“To think, I killed a cat” -Sid Vicious
I woke up shortly after midnight on June 13. The cat was on the bed with us and I thought I had rolled over on top of her. I had read a tragic news story about a father who had killed his infant child in this manner and while this might have been a good move for him in a financial sense, it must have been emotionally devastating.
I checked the cat to see if she was still alive. There was no response to my gentle prods. This did not necessarily mean she was dead. She was dying, but had been for some time. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table and turned on its flashlight. Kitty squinted a bit from the light and I could see that she was breathing normally.
That was a relief. Becca and I had already decided that we were going to take her to the vet to be put down, but I did not want my fat ass to move up the timetable. We both knew the risks of having her sleep on the bed with us, but we did not want her last night to be spent on the floor alone. There was not much we could do for her at that point, but at least we could do that.
Confident that I had not clumsily bumped off the cat, I put the phone back on the cordless charger. I keep this on the bottom shelf of the bedside table because the charger’s pulsing light, barely noticeable in a well-lit room, is annoyingly bright when the light is off. With the pulsing glow largely eclipsed by the edge of the bed, the effect was almost soothing. I stared at Kitty next to me. Every so often, her legs would twitch or her head would briefly raise. For the most part, she was motionless. She was not really asleep because her eyes were partially open. She was not really awake either because she seemed mostly oblivious of everything around her, including me.
I watched the cat fade in and out with the charger’s light and thought about the night we met for the first time.
Acoustic Kitty was born nameless and feral sometime in the middle months of 2001. When she was a kitten, she, her mother, and other members of the litter would sit on the deck outside the sliding-glass door to the kitchen, hoping to get some food. Both Laura (my wife at the time) and I were softhearted when it came to cute animals so their endeavor was almost always fruitful.
As months passed, the litter began to shrink in size. It would be nice if Kitty’s siblings were adopted by loving residents in the network of backyards. This was doubtful, doubly so as it was more infirm-looking kittens who disappeared first. It was far more likely that they fell victim to raccoons, disease, or young serial killers in training.
After a while, only Kitty and her mother were left. They eventually went their separate ways. Neither Laura nor I were interested in adopting a cat at first, but Laura did arrange with the SPCA so the mother and daughter could be spayed. Captivity lasted only long enough for surgery to heal and then they were set loose.
That November, Laura traveled to Bolivia to visit friends who were living there. Meanwhile, I spent my days working at a startup that was circling the drain. Nights were spent in a bar, drinking until I half believed that I might still become one of those dot-com millionaires after all.
One of these nights, I staggered home and decided to conduct a little experiment. Instead of setting the food dish outside, I would plop both it and myself on the kitchen floor. I sat cross legged and tried to remain motionless. Kitty, being feral, was hesitant at she moved behind me, rubbing her body against my back as she passed. She eventually let me pet her. By the time my wife returned, we had ourselves a cat.
Six months later, Laura left for reasons that had nothing to do with the cat. Kitty stayed on for another 16 years. I learned to adore her quirks and mannerisms, and perhaps she did mine as well.
Her habit early on of attacking my toes when they poked from under the comforter was less than ideal, but for the rest she was utterly charming. I loved how talkative she was, her affectionate head butts, and how she was a total attention whore. I didn’t even mind the prezzies she gave me from her hunting expeditions. They were gruesome, but her heart was in the right place so I made it a point to let her down easy.
“Thank you for the eviscerated mouse, but after this burrito I don’t think I could manage another bite,” I would say.
By the time Becca first visited in 2013, Kitty’s days of hunting mice (and toes) were behind her. She was just as affectionate as ever, perhaps even more so as her feral instincts began to mellow with age. It was not long before Becca was in love with the cat as much as I was.
In recent months, Kitty began to decline. She lost weight, grew more listless, and peed wherever it suited her. Multiple trips to the vet turned up evidence that her kidneys were failing and a few suggestions to improve her health. Nothing really worked. She was old and dying. Becca and I resigned ourselves to that and figured all we could do was keep her as comfortable as possible for the time she had left.
Neither of us were in any hurry to have her put down. She did not seem to be in any pain and still purred when given scritches. As long as she could enjoy her existence at all, that was good enough.
On Tuesday evening, that all changed. When we were giving her subcutaneous fluids, we noticed a raw spot on one of her hind legs. Her walking skills were not great and she must have been dragging herself around while we were at work. She also looked miserable.
That was it. She was clearly suffering and we could no longer in keep her around in good conscience. I would call the vet in the morning to have her euthanized. I didn’t want to do it. I had hoped that Kitty would check out on her own schedule, peacefully and painlessly. But just as living can be a messy business, dying can be as well.
I had a hard time getting back to sleep after I awoke that night. I watched Kitty in the pulsing light, breathing rhythmically. She seemed OK for the moment, or at least as OK as she was going to get. I figured that if there was a perfect time for her to exit the world, this would be it. Instead, she just kept breathing, neither awake nor asleep, somewhere between dead and alive.
Looking back, I’m glad she held on until morning. Dying on her own might have been painful, and neither Becca nor I wanted that. I called Mission Pet Hospital and made an appointment for 11 am. The vet was very nice and gave us a few moments alone to say our goodbyes and shed a few tears,
There were a lot of tears.