My Best Friend, Zoe, My Cat, My Baby Is Dying
After fifteen years, I can't imagine my life without her.
Posted Dec 24, 2017
At the end of April, I wrote a post titled “I Feared I Would Lose My Best Friend,” about when my beloved cat, Zoe collapsed one night and I had to rush her up to the vet emergency room in Stamford, CT. They found that she had kidney disease on top of her already diagnosed thyroid disease. At her regular vet the next day I learned how to give her subcutaneous fluids through IV’s in her skin. Then she began having diarrhea so the vet added an antibiotic that I needed to squirt through a syringe into the side of her mouth. I think she hated that one most of all. When I picked her up to give her the medication and held her, she meowed, kicked, scratched and turned her head at all sort of weird angles so I couldn’t get to her mouth. After I finally got the contents of the syringe into the mouth and let Zoe go, she slunk under my bed to sulk, only to emerge a little while later. She jumped up onto my bed as if to say “It’s okay.”
Between the IV, the antibiotic and the thyroid medication, I began to feel as though I was torturing her even though I knew this is what I needed to do to keep her alive. In September, in a rare moment, she was still in my arms and when I stroked her belly, she kicked me and gave out a low moan. I waited and got the same reaction five minutes later. It was 4:30 on a rainy Sunday morning. Around midnight, she had explosive diarrhea which though disgusting was contained to the litter box. That had never happened before. Back up to the ER on a stretch of empty highway where they gave her pain and nausea medication until I could get in touch with her regular vet.
In November, I started to have trouble sleeping. My level of exhaustion increased, my ability to concentrate and focus at work decreased and as a result, my productivity decreased as well. After a full day of working, I’d grab a quick bite and incredibly fatigued, be unable to keep my eyes open. I’d be asleep by 7 PM, then awake at 11 PM, unable to get back to sleep. By the time, I had to start work the next morning, I was ready to go back to sleep.
I’d give Zoe her fluids at 2 AM, her antibiotics at 5 AM, irregular hours, not every single day. Sometimes I’d feel too exhausted to move or as she’d hear me warming up the bag of fluids in the sink with the faucet running and she would realize what I was doing (smart cat!). Like a shot, pre-emptively run under the bed. I’d fall asleep waiting for her to come back out.
I realized Zoe was losing even more weight; as I held her I could distinctly feel her bony spine. When I was about to insert the needle under her skin, I felt her tiny heart under her breastbone beating faster and faster out of anxiety. She started going into these deep sleeps. Typically, when I came home after being out, she’d be at the door as soon as she heard my key in the lock, looking for a treat of tuna fish or dinner, if it was time. For the last week, I walk in and find her fast asleep in the bed I’d set up next to my home office. She hadn’t stirred.
The same thing when I was getting ready to leave. Normally, my ritual of leaving, showering, getting dressed, she’d hear the jangling of my keys. Then she run into the kitchen from wherever she was and make one last plea for food. Not lately, Zoe just slept.
On Friday, she started sneezing. I’d had an appointment for her on Friday, which I’d rescheduled for the following Friday because I’d been dealing with a bout of asthmatic bronchitis that was severe enough for me to be on steroids despite my osteoporosis. Since I’m allergic to dogs and cats, I didn’t think that sitting in the waiting room full of furry, adorable animals and inhaling their dander would be the best thing for me.
But when she started sneezing, I felt as though I had to get her there as soon as possible so I called and secured an appointment the next day, Saturday morning at 10:30 AM. I was up with Zoe at 3 AM, 4 AM, 5 AM Saturday morning, watching her, waiting, observing and wondering if I was imagining that her breathing was funny and hoping that I could wait until her appointment and that I wouldn’t have to make another early morning trip to the ER in Stamford.
At the vet, I took Zoe out of her carrier and she clung to me, terrified. Usually, they prefer the techs to handle the animals while in the exam room, but Dr. V. knows how sweet Zoe is, so she lets me handle her. The tears start as soon as I feel how she is clinging to me and I am clinging to her. I relate the events of the past several months to Dr. V. We weigh Zoe and she’s lost a pound. She is 7 pounds now. It’s hard to believe that at one time she weighed 13 pounds and was considered borderline overweight. Dr. V. was so compassionate as she examined Zoe. Zoe didn’t have a fever, but I heard Dr. V. say “I can feel her spine.”
I asked Dr. V. if she was going to do blood work and she said that it wasn’t even necessary; she could tell just by looking at her and from what I described to her that the kidney disease is progressing. I asked Dr. V. if Zoe is suffering and she explained that she is not feeling well, just as if she or I was ill and just wanted to be alone in bed, sleep and be left alone. Dr. V. said as long as Zoe continues to eat and drink and use the litter box, she is not hurting — enough.
A box of tissues magically appeared on the exam table. I’d been holding Zoe this whole time.
Dr. V. said that when Zoe stops eating and drinking, it will be time. I gave her a tiny kiss and through my tears I said that I had reconciled myself to the fact that she was going to die. But that was sometime in the future. When I needed to take a break from the three computer screens I work on almost continuously, I look at Zoe curled up in her bed right next to my desk and feel instantly happier. Sometimes she rises from her bed, takes a long stretch and then plants herself right behind my chair as if to get as close to me as she possibly can. I have to be constantly cognizant not to push back my chair, which is on wheels, otherwise I’d roll right into her.
I asked Dr. V. how long?
“A month, maybe two.”
I don’ t know which would be a worse scenario; Zoe gradually stopping eating and drinking and I finally have to take her to the vet to be put to sleep. Me being with her as they insert the IV and the solution that would painlessly end her life and her suffering.
Or waking up one morning and finding her under the bed, dead, her tiny furry body cold and not breathing. Stiff. Lifeless. What do I do?
When my brother and I were kids, our first pet was a cat we named Happy. He came to be known as Happy Cat. We had an antique chair in the corner of the living room, carved wood, almost a throne with a needlepoint seat cover that my mother had made and that become Happy’s place to survey the going’s on of the household. Later when our family welcomed our two Shetland Sheepdog’s into our home, K.C. and Silver, the throne was Happy Cat’s place to escape the chaos of the dogs skidding on the tile floor as my brother and I played fetch with the dogs in the foyer.
I don’t remember the circumstances of Happy’s death; how old I was or exactly how he died. I didn’t even remember this story until my brother recounted it years later. My father must have still been drinking. I can’t imagine a sober person doing anything so cruel.
Apparently, my father had acquired a Stetson hat at one point. The Western hats are enormous and they come in a huge box. My father apparently decided that the Stetson box was the right size to put Happy Cat’s body in and tie it up. Happy Cat had enjoyed a good life and was a fairly hefty feline.
My brother continued the story. My father had put the Stetson box on top of the pile of garbage to be collected by the Sanitation Department. We had a view of this pile of trash from our kitchen window. I don’t recall how my father managed the timing, but he gathered my brother and I, and of course him and we huddled together at the narrow window as the garbage truck rumbled up to the pile. Predictably, the garbage man lifted the box, it was a nice name brand box, it was heavy and he had the thought that there might be something valuable inside. I can imagine my father, fueled up with a couple of shots of Johnnie Walker Red, imbuing in the air around the kitchen window, a sense of thrill as he squeezed each of our shoulders in anticipation.
The garbage man lifted the cover to see what treasure was inside the valuable Stetson box.
I imagine sitting cross-legged on my stained carped, Zoe’s limp body in my lap.
Neither of us know quite what to do.