Stunned and Heartbroken   4 comments


Easter Birthday

Originally uploaded by Lady Birchwood

Dale and I had taken to putting a large bowl of kibble on our urban porch in the South Minneapolis neighborhood of Powderhorn Park during the winter of 1993-94, keeping an eye on one attractive and friendly cat who had been abandoned when his owners moved. I couldn’t take him in because of my elderly cat, Mandy, then 18, who went ballistic at the sight of another cat. Pete disappeared (we hope to a home with someone), to be replaced by a couple of other stray cats in the area. One was a pregnant queen, a short-haired white cat with black ears and a black tail. Around the first of April, we noticed she was thin again and was obviously nursing. She was also very feral, wanting nothing to do with human contact. She would run and hide at the sight of a person.

It was Mother’s Day weekend in May when I came home from my 3:30-midnight shift at what was then Smith-Kline-Beecham Clinical Labs. I parked my car in front of the house and started up the sidewalk, stopping in my tracks when I noticed Mama Cat at the food bowl with two small kittens with her, a little white one who had her black head markings and a black tail and a little pretty calico. They all scattered at my approach. I entered the house that night so excited. I woke my husband, exclaiming, “Kittens!  We have kittens!”

I immediately fell in love with that darling little calico. Both kittens were very fearful of us, though, and would scramble away if we came around. The little white one even managed to squeeze himself through a chainlink fence in the neighbor’s yard when we had him cornered one day up against it. (I called that kitten “him” right away, even though I had no idea of the sex. I had a 50-50 chance of getting it right!) We wanted to capture them and see that they received homes eventually, but how to do it? I quickly realized that we were losing the game by chasing them around the yard  We were just creating more fear.

In June, the little calico got very ill with what appeared to be some sort of respiratory infection. A thick discharge matted her eyes closed. I thought we were going to lose her, and I made one attempt to “rescue” her. She was under the neighbor’s chokecherry tree that grew beside our property, snuggled next to her mama. A low wooden fence separated us. I reached over the fence and gripped the scruff of her neck. She twisted and jerked like a handful of rattlesnakes and her mama stood and hissed, about to nail me. I lost my grasp on her, partly out of shock at her strength and partly to save my hand from being bitten by her mother. I made a resigned decision that I would leave the little calico with her mama, where she could nurse and be kept warm, and Nature would take its course. We went away that weekend to celebrate our anniversary, and I expected that she would be gone when we got back. Much to my surprise, she was still there on Sunday, on her feet, her eyes looking better, and went on to a complete recovery! I then named her Katina for “tiny cat,” although she was always called Katie.

I changed tactics and backed off from any further attempts to capture them. I continued to feed them, switching to canned food for my little family instead of kibble. I figured that this may entice them more strongly to the food pan. I would put the food out and back away, going into the house at first so that they would eat and not run away. After a time, I would put the food out and then go back in and stand at the door. When they were eating without panic, knowing that I was there, I started putting the food pan down and stepping back but remaining on the porch with them. Gradually, it got to the point where I could sit down on the steps about four feet away and they would eat while I was there. I couldn’t get any closer, though! If I got too close, they would bolt in a flash!

Towards the end of August, I made my move to get them into the house.  After feeding them all summer, they had grown comfortable with my presence.  One evening, I put the food pan inside the front door and set it in the foyer.  I held the door open.  Both of them marched right in and ate their supper.  I closed the door. They were nearly five months old when they saw the inside of a house for the first time.  They played in the living room that evening, chased each other around the recliner, and used Mandy’s litterbox before they went back outside for the night.  (Mandy had been confined to the bedroom during this visit.)  We repeated this several more evenings before they slept inside for the first time, separated from 18-year-old Mandy by the door between the dining room and the back half of the house.

We declared them officially our kittens.  I called them my “kittens from God” because Mandy died in September and I was so overcome with grief and depression that I don’t think I could have actively gone out and adopted another pet for quite some time.  However, as things worked out, I had two kittens put on my porch that May with an invisible note which instructed, “These are yours now.  Take good care of them.”  I didn’t get to pick out the sex or the breeds.  I didn’t get to choose the colors.  I got what I got — as most parents do.  We adopted Katie and her littermate, who did indeed turn out to be a boy when we took them in for their first checkups in September with Dr. Mike McMenomy at Kitty Klinic, our vet since 1980.

