The Ninth Life


(Note: Today’s post deals with the topic of animal euthanasia, namely that which was administered to our beloved cat, Cindy, earlier today. If you have never had the experience of having to put your pet to sleep and aren’t quite prepared for it, nor wish to hear about it, please reconsider reading past the break as I will go into detail about what is involved. Thanks.)

Anthony

I think it was sometime in 2000 when Ann decided that having one cat wasn’t enough. When we adopted Ozziekat, he was literally a kitten that was recovering from a broken leg he had suffered when the animal rescue folks found him.

As an animal lover I wasn’t one to argue, so we went back to PetSmart and peeped some of the cats they had ready for adoption. And I have to admit that most of them just weren’t “the one” for us.

Enter Cindy, a grey and slightly fluffy green-eyed cat that appealed to us almost immediately. From what we understood, she was rescued from an abusive home and was about 6 years old at the time. It didn’t matter; we decided that this would be Ozzie’s new sister.

The two had a funny relationship. Ozzie, about 5 years Cindy’s junior, was always ready to pounce on Cindy from around the corner of the tiny apartment we were living in at the time. It was then when the young Ozzie should have learned not to mess with an elder because Cindy had that Thousand-Paw Slap ready for him at a moment’s notice.

That didn’t stop him. He still would play but not with the same vigor he used to, and Cindy would oblige–or humor him, as it were. Now and then they would take the time to lick each other but as far as sleeping next to each other to stay warm on a cold night? Forget it. Not happening.

Then there was Cindy’s relationship with us and later, Anthony. While not a lap cat, she definitely let us know when she wanted affection, mostly us scratching her on the head. She’d grab our hands with her paw as if to say, “Hey, Mom and Dad! I see a free hand there! How’s about giving me some love?”

She often slept in Anthony’s bed when he was sick and usually slept on my chest once I got under the sheets (since she couldn’t let her paws touch my shirtless chest). I didn’t mind her sleeping and purring on me until I had to roll over and she would growl in disgust.

She also had a habit of squeezing her way into the bathroom whenever anybody went in there to do their business. We kept the door slightly open just in case she wanted to sneak in there because it was funny seeing her push her paw through the crack, give a few waves as she pushed it open, then stick her nose through and playfully hop in:

Speaking of her paws, I couldn’t touch them without being smacked or growled at. Ann, however, could without any sort of payback. And when Ann was pregnant, she and Cindy were inseparable. Cindy made sure Ann was okay by licking her hands or forehead regularly, almost as if she knew Ann had a baby inside her. Maybe it was her motherly instinct because, for all we know, Cindy could have been a mom at some point or another.

Licking was Cindy’s thing. She’d lick you until you or she couldn’t stand it anymore.

Then there were the birds. Cindy would often jump onto the windowsill and sit and playfully cackle at the birds in the hopes of one day catching one. She never did, but she did manage to catch a rat.

This was the life we knew with our beloved Cindy up until about a week ago. At that time, we had noticed that she didn’t have much of an appetite and began to be very lethargic, and she found a spot to sleep very comfortably most of the day. She’d come down to maybe have a few pieces of dry food and a drink of water but that was it; she’d hop back up and lay down again.

Thinking she was just in a funk, I let her roam in the backyard a few times just to get some fresh air. She’d roam for a little bit then go and lay down in the sunlight.

We began to think this was the beginning of the end for her and tearfully started to talk to and reflect with her at night. We also took Anthony to the side and had the talk that no parent likes to have with their child. After all, Cindy was his “baby kitty” and nobody else’s. He seemed to understand in the best way his little brain could.

And because Cindy had a case of Sneaky Feet and would often try and sneak out the door, we had a collar with a bell on it to alert us of when she was trying to escape. But in order to let her rest a bit more comfortably, we removed it.

As the week went on, Cindy began to get noticeably thinner and had stopped jumping up to her little perch, finding comfort in a cardboard box in the kitchen that we had been meaning to throw out. It quickly became her bed, in which Anthony put one of his LEGO men inside to keep her company. She seldom left the box and when she did, had a hard time walking and stepping back into it.

Ann and I continued to talk to her nightly and scratch her belly, one of Cindy’s most favorite things in the world. She’d curl up and grab our hands as we did it knowing she was just enjoying the heck out of it. She’d purr in approval.

Then there was today when I watched Cindy sit up, try and lick herself and almost fall over. I then called the vet and made an appointment for her.

And here’s the part of the blog post that you might want to skip.

The cat carrier was stuffed somewhere near the back of the garage, still with the yellow towel that was in there the last time we had taken her years ago. She was seldom sick, which we were thankful for.

Before stuffing her into the carrier, I told Ann and Anthony to say their goodbyes as this could very well be the last time they see our kitty. They did and Anthony remained surprisingly strong–until I left the house and heard him crying and yelling “CINDYYYYY!” Ann later told me that he was also reaching out for her as I put her in the truck to take her to the vet. I could still hear his cries as I drove away.

Holding back tears, I grabbed the carrier and walked into the vet’s office. And that’s when it really hit me.

As I checked in, I started to sob and get choked up. The receptionist knew who I was since I had just called not too long ago, so she just told me to sit and wait to be called.

I sat with Cindy and squeezed my finger through the slats of the cage. She didn’t even rub on my finger as she used to nor was she even purring. Granted, this was her normal behavior whenever she went to the vet but it seemed a little different this time, almost as if she knew what was going on.

We were called into the exam room and the nurse asked me a few questions about her recent behavior and health. I explained as she took her temperature, checked her heartbeat.

“Does everything sound okay,” I asked.

“Yeah, it does so far. But we’ll see what the doctor says in a minute,” she replied. The nurse left and I held Cindy tight.

