The art of saying goodbye…

silly OreoHis mother was a barn cat, brought to our building to have her kittens. Then he and his littermates were placed in a cardboard box labeled “Free Kittens” and brought downstairs to the lobby. I knew nothing about this until after the fact, it was my neighbour and former friend who informed me that she’d got the last kitten, one who looked just like Angel except he had a black nose.

The former friend picked him up on a whim and, three months later, gave him to us because she no longer wanted three cats. Of course she blamed her father at the time but I watched her abandon four more pets in a couple more years and, well, she can’t blame him for everything. And, yes, that’s why we’re no longer friends.

But I digress. Oreo became ours then, still a kitten but an older kitten. We quickly realized he’s a complete and utter clown who routinely sleeps on his back with all four paws in the air. He’s also known for his tongue bleps, those times when a cat’s tongue sticks out and stays out. He’ll even fall asleep on his back with a tongue blep so his tongue is falling towards his nose.

When Oreo was a young cat he was an excellent mouser, something I likely would never have known if our neighbour wasn’t as bad at containing his live snake food as Oreo was good at catching it. We lived on the third floor of a highrise so they weren’t just wandering in on their own. These days though, he’s nearly fourteen. I have the feeling that if a mouse ran past, he’d look at it and go back to sleep if he a) even woke up or b) could see it. He’s passed that task on to Smudge and Lara, who will likely never see a mouse in their lives.

Oreo has always been the “good child”. Good natured, even tempered, friendly with everyone. Angel hisses at the other cats when they get too close, Blackie needs careful monitoring and CBD oil because she’ll wet in corners, Lara grabs your hand when she wants to get petted… and often forgets to retract her claws, and Smudge likes hiding and jumping on Angel to get a reaction. Oreo does none of that. He just sleeps cute, licks compulsively when his back is scratched, and purrs like a motor when it’s feeding time. Oreo loves his food. So, unfortunately, Oreo gets a bit overlooked. It’s easier to see the others when they’re Right In My Face. Which is why the last time he saw a vet was when he got neutered at 6 months old. He turns fourteen on September 15th.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out about the Iams Checkup Challenge. It was open to Canadian residents until July 31, 2021. You went out and bought $40+ of Iams food in one go before taxes (they had a list of qualifying products) and kept the receipt. Then you took your pet to the vet for a checkup and kept that receipt too. Finally you went onto their website and uploaded a picture of both receipts. They reimbursed you up to $150 before taxes. Finally! This was Oreo’s chance to see the vet… and the first time out of the apartment (other than moving) in thirteen years.

He 110% did not like leaving the apartment and started yowling before we even reached the elevators. We live beside the elevators. Luckily for both of us, the vet office is directly across the street. Due to covid I couldn’t go inside. Instead I called into the office and then the vet called me back so I could voice any concerns and then they brought Oreo in.

I mentioned the lump on his side but also that it had been there for several years and never changed shape. Then I decided I might as well tell her about the other lump too, the one I figured was probably a pimple of some sort or maybe a small boil. The location bugged me, a nipple seemed like an odd spot for a pimple to form.

They scooped up Oreo and went inside, leaving me on the sidewalk without even a chair. At least it wasn’t raining (there was a 90% of rain). And then the phone rang. That lump on his nipple… it wasn’t any sort of pimple. It was a tumour with a 90% to 95% chance of being aggressively malignant. There’s no such thing as easily treatable or relatively easily treatable breast cancer. All the nipples on that side are connected so the vet can’t simply remove the lump, she’d have to remove that whole side. And, since it’s highly aggressive, there’s a good chance it’s already in his lungs and/or lymph nodes so he’d need a chest x-ray first. No point in doing hugely invasive surgery if his lungs are riddled with tumours.