I love these two cats, both different as night and day.  Katie-cat has always been small, compact, athletic, and aloof.  Life is on her terms.  It took a long time to gain her trust, but once I did (my husband, Dale, never did!),  we became soulmates, although even I couldn’t pick her up and hold her. She hated that!  Bubba-san is a larger cat, 16 1/2 pounds in his prime, a gorgeous longhair with the sweetest personality a cat can have.  He has displayed “ragdoll” tendencies from the first time I picked him up and he went completely limp in my arms.  For years, I’ve picked him up and draped him over my shoulder where he’s completely relaxed and purring against my neck.  He loves affection!

Several years ago, Katie was diagnosed with renal insufficiency, a problem that was discovered as part of a routine chemistry profile prior to having her teeth cleaned.  She felt well, though, and the only recommendation that was made was to put her on a prescription food for cats with kidney disease.  She liked the food, thrived on it, and had no health issues except for a bladder infection almost two years ago.  She had lost some weight then, and I took her to the vet to figure out why.  Her kidney function tests were more elevated than they had been, but still, she wasn’t dehydrated and her electrolytes were fine.  The vet gave her a long-acting injection of an antibiotic, her bladder infection cleared up, and she regained the weight she had lost.  All has been well.

When my friend, Lottie, cat-sat in November after not seeing the cats for perhaps a few months, she remarked on how well Katie was looking.  She was looking great and might have even put on a little weight.  Life has been good, and Katie-cat and I have been happy together, both us down on the rug outside the bathroom every morning where she greets me and wants to smooze.  She’s been following me all over the upstairs every morning as I get ready for work, meowing at me, head-butting me, and clearly not wanting me to leave her for the day.  (The best times have been when I’ve been able to crawl back into bed on a weekend morning and she has climbed in with me to snuggle.)  She’s been down in the TV room a lot of evenings, clamoring for her treats.

Then last month, I began to get a nagging feeling that something was a little off.  I wasn’t filling up her dry food bowl as much as I had been.  However, she was still eating her evening serving of canned food into which she gets a glucosamine supplement to support her bladder health.  She was still insisting on evening treats.  She was drinking and urinating normally.  Constipation has been an issue over the past year, but she was going fairly regularly.

But still…. I wasn’t filling up that dry food bowl much.

Last week I noticed that she wasn’t coming to bed with me at night, which was very odd for her.  That’s always been our time to smooze, with lots of purring and noisy meows and head-butts.  (Bedtime has never been quiet at our house.  The bedroom is filled with the demands of a Katie-cat on our bed, wanting her mama’s attention and words of love and praise before we can settle in for the night!)  Early this week, I just knew that something wasn’t right and I made an appointment to get her in to the vet, sooner rather than later.  I took off work Thursday morning to take her in before her usual vet left on vacation.

Thursday morning, she was very “off.”  Clearly, she wasn’t feeling well.  She was moving really slow and seemed kind of unsteady.  She made a half-hearted attempt to smooze with me on the rug but wouldn’t purr.  Even at that point, I was assuming — hoping! — that this was perhaps a bladder infection again and some fluids and an antibiotic would get her back on her feet.  She’d be feeling better in no time and things would be back to normal.

The vet pronounced her very dehydrated, and the scale said that she had lost almost 2 pounds.  This had to have been since November when she was looking so well, and I even asked Dale a few weeks ago if he thought that Katie was losing weight and he said, “She looks okay to me!”  But the numbers don’t lie.  The vet kept her at the clinic that day to rehydrate her.  Before the IV was started, blood was drawn for chemistries and a CBC.  Dr. Arend called me at work about 11:30 and gave me the bad news: Katie’s BUN and creatinine were very high, her postassium was dangerously low, and other electrolytes were way out of balance.   She was in kidney failure.  I was devastated.

Katie spent all day on Thursday at our regular clinic and was then transferred to the Animal Emergency Clinic in Oakdale where they could continue with IV fluids and electrolytes all night and monitor her condition.   Dr. Arend felt that with sustained fluids and electrolytes, Kate stood a chance of pulling out of this crisis.  She was a tough, determined little kitty, and we agreed to give her this chance.

Friday morning, the vet called me from the Emergency Clinic and reported that Katie had had a very, very good night.  She slept well and her BUN and creatinine were lower, her potassium had come up.  The values weren’t good but they were quite a bit better, and Katie was alert and active, ate a little Fancy Feast and drank quite a bit of water.  The vet reported that her attitude completely belied the severity of her condition.  She looked for all intents and purposes like she was ready to pack her bags and go home!  Everyone was optimistic at this point that we were going to pull her through this crisis and go on to manage it for a time.

