Losing Kitty, (c) 2012-2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
We lost our cat, Kitty, this week. We were not expecting him to get so very sick or to lose him so very soon. Cats mask illness and hide pain. This same trait that serves them well in the wild by protecting them from predators that might otherwise pick off the sick, challenges those who choose to be cat guardians to pay the closest of attention to everything that could and possibly might signify illness; changes in behavior, weight, appetite, sleep patterns, litter box habits. For us, with Kitty, by the time we knew something was seriously wrong it was mostly too late to fix it.
Kitty belonged to us for ten years. A backyard feral, he never left after being trapped and neutered. Kitty did not seem interested in being released. He would sit in front of our patio doors and just look inside, a little match cat who needed to figure a way in to that scary human world. Despite his efforts, Kitty never produced much in the way of meowing or vocalizing, all that we would hear would be a low, hoarse meow. That was fine. We called him Kitty, after the monster in “Monsters, Inc.” whose own roaring never scared anyone and who was christened “Kitty” by a little girl. A little girl he wanted to frighten and never did.
When we decided to sell that house I worried about leaving Kitty behind. Even if our buyers were fond of backyard ferals (they weren’t), Kitty’s intense fear of humans made him unapproachable. While he would spend hours sitting outside our door he would not tolerate proximity if he did not initiate it. My husband suggested we bring Kitty on our move if I could hold the cat, if I could overcome the fear in the feral and make him a housecat. He would later admit that he made the offer fully believing Kitty could not be tamed (the first vet we had brought Kitty for neutering had found him too “savage” for handling). Yet, I knew Kitty wanted in, he just needed to be shown how to get there. We planned a way to get Kitty into an area where I could work with him. Leaving the patio door open so as to lead him inside, we exited the living room, closing off other rooms. We left the only exit way heading to a separate room, once he was inside we would walk in and he would run away from us right into the room we had set up. It worked.
My plan was something I had heard on a radio show, picking a spot as far away as possible from the cat, sit on the floor, and read out loud to yourself-ignoring the cat. You were supposed to do this every day and even when the cat began to approach you were to ignore the cat until the cat was close enough to sit on your lap. I sat on that floor and read pages and sometimes chapters to Kitty every single day. I never looked at him even when he would come closer and closer. Even when I began to offer my hand for petting and he rubbed against it would I look. I didn't look at him when I first picked him up and I stayed on the floor. It worked, we moved out of that house with Kitty.
We lived in four different houses after that one with Kitty. He never wanted out. Once, a screen door came off track and our other cats left (we got them back). Kitty did not leave. We found him in sphinx repose, across from the open doorway just looking outside.
This is the last home we will have lived in with Kitty. And I miss him terribly. Like most former ferals, Kitty became more and more comfortable with us as time went on. In the last years, he would join us on the couch in the evenings to solicit all the petting we would provide. The longer you would pet him the more he liked it. I miss how big his heart was and how much he loved and I love him back.
We live so much longer than the companion animals who share our lives. We who are in charge of all parts of their lives, from when they eat and sleep (and who with), where and what they play with, to even when they can relieve themselves. We are also in charge of when their lives end. This charge is one of the thorniest of pet guardianship. We can never be in charge of making our pets understand that the (sometime painful) examinations, (sometimes invasive) manipulations, (sometimes too many) procedures, (not always helpful) drugs, and (sometimes unnecessary) tests we subject them to are for their “good.” We hope that by holding to a standard of quality of life for our pet that we are guided in the decision of when to end a sick pet’s life. How adept at our pets when they are ill at the activities of daily living? How much pain are they in? Can we help them? At what cost? We might add too, would they want us to help? When an animal in the wild goes off alone to find a hiding place to die there is no respite; would that our ministrations could guarantee that respite.
We worked with our vet to make the right decision for Kitty. After the tests and the trying we decided to let him go. I know that the years we spent with Kitty were good ones for him. I know that. I wish that in the end we had found a way to help him sooner or to have let him go sooner if that was what would have been better for him. Sometimes you do not get enough time to figure out how to help a sick cat. You try the wrong things for too long or find the right ones too late. It can be that way with cats.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
We live so much longer than the companion animals who share our lives. We who are in charge of all parts of their lives, from when they eat and sleep (and who with), where and what they play with, to even when they can relieve themselves. We are also in charge of when their lives end. This charge is one of the thorniest of pet guardianship.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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