looked asleep when the vet said she was gone.
I tried my best to keep it together when I came home with an empty crate. My 3 year-old asked me if I threw Husker away (GAH!). It’s difficult explaining death to a child. She’s still asking where she is and when she’s going to wake up. Aim, set, sucker punch. Herbie, her littermate, sniffed around and yowled for a day or two, but now just appears vaguely senile. She’s probably not long for this world. She’s sweet as ever, but doesn’t seem to know where she is most of the time, and Alzheimer’s jokes and gallows humor aside, it’s hard to watch.
I still keep expecting to see Husker when I look at her favorite chair. I still expect that second soft pounce to my torso when I lie on the sofa as she’d follow her sister to take roost on me during a few minutes of TV time. It’s too quiet when I put on makeup or tinker around the kitchen without her talking nonstop.
Apparently you’re not supposed to give cats any fish products if they’ve ever been prone to urinary crystals. While Husker never did, Herbie had that problem a few years back, and so I always gave them plenty of soft food and banned them from having any of my leftover tuna. The last night she was alive, Husker actually launched herself off the chair and across the tabletop to get at my tuna sandwich, and I shooed her away. I wish I would have let her eat the whole thing.