TW: Pet death. Not gruesome or anything, just sad, but still, it’s pet death.
On Friday afternoon, our oldest kitty-baby, Ash, crossed the rainbow bridge. If y’all have been around here for some time, you’ll know that Ash has been sick for about 18 months now. It began not long after we moved into our current house. In fact, at first we thought it was just the move that unsettled him. He stopped eating and started withdrawing. He’s done this pretty much at every house we’ve moved to in his lifetime, sick for just a little bit as he adjusts to the new environment. Ash has always been very sensitive to environment, and that has gotten worse as he aged. But after a couple weeks with no improvement, we knew something else was wrong. We took him to the vet.
That first appointment was rough. The vet said that in addition to being severely dehydrated, his skin was jaundiced and she suspected severe liver disease. I wasn’t expecting words like “quality of life” to be passed around. We were sent to a specialty clinic for urgent ultrasound, and they talked about abnormal nodes on his liver and intestines that they wanted to biopsy. I was a mess, freaking out, didn’t know what to tell them because I didn’t want to put him through surgery. Thankfully, his blood numbers were too abnormal to biopsy that day, and when we talked to our primary vet, she said that a biopsy was unnecessary. No matter what the biopsy determined, the treatment was the same. Ash was receiving fluids, his skin had gone pink again, and he’d begun eating. We started on a steroid treatment, which perked him up enormously.
Life for Ash never really returned to normal, though. He was quarantined to his own room where he could be safe, because he’d suddenly lost his position as Alpha of our pack, and Jojo – the new Alpha – would attack him any time they saw each other. Ash was sick, and he needed protection. Of course, he could leave the room whenever he wanted, and we kept an eye on the other cats to make sure they left Ash alone, but it was always very stressful for him. We changed his diet to wet food, in order to keep him hydrated, and began rotating brands because he seemed to tire of particular foods very quickly and would quit eating or start vomiting more than normal (he’s been a particularly high-vomit cat since he was two years old). We bought him special toys, made him different blanket beds in his quarantine room, snuggled him, etc.
All through 2020, Ash had his ups and downs. I can’t tell you how many vet appointments he went to, and how many different ways he was treated (subcutaneous fluids, antibiotics, probiotics, steroids, painkillers, and so on). We thought we were going to lose him in October last year, but once again, he rallied. He never did gain enough weight back after he began losing in December 2019. As a fairly mid-sized male cat, he was supposed to be around 12 lbs, and never seemed to make it above 11 lbs again, often below that. And by this last month, while he was eating upwards of four cans of food, plus dry food, plus treats, every day, he just kept losing weight. We had another ultrasound that showed much larger nodes, one pressing into his gall bladder. We knew time was short, and we had to make a decision soon.
Jason and I don’t believe in letting animals suffer to the end on their own, but it’s hard to make a decision for a creature who can’t directly communicate. You have to read their signs and body language, their behaviors and movements. Ash never did get to the point where he couldn’t, for instance, jump up from floor to the bed in his room. However, for the last few weeks, he spent most of his time tucked away in a dark cabinet on a soft bed. He lost even more weight, and all his bones were visible or touchable. He struggled to go from lying to standing, and vice versa, and it was obvious he was in pain. Of course, he also loved cuddling and spending time with us still, and got very energetic when it came to treats, mewing with a voice that had gone from high-pitched to a croak. It was a hard decision, but we knew it was time.
When the vet saw him, she took one look and knew it was time as well. She said she could tell just how much things had changed in the few weeks since his last ultrasound. We weighed him – he was down to 8.7 lbs. She made us feel better about our decision, that it was the right time and right choice. We chose a box for his ashes, and set to get a ceramic paw print with his name as well. In the days before the appointment, we all said our goodbyes, and two of Ash’s longtime people-friends, Natalie and Stephanie, each came over to spend some time with him as well. He licked Natalie – he almost never grooms anyone, so it’s always special when he does – and he spent 20 mins head-butting Stephanie’s leg and cuddling up next to her. It was almost like he knew as well, and was saying his goodbyes, too.
I’m not going to go into the details of his death. It was peaceful, and Jason and I were both with him, his face cradled in my hands, Jason’s hands on his side. I bawled my eyes out, not for the first time this week, and I’m sure not for the last. The vet said to take as much time as we needed, and we did, leaving only when we were ready and when we knew we needed to go home to comfort Laurence, who had been crying when we left for the vet. (Ambrose wasn’t home. We waited for this until he returned home from cat-sitting at my sister’s house in Dallas so that he could say his goodbyes, but on the day-of, he was at a friend’s house, so hopefully he got some comfort from that. He was very close to Ash.)
When we get his ashes and paw print back, we’ll hang the paw print under his painted portrait. Laurence created the portrait at one of those paint-your-pet nights when he was ten years old (left), and it was his idea to hang the paw prints there. His ashes will be buried under the aloe vera in our eventual zen garden, so he can remain with us here.
Ash had a good, long life. He was just on the cusp of being 12 years old, and he’d been with us for all but the first 4-5 months of his life. He’s the cat who taught me to love animals, who as a kitten would wait for me to eat my food before he started eating, who loved to lay on my office chair and would occasionally challenge me for the seat (below), who literally got high if exposed to catnip, who loved feathers and the laser pointer and crinkly paper, and who hated being laughed at. Ash believed he was human, and I think he understood far more than many cats about the world around him. All my kitties have a special place in my heart, but Ash…Ash was an old friend, an old soul, and a very deep rooted love that only comes from years of experience together.
Rest in peace, my darling Ash. June(ish) 2009 to 5/28/21.