I came home from work yesterday to find that a copy of the Fall issue of EdibleRhody had arrived in the mail, an issue which contains, in addition to Mike’s regular cocktail column, an article I wrote about our 100-mile Thanksgiving feast last year. You would think I’d be more excited to see my work in print, but it was a bittersweet reminder of that November day, the day we discovered the lump in Kali’s mammary tissue, the day we knew we were dealing with something far more serious than the anemia she was fighting so well.
We came so close to losing her last October, right at a time when so many wonderful and exciting things were happening in our lives. We should have been celebrating, enjoying those moments more fully, but instead we were in emotional and financial crisis, just trying to do what we could for her with the means we had available. Our friends, families, readers of our blogs – some of whom we’d never even met – rallied around us in a heroic show of support, and by Thanksgiving day Kali had bounced back, always a fighter, so much spirit and spunk in that little body of hers, and we really thought the worst was behind us. Her brother Dub had lived happily and well for years with his anemia before leaving us too soon as the result of an unrelated heart condition – why should Kali be any different?
I spent most of that day filled with immense gratitude, thankful for the food we were eating, the people in our community who work so hard to farm and raise it, for the people around us who had helped us through the difficult times we had faced, thankful we had seemingly gotten to the other side. That changed with the stroke of my hand over Kali’s side. We were heartbroken, scared of what was ahead. Those years we thought we had with her suddenly turned into months, and while you always know when you bring a beloved pet into your life that you’re going to outlive them, it just seemed cruel that first Dubby, and now his sister, were both fated to die so young.
The way Dubby’s death played out was like some sort of horrible movie scene, Mike running up Fifth Avenue to get to the vet’s office, me pacing and crying on a midtown subway platform waiting for the slowest V train ever to arrive, elevator doors opening when I finally got to The Cat Practice to reveal my husband, crestfallen, giving me the news that our boy was gone. It was so sudden, unexpected, the timing so bad. As awful as it was for me that I never got to say goodbye to him, I felt almost worse for Mike for seeing him in those last terrifying moments.
As Kali’s health failed, particularly in these last weeks where it was happening at such an accelerated rate, we had some hard decisions to make. She had surprised us as well as her veterinary caregivers so many times before, bouncing back and fighting with her characteristic tenacity that we didn’t want to end things too soon, but we did want to have some control over the situation, control that we weren’t afforded in her brother’s case.
The signs came slowly at first. A few litterbox mishaps led to a vet visit where we learned her blood sugar was high, and she was losing weight again despite a ravenous appetite. We adjusted her meds in an effort to regulate things, but the anemia returned, and her white blood cell count was climbing. She had lost so much fur from the high doses of prednisone she had been taking that her skin had turned thin and brittle. She developed sores on her little legs, scabbed over and some infected. We added high dose antibiotics to her regimen, but the decline continued. She was clumsy and getting weaker, first unable to jump onto the kitchen table, then the chairs, then unable to navigate the stairs.
In cats, we learned, high blood sugar often makes their cartilage deteriorate, affecting their gait. This was happening to our girl, and though at first she didn’t seem to care, hopping and hobbling and eventually scooting around on her belly to get to her food and water dishes (which she still went at with gusto), by the beginning of last week her mobility was nearly gone.
She went to the vet’s office last Monday. She was still eating and drinking, still moving around as best she could, but we were very concerned. She came home dosed up with another shot of antibiotic, having had another round of bloodwork, and we waited. Dr. Lund’s voice was grim when she called Mike with the results on Tuesday. We roasted chicken for our girl that night, one of her favorite treats, and began the difficult process of saying goodbye.
We had hoped to find someone to come to the carriage house on Wednesday so she could pass at home, but nobody was available. I stayed home from work that day, the autumn sky as blue as our beautiful Kali girl’s eyes, and Mike and I just tried to soak up every moment of our remaining time with her. We talked to her, sang to her and tried to get her to eat canned tuna and anchovy oil, but she wouldn’t accept any food. She was done fighting and we knew it. I shot photos and video that I will cherish forever.
I headed to work on Thursday morning, and Mike scheduled an appointment with the vet for that evening. I took an early train home to spend a bit more time with her at home, then we headed out with her for one last time. It was heartbreaking, the car ride excruciating, but when we got to the vet’s office and Dr. Lund examined her, it became clear we were doing the right thing for Kali at the right time. In a matter of days her abdomen had filled with fluid, and her organs were beginning to fail. She was, after all this time and all she had been through, showing signs of being in pain, her eyes glassy as she laid curled on the exam table.
Dr. Lund was comforting and reassuring as she explained the process to us, and she asked if we wanted to be in the room with Kali as she got the first of two shots that would put an end to her suffering. She took Kali for a moment, returned with her swaddled in a soft red blanket, then we held our girl in our arms for the last time as the sedative took effect and she slipped into a sleep she’d not wake from.
It was surprisingly peaceful, so tender, and while the memory of her suffering will hurt my heart for a long time to come, I once again felt an immense sense of gratitude. I was grateful to be with Kali in her last moments; I was grateful to have Mike at my side; I was grateful to the incredible Dr. Lund, Dr. Mercurio, and all of Kali’s caregivers at City Kitty for all they’ve done for her and for us; I was grateful for our families and friends, for the steady stream of emails, DMs, text messages, tweets and phone calls, for the strength they shared with us during this time; but mostly I was grateful that, even though our time together was too brief, that I had nine wonderful years with this beautiful little cat, this sparkling, stubborn, sassy little personality who could melt my heart like no other. She and her brother helped me through some tremendously difficult times in my life, and I have been comforting myself with the thought that they’re back together again, somewhere, chasing mousies, grooming each other, sleeping in a furry heap of cream and orange colored fur. Our time together was a gift I will cherish forever.
Rest in peace, my sweet princess. I will never forget you.