This is how I want to remember him. Regal, imperious. Caring not one bit that he might be in the way.
Mr. Katt had a gift for occupying the single most inconvenient place in the room. If I was trying to read the newspaper, he’d poke his head past my outstretched arm and worm his way onto my lap. When I tried to make a bed, he’d jump between the sheets, forcing me to shoo him away before I could finish my task. If I was trying to pay bills, he’d plop his significant girth smack dab in the middle of my pile of mail.
How dare I think that anything I was doing might be more important than his immediate comfort and pleasure?
Most of the time I was mildly annoyed with him. “You’re kidding me, right?” I would say as he occupied my favorite space on the couch. “Really?” I’d say as he flopped across my paperwork. Sometimes I had to gently shove him aside, he was that unwilling to yield his position.
Now I find myself hanging onto memories of the love/hate, give-and-take, mutually tolerant relationship we shared. I would give anything to be annoyed at him right now.
Instead, I am sitting on the couch alone, typing without his head draped protectively over my right wrist. I am missing the deep rumble of his ready purr.
I was getting ready for work Friday morning when I heard our other (much younger) cat, Lucy, meowing plaintively. She often whines for no apparent reason, so I’ve learned to tune her out. But something in her tone sounded different this time.
I looked at her, then just past her, to the source of her distress.
Mr. Katt (his seemingly uninspired name is a long story) was lying on the floor behind the reclining chair he often fights my husband to occupy. Something was wrong.
He was flat on his back, all four legs flailing in the air. And he was panting. Not an “I’m tired from recent exertion” panting but a scary, gurgling, “I’m having trouble breathing” kind of panting.
I called our vet and was told that the office was really backed up. “I can’t wait,” I said. “Where can I take him?” They referred me to a nearby veterinary hospital.
I quickly pulled on my oldest, most comfortable blue jeans and a gray turtleneck sweater. My heart was pounding hard. Not today, I thought. I can’t deal with this today.
I grabbed an old Seattle Supersonics blanket that was draped over our leather sofa (it used to be part of a basketball-theme room my two young sons shared). If I didn’t already know something serious was wrong, my hunch was confirmed when our plump orange tabby failed to fight me as I wrapped him in the blanket, lifted him gently and carried him to the car.
He panted, gurgled and flailed in the front seat as I drove. I tried to comfort him, stroking him with my right hand as he thrashed about. At one point I must have touched something that hurt; he jerked his head and bit my wrist–hard.
When we reached the clinic, the staff quickly whisked him away for assessment. When a young veterinarian joined me in an exam room, her face was grim.
“It’s not good,” she said. Our 14-year-old cat, who had shown no signs or symptoms of distress until that morning, was suffering from congestive heart failure. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
“I’m more concerned about the fact that he can’t move his back legs,” the vet said. “His feet are cold, which tells me he’s not getting any blood circulating in his legs.” She was certain he’d thrown a blood clot that had traveled to his lower torso and was now creating the paralysis.
She had given him pain killers and diuretics in an effort to ease his breathing. Still, he was struggling, frightened and wild-eyed. His tongue was blue and hanging out the side of his mouth. A normally meticulous groomer, he was salivating profusely down his cheek and soaking the blanket.
“The congestive heart failure can be treated,” she said, tactfully adding that “I can do a full workup for you….” It was clear to me that we could pay a lot of money to restore his ability to breathe and perhaps prolong his life for a short amount of time. “What worries me more, however, is the legs,” she said. “We can’t really do anything about the clot. And if he’s thrown one, he’s likely to throw more.”
I took a deep breath. “It sounds like it might be time to put him down,” I said. It wasn’t really a question.
“It probably would be best,” she answered quietly.
“Can I call my family?” I asked. I didn’t want to make this decision alone.
“Of course,” she said. “Take whatever amount of time you need.”
So here I have a confession to make. I was freaking out as I drove the cat to the vet. I was afraid that exactly this type of news was looming, that I would be alone with a decision no loving pet owner wants to make. While stopped at an intersection, I did something I probably shouldn’t have. I used my iPhone to take several seconds of video showing our writhing, suffering cat. I emailed it to my husband and two grown sons. I told them where I was going and that I was scared. It felt like they needed to see what I was seeing, so they would know I didn’t really have a choice.
When the vet left the room, I immediately called David, our 25-year-old son, who lives in Chicago. Mr. Katt was really his cat, after all. He’d picked him out from among dozens of kittens that were available the day we visited the animal shelter.
That tiny, scrawny ball of fur originally was selected to heal a broken heart. A short time earlier, we had returned from our first family trip abroad to find one of our two cats missing. The pet sitter we hired failed to notify us when she couldn’t find the declawed, defenseless and always-housebound cat in our home. So Sparky was out in the elements alone, during the heat of a Phoenix summer, for nearly 12 days. We later found out one of our neighbors had found him near death and taken him to a shelter, where the staff promptly ended his suffering.
After David mourned his cat for a reasonable amount of time (even writing a heart-wrenching letter to the pathetic excuse for a pet sitter) we agreed to his request for a new pet. He picked an orange tabby because it was the spitting image of his lost pet. He even named the kitten Sparky, as though he could patch the wound and and move on without pain.
Within days, however, he changed his mind. “He’s not Sparky,” my then-11-year-old said sadly. “I don’t want to call him that anymore.” So we didn’t. And we all waited for an update from David, who certainly had earned the right to choose a better name.
Somehow, he just became “Cat.” Until I had to take him to the vet and they asked his name. “Um…’Cat,'” I said.
“Um, no, actually…K-A-T-T,” I fudged, hoping to imply some sort of context that didn’t involve apathetic owners. “It’s a long story.” But Katt he stayed, until David added the “Mr.” and it seemed to suit him.
David had made the decision that gave this cat a good life and David had the right to decide if that good life was over. He’d seen the video I sent. “I’m sorry,” I said, as though I could have done something to prevent a blood clot. We cried together and quickly agreed we did not want our pet to endure any more suffering. I knew my husband and other son would agree.
The vet brought the paperwork and told me to take my time saying goodbye. I asked for five minutes. I told Mr. Katt that he’d been loved, that we were grateful for his place in our lives. His pupils were fully enlarged, turning his green eyes black. He looked like his spirit already had left him, that only his body was fighting to stay.
After less than a minute, I pounded on the door. “I can’t make him wait any more,” I said when the vet returned. She placed the syringe into the already-prepared port, which was wrapped in red medical tape. Nice, neat, tidy. She looked at me and I nodded. Yes. Now. I can’t stand to watch this any more.
She slowly squeezed the syringe. It only took seconds. He sighed, then was still. She pulled out her stethoscope, listened for a heart beat and then looked at me sympathetically. “He’s gone,” she said. She quietly left the room.