“Is that a bat?” the woman asked.
We were in an elevator and I was holding a rolled up towel. Poking out of the top was a small black head with two humongous black ears.
“Meow” said the presumed bat.
That was my new kitten Paco, an itty bitty kitty with outsized ears; the woman was my supervisor; and the elevator was in our office building. (We werenʼt one of those pet friendly offices, but that didnʼt stop me from smuggling in kittens – Paco wasnʼt the first.) Of course, I was trying to be discreet and Paco was supposed to stay inside the towel but he chose the closing of the elevator doors as the perfect time to pop his head out for a look around. Fortunately, my supervisor didnʼt mind the unexpected guest for a couple hours.
When I wrote about Benderʼs passing back in January, I shared some details about Paco because the two brothers lives were deeply interwoven – more so than I realized. With Pacoʼs domineering personality and constant possessiveness (e.g., he always needed to sit in between me and Bender), I thought he would enjoy being an only kitty. But he got quiet after Bender died – not right away – it was a gradual process – I found myself no longer telling him to shut up. (No, really! He could be incredibly annoying and loud, like, all, the, time.) He still was just as cuddly and clingy as ever, but after a while, he started looking sad. Iʼd ask him if he wanted a baby sister, but could never interpret his expression. While keeping an ear out for any kitties needing a new home, I made sure to devote my time all to Paco for cuddling and love – trying to make up for Benderʼs absence.
Then in August, we had a setback: a reoccurrence of a urinary problem. He would become frantic, manic in his use of the litter box, with blood in the urine. This had happened a number of times, sporadically, over the previous 10 or so years. Typically, we went to the vet. They tested for infection: none. Tested for urinary tract blockage: none. tested for diabetes, pancreatitis, and on and on. Heʼd get treated with liquids and pain medicines, and sometimes an antibiotic (while waiting for test results). The problem would resolve. There was even at least one occasion, where I caught it when it first appeared and luckily had pain meds left over from before, and after a couple doses, it went away and no trip to the vet was needed. He was put on a special urinary diet (which meant that poor Bender ate that stuff too). In 2018, the vets decided he had Idiopathic Cystitis, which, really didnʼt change the treatment choices.
And, yes, heʼd had ultrasounds. Two, in fact, the previous August: an abdominal ultrasound on 8/16/19 that showed an abnormal region in the bladder wall that couldʼve been a blood clot, a mass, or maybe an embedded bladder stone. But after treatment, a second ultrasound on 8/30/19 showed nothing. So when we went in for the new ultrasound on 8/14/20, the vets predicted he had bladder stones. Instead, they found a large mass (large enough to distend the bladder), close to being able to obstruct the bladder neck. Inoperable.
I was in tears by the end of the phone call. Without saying the actual words, the vet seemed to be offering the choice to euthanize him then. I asked how much quality time he had left. The answer: 1-2 months before the pain was too great or the mass blocked his ability to urinate. I opted to bring him home for whatever time he might have. With plenty of pain medicine of course.
At first I thought maybe Iʼd made a mistake. It took at least two days for him to settle down, for me to gauge the frequency for administering meds, for us to settle into some semblance of normalcy. Even then, there were moments each day where he wouldnʼt cooperate with the medicine. By the second weekend I thought it would be his last. But then he rebounded. He even figured out that if he came to me and meowed in a certain way, that I would give him pain meds. So we settled into a routine. Cuddling, pain meds, more cuddling, nose rubs, face rubs, pain meds. And no matter his mood, when night came, he was quick to join me in bed. (For several years, I havenʼt been “allowed” to sleep in any position other than on my left side, so that Paco could spoon with me, rubbing his face against mine while I gently held his paws.)
But it couldnʼt last. He spent less time wanting cuddles and more time under the bed (which had been Benderʼs place of refuge when Paco was harassing him in their younger days – back then Paco was too chunky to fit). And he was so quiet. Too quiet – except when he experienced pain while urinating. I would trap him then, in the bathroom, and make sure he got sufficient pain meds. Heʼd relax – for a while.
I kept apologizing to him, sorry that I couldnʼt fix him, not this time. I kept asking him if we wanted to give up. (And I wondered, to myself, if thatʼs what happened after Bender died. I mean, heʼd had this problem so many times, and it resolved every other time, why not now? Had he been so saddened by Benderʼs death that he gave up?) I kept berating myself for not getting him a younger cat to play big brother to. And he wouldʼve been a great big brother. I shouldʼve given him the chance.
After only a month, it was clear that the pain meds were no longer enough. I knew that I had to say goodbye to him, but I also couldnʼt stand the idea of him dying without me (my veterinarian is still restricting people accompanying their pets inside because of COVID). Fortunately, my wonderful friend Steph, at the clinic, pointed me to Pet Hospice, a team of veterinary nurses who will come to your home, and ease your petʼs passing. Iʼm not even sure how long it took me to fill out the online appointment request form. I literally had to stop to cry after I typed information in each box and before I hit enter. So many times I felt like I couldnʼt breathe.
And then, I thought Iʼd made another mistake when we had one last good night of cuddling and face rubs. He didnʼt purr, but I couldnʼt remember the last time he had. We even had a good morning, with him wanting extra cuddles. But then his mood changed. He wouldnʼt cooperate when I tried to give him pain meds. He wanted to be left alone. And he was angry. I could see it in his eyes. He was even being a bit of an asshole. After I accidentally startled him as he approached a litter box, he ran back to hide under the bed. I went to see if he was okay, and after I lifted up the mattress, he glared at me as he lifted one leg and pissed all over the carpet.
We sat and looked at each other. And I knew it was time. I told him “this isnʼt your life, baby, not like this, not hiding under the bed, undignified, this isnʼt how itʼs supposed to be. I donʼt know how to fix you. Iʼm sorry.” And I didnʼt know how to comfort him, not that afternoon. I left him alone until Barb, the veterinary nurse, arrived at 6 pm. She was kind, calm, and gentle. She made sure we were comfortable, explained all the steps, and told me not to worry about rushing. (They allot 2 hours per appointment.)
Paco was clearly in pain and agitated, so she gave him a sedative and we waited until he conked out. I told her a bit about him and some of the other cats whoʼve called this house their home. And then we pulled him from his hiding spot, and I settled into the big t.v. chair where we had spent many hours cuddling over the past 16 years. I cradled him while she gave him the injection (they use a slower, gentler, drug so your pet doesnʼt pass so quickly, giving you more time). I rubbed his face and told him that it was a privilege to have shared his life. In a while, he was gone, gone so gently I could only tell when his body began to cool.
Even in death, Barb made sure he had dignity. We didnʼt stuff him in a box. She wrapped him in a blanket, and I carried him out to her car where she had a cat bed occupying the front passenger seat. I laid him gently to rest, snug in the bed, still wrapped in the blanket, and said goodbye.