She’s talking and all I could think was “what’s the cost?”. And I don’t just mean financially, although that is a definite concern. What is the cost to Oreo? We adopted Oreo in 2008 and he didn’t leave the apartment again (other than getting neutered) until 2012 and that was to go into a carrier, into a car, and then out of the carrier into the new apartment. And then again in 2020 with the same routine. He doesn’t know the outside world. He doesn’t like the outside world. Blackie and the twins will sometimes venture into the hallway outside our apartment. Oreo and Angel don’t even try. Oreo would be miserable with multiple vet visits and terrified by staying at the hospital… especially in pain and attached to things. And it’s not permanent, he’s got a 50% of it coming back in a year even with the treatment.

He’s not a kitten, he’s an old cat. Her next news was that his gums are bad and he’s lost most of his teeth. Her final news was that he has cataracts but still seems to be able to see. I’ll keep the furniture where it is, just in case. I have a mini trampoline (a rebounder if you’re fancy) at the foot of my bed and my senior kittens use it as a step up. Blackie uses it just fine. Angel uses it during the day but she’s sore by bedtime and needs to be lifted up from the trampoline. Oreo? He doesn’t even make it into my room. He just cries from wherever he is then I lift him and carry him to the bed. No point in leaving his poor bones on a hard floor. Maybe if he was as young as the twins and bounding around the apartment I’d have a harder decision but he’s not. I’m not going to fight, and pay a fortune, to have him “cured” so he can get carried from the kitchen into the bedroom because his joints hurt to much to walk. The phrase “pick your battles” comes to mind. Sometimes you just have to walk away, even if it hurts.

To be truthful, I want him to continue on being Oreo forever. Bumbling through life forever cheerful, being a total goofball but being real… genuine. It’s not often that pure goodness comes into your life. It has for me and I don’t want it to go. But that’s the art of saying goodbye. Everything comes to an end. There’d be no room for beginnings if nothing ever ended.

And so I watch Oreo, sprawled across the cat mat under the table. His eyes are bright as he waits in anticipation for a head scratch and a scratch under the chin. Later, before I go to bed, he’ll sit beside the stove and yowl until the other cats join him and I relent and sprinkle cat treats on the floor. And, at some point when my room is dark, I’ll climb out from under the covers to carry Oreo to bed. His life will have happiness, peace, and routine until it’s time to say goodbye and may I have the art to know when that time is.

Is this goodbye?

20191021_102325_hdrIt was 2007 and our cat Pumpkin had been put to sleep due to cancer two months earlier. The kids were begging for a new cat and, I must admit, there was a hole in our home that needed some extra purring and love.

I decided we’d adopt an older cat and told this to the lady at the shelter. Of course the kids had other ideas.

“Mom! Look at this one!,” Kait said and then she giggled. “She just licked my nose!”

“Those aren’t our older cats,” the lady informed me. “They’re… oh… you’re looking at one of our black cats!!! This one’s Blackie, she’s 11 months old. Would you like to hold her?”

Would we like to hold her? One of the silliest questions ever. I looked at the joy on Kait’s face and decided that was the one.

Blackie smoothly moved into our home, making friends with our oldest cat Angel, then befriending Oreo when he arrived. Colin and I moved with her to this apartment where she got adopted as Mommy Cat by Lara.

I can’t picture our home without her marching imperiously to the kitchen to be fed… her scurry to the front door to greet me… her happy nose licking… and her snuggling under the covers with me in the winter. Right now she’s sprawled in boneless bliss across the bottom of the bed, her sleep punctuated with slight snores. It doesn’t seem imaginable to picture her gone. My greeter of people and stander on keyboards.

I weighed her last week, first by weighing me holding her, then by weighing me alone, and finally subtracting the two numbers. She weighed 5lbs, which is worrisome. So I made sure she got the biggest portions of wet cat food, even at 2am. If Blackie’s hungry, she’s fed. Then I weighed her yesterday and was shocked to see her at 3lbs.

Blackie sees the vet this Wednesday, first thing in the morning. I’m hoping there’s a simple solution… but I don’t see one. And it feels so weird to mourn someone who’s still here and has no idea of the gravity of the situation.