“See, Cindy? You’re doing alright so far!” All she did was glare at me with her tired, green guileless eyes.

About 5 minutes later, the doctor arrived and I put Cindy on the table. She examined and explained as Cindy put up a fight.

“She’s very dehydrated, very pale,” the doctor said as she felt Cindy’s left side. “And I feel a mass on her stomach.” I began to cry. The doctor continued.

“She is 17, which is very old for a cat. So I think at this point, it would be best to decide what you’d like to do.”

“At her age, I don’t think there’s any point in finding out what the mass is at this stage,” I said as I fought back tears. The doctor agreed.

I then made the toughest decision of my life: Cindy had to be euthanized, and I was a mess from this point on.

“Do you want to be here when we administer…”

“Yes, I need to be with her. I can’t let her go by herself.”

“I understand. What we need to do now is insert a catheter for the fluid, so I need to take her,” she said. Sobbing, I wrapped Cindy in the towel and handed her over to the doctor. As the door of the exam room closed, I began to cry uncontrollably. This was it–her Ninth Life was about to be exhausted.

I was then visited by an unsympathetic nurse who explained some of the cremation options available to me. I turned them down and signed some paperwork stating that I agreed to let them handle Cindy’s remains in their normal manner.

He left and another nurse entered with Cindy wrapped in the towel, her right front paw equipped with a catheter. Cindy may have been weak but she had some fight left in her as I tearfully talked to her.

“This is it, Cindy. I can’t tell you how happy you’ve made us or how much we’ll miss you.” I continued until the doctor arrived with a syringe filled with the clear pink liquid that would peacefully end Cindy’s life.

“I have to explain a few things. It will happen fast and she’ll just look like she’s asleep,” the doctor said. “And afterwards, she’ll breath heavily once or twice. It can be kind of disturbing so I have to let you know.”

“Okay.”

“Now if I could have you put Cindy on the table…”

Oh, God…

I carefully placed a limp Cindy on the cold steel table, gently scratching her head in the process. “It’s gonna be fine, girl. It’ll be fine.”

I then began to stroke her coat for the last time and let her know how much we all loved her, how her little boy will miss her, how…everything. I then reached into my pocket and pulled out the little LEGO man that Anthony had put in her cardboard box.

“Cindy, you know Anthony put this in your box to make sure you were okay. I want you to see this and know that he’s thinking of you.” I placed it front of her as she lay on the table.

As the time got closer, I could see how bad Cindy really was. She just looked miserable as she laid on the table. Knowing this was the humane thing to do, it still hurt me to have to do it.

The doctor then moved to the side of the table and began to insert the syringe into the catheter. I was now a bigger mess than before and inched closer to Cindy’s face.

“Cindy, we love you…please know that…you made us all happy and your little boy loves you more than you’ll ever know…” I kept stroking her fur as the pink liquid began to enter Cindy’s frail body.

I watched Cindy’s chest and kept talking to her as the syringe was emptied. Cindy lay still, chest pumping slower than before. The doctor placed the stethoscope over Cindy’s heart as I saw our beloved pet take her final breath.

“She’s gone. I’m sorry.”

I held my head in my hands and cried like a baby for a minute. Her eyes still open and looking very much alive, our beloved Cindy was gone. A few seconds later I had witnessed what the doctor had warned me about: two final huffs of breath that weren’t actually breaths but reactions to the medication.

As her body lay there, Cindy looked at peace and for the first time in at least a week, smiling and happy, her green eyes still open. It was something I won’t soon forget, almost as if she was telling me “Hey, Dad! It’s okay! I’m happy and I feel fine so please don’t worry about me!”

Easier said than done, girl.

I chatted with the doctor afterward over Cindy’s lifeless body. I still stroked her soft fur as if she was still alive and gave her some final words:

“Cindy, I know you’re not gone. You will always be with us in our hearts. You’ll never be forgotten and we’ll always love you, girl.”

The doctor then wrapped up Cindy in the towel and left the room. And that was it.

From that point on, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for us. Naturally, Anthony has rebounded and is now spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, something that had been planned days ago. Ann and I are here and left to rest our exhausted minds. Even Ozzie has been roaming the house and acting a little out of character, almost as if he knows what happened (which I’m sure he does) and would love to talk to us about it. He’s been awfully chatty.

This was the first time I’ve ever been present when a family pet was put to sleep which probably explains why I took this so hard. Knowing it needs to be done is one thing but being present is definitely another. Euthanasia is a sad but necessary part of life for pet owners and trust me, it’s not easy. But for all of the pain we think we’re going through, just think of how much worse it is for your pet who can’t walk up to you and tell you how they feel.

Her collar with the bell and heart-shaped name tag that Anthony picked for her now sits on the mantel as a memento of the life she shared with us. And despite being gone, I know I’m going to still hear that bell on her collar when I least expect it. And I will smile knowing she’s still wandering the house in spirit, free of any pain.

Goodnight, Cindy. We love you.

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4 thoughts on “The Ninth Life

    • Thank you. We’re getting better but still a bit sad.

      And Ann heard her bell in the middle of the night. I told her she would.

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  1. I feel for ya buddy. In my life, I’ve had to put down two dogs and my most recent love died in my arms before I could get her back to the vets. Someone once told me that God gave us pets so that we can appreciate how short life really is and how important it is to love those around us before they’re gone. It’s a hard lesson every time.

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    • You know, I was hoping she’d pass peacefully at home so I wouldn’t have to see her put down. It was very traumatic for me and I still think about it.

      And what you said was true. It’s a lesson for all of us but especially kids, who think that everything lasts forever. Anthony’s handling it better than his parents.

      The strange thing is that we’ve had a few signs of her presence around here lately and it’s been comforting. Weird, but comforting.

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