I packed her up Friday morning and took her back to our regular vet for the day.  More fluids and electrolytes.   Some progress but not nearly enough.  Dr. Arend recommended another night of fluids and monitoring at the Animal Emergency Clinic, so we took her back there at the end of clinic hours at Scenic Hills.  Katie seemed despondent.  She was also hyperventilating and visibly trembling.  They wondered about fluid overload due to her Grade 3 to Grade 4 heart murmur but a chest x-ray at the Emergency Clinic showed her lungs were clear.

The phone report from the vet this morning was not good.  Her BUN (blood urea nitrogen, a waste product normally filtered out by the kidneys) had risen again.  Her creatinine (another waste product) was about the same, and in spite of aggressively giving her potassium supplementation, her level had not come up any further than it had been the day before.  The vet was very discouraged at this lack of progress and said that Kate would not do well at home with fluids being administered under the skin by her mom, the RN.  She said that we might want to consider another 48 hours of around-the-clock ICU care with them and re-evaluate at the end of that time. I had planned on bringing Katie home that morning and had been given all the injectable medications, needles and syringes the evening before to care for her here. This morning’s emergency vet was very firm, though, that Kate wouldn’t do well at home with her values being what they were.  And when I asked her if she thought another 48 hours worth of care (at $1000 a day) would make a difference in Katie’s condition, she didn’t say no but she repeated what she had said; she was discouraged by the lack of progress so far. I took that to mean that the prognosis was not good.  This vet really gave me no reason to think otherwise.

Dale and I discussed euthanasia.  I decided before we left for the clinic that I would wait and see how she seemed to me before making that final decision.  If she seemed interested in my company and eager to come home, I was going to bring her home, even if it ended up just being for a few days.  I wanted to give her that option to be home again in her own comfortable environment, her home for the past 16+ years.  I wanted her to be able to sleep with me for a night or two if she wanted.  I wondered if being calmer here at home with us and getting some fluids at home might improve her, even just a bit.

When I saw her, my heart sank.  She was very weak, could hardly stand.  She was shaking.  I held her and talked to her, but she wasn’t even paying much attention to me.  Her eyes anxiously scanned the room.  She did not purr at all or give me a head-butt, no affectionate acknowledgment at all. She wanted to be put down after a time of uncharacteristic holding, so I put her down on the room’s blanket-covered coffee table.  She jumped down and wanted to find a place to hide.  She tried repeatedly to crawl under the low couch.  She wanted to find a place to hide and die.

I made the decision to proceed with the euthanasia.  I picked her up, leaned back on the couch, and laid her against my blanket-covered chest.  I held her warmly and whispered all the loving things I’ve ever said to her over the years.  I assured her that she would always have a forever home in my heart.  The love will live forever.  She was safe.  She was loved.  As the injection was given, her head dropped against my shoulder and she was gone.

And I am stunned.  I had what appeared to be a happy, healthy cat just a few weeks ago, albeit an almost-17 year old one.  Literally within days, she went from an interactive, normal-appearing cat to one who was obviously seriously ill.  Just from yesterday morning until this morning, she had surrendered her spirit, her desire to “pack her bags and go home.”  Suddenly, she was dying.

I am shattered, heartbroken, consolable only by the great comfort of knowing that almost all of her days were happy ones.  She was very, very loved and cared for.  She was told every single day that I was here to say it, at least a dozen times a day if not a hundred, that she was loved, that she was very special, that she was my princess, one of the greatest gifts in my life.

She always will be, and her Forever Home will now be in my heart.


Posted February 19, 2011 by StPaulieGrrl in Aging, cats, Relationships

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4 responses to “Stunned and Heartbroken

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  1. What a beautiful and heart-felt post, Bonnie. I am so deeply sorry for your loss.

    Love you! ((hugs))

  2. What a wonderful tribute to Katie Cat. You were true to her all the way to the end. Hang in there.

  3. I am trying to hang in there. It is so, so hard! I have lost a very significant, deeply loved being in my life. The hole is huge, the grief is very sharp. The healing will take a long time, and I dread traveling this path. Been down this road before, and it’s not a pleasant journey. However, I take consolation in nearly 17 years of warm memories and know that she couldn’t have possibly had a better life. She was deeply loved, attentively cared for, and she knew this. There is peace in this.

  4. Great tribute to Katie. Well loved and well cared for. You are the best. love you Sis

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