I will update this post on Wednesday when I get more information.

Saying goodbye…

“Mom! Mom! Something’s wrong with Ben!” Jeremy wailed. “Please, can you help me clean his cage? He needs to have a clean cage to die in!”

It was 2 o’clock on Saturday morning and the quickest I’d woke in years.

“Jeremy, give me your guinea pig and I’ll cuddle him in bed,” I said as reassuringly as I could. Zie handed me a freshly washed, sopping wet piggy and I tucked him under the covers and cradled him beside me. Ben snuffled my hair and started chewing. I’m his food lady but today I arrived empty handed. I guess he figured my hair would be good enough.

“Can you give me something to feed Ben?” I asked and Jeremy promptly handed me a carrot.

“Ben’s front leg isn’t working,” zie cried as Ben happily chewed on his favourite food. “And there’s something wrong with his left eye.” I could only see his right which looked fine to me.

I cuddled with Ben for about ten minutes then changed into a dry nightie and went back to sleep. Luckily Jeremy went to sleep as well. I snuck into the living room yesterday morning fully expecting to find a body. Instead I found a bright eyed piggy happily gnawing on his pepper; his full weight on both front legs. He’d eaten well the night before and looked perfectly fine now. I assured Jeremy all was well and zir geriatric piggy was on the mend. Then we went out for the day. Ben still looked fine when we got home.

I woke this morning and decided to start my day off with a morning hike. I had to pass the guinea pig cage to get my shoes. No squeaks greeted me. Anyone who’s ever had a piggy knows how unusual that is. Ben was curled oddly under some hay in the back corner of his cage and he bit me when I reached in. I grabbed him by the waist instead and lifted while Ben flailed… both right legs hung uselessly. His waist was tiny and his anus protruded alarmingly.

I cradled him in my arm and gently fed him a carrot, which he took eagerly, whimpering for more. Then he stopped wanting the carrot but continued to whimper helplessly. I called the local vet clinic only to find out they were closed. One more day… one last day with Ben.

Of course I needed to tell Jeremy and woke zir as gently as I could. This is zir very own pet, one we’ve had since zie was 10 years old, I knew it wouldn’t go well. I handed the piggy over and headed out for apple sauce and baby asprin. I wasn’t going to have his last day full of pain.

Thankfully I bought a mortar and pestle from Dollarama last month so I was able to grind the tablet down to a fine powder to mix with apple sauce. I found orange flavoured ones too so the bitter taste wouldn’t deter him and managed to spoon feed him the whole pill (after checking weight and dosage for cavies). Twenty minutes later he was groggy and ready to lie down. So was I.

“Mom! Mom! Ben’s doing so much better! His legs are working again and he can walk… see!” Jeremy announced eagerly.

I blinked and rolled over in time to see Jeremy place Ben on the ground. The piggy stood trembling for a second then attempted to take a step with legs that no longer worked properly. He collapsed onto his side, legs twitching frantically in his panic to get back up.

“Hon, pick him up now. Please!” I implored. Jeremy immediately complied.

“See, he’s doing even better than before,” Jeremy said happily. “Once he gets more food in him he’ll be even stronger.”

Zir words felt like a blow. Ben’s unable to walk and can no longer lap water from his water bottle. Instead I’m feeding him water from a dropper. He can’t walk and he’s having massive issues with pooping. And he’s eight years old! His brother and cage mate died on my birthday almost a full year ago. He’s an elderly pig and it’s his time to go.

After dinner I’m bundling Ben up in a dish towel and taking him out for a walk in the woods. He’s enjoying being held and, while in our arms, he can feel the wind and smell the grass, trees, and flowers. Then I’ll dose him up with more pain medication so he can have a pain free night before we say goodbye to him tomorrow.

Hopefully Jeremy will be able to forgive me for letting Ben go.

Ben2