Back G & A at home
George's memoir of Emily is below, detailed and moving and the way we will always remember her.
Emily was a shy little kitty for a long time, but a fat one for sure. She had a powerful appetite--"a vacuum cleaner for catfood," George once said. But a few months ago her appetite declined. A couple of hospital stays brought it back, but by mid-March we knew it was just a matter of time. Emily fell into her last long sleep April 1, 2015, when she was 16. She spent all but her first few months of life with us.
She was well cared-for by our friends at the Bramer Animal Hospital, especially Dr. Rahn, who saw to the good health of all four of the fabulous kitties of Prairie Avenue, Musetta (d. 1998), Charlotte (d. 2012), Masetto (d. 2014), and Emily.
Just below, some pictures from late January taken by Sarah, Emily's all-time favorite cat-sitter, and one from Kevin, whose dissertation Emily watched over carefully in the final-edit stage (6/14).
outside, back porch, Spring 2015
March 14, 2015
Cozy in a drawer seldom open (November 2014)
Out front (Summer 2014)
Even the bold Charlotte rarely ventured so far outside.
Emily in the office 2014
In the coming months, her innate fearfulness toward us moderated just a bit, but not to the extent of wanting to be touched, or—heaven forbid—to sit in a lap. No cuddly companion she. When not eating or using her box, she mostly kept to herself, sleeping at the top of her climbing tree, and having minimal interactions with the household. She was not even companionable with Charlotte, her cage-mate from the shelter, though she tolerated Charlotte’s presence. Almost anything could make her flee in fright to a hiding spot under the bed: the doorbell, an unfamiliar voice in the house, the whine of the vacuum cleaner, you name it. I put a padded basket under the bed to make her a little more comfortable when her terrors were running high.
And then there were the physical ailments. Right from kittenhood she had terrible teeth and required extractions to prevent health-threatening infections. If she tried to eat dry food, which she couldn’t properly chew, she’d swallow it whole and then chuck it up again. In time, even her Friskies pate had to be thinned with water and pureed to a soupy consistency with a blender so that she could lap it up like a drink.
Her respiratory difficulties were beyond the vet’s skills. All her life she constantly sneezed. I knew when she was in the room just from the sound of the frequent sneezes, and these left traces everywhere: on baseboards, walls, upholstery, bedclothes, books, magazines, and so on. Grooming was another trial. She was so ferocious in resisting the trimming of claws and the removal of mats from her fur, that these jobs went largely neglected. And medication? Giving her a pill or an oral dose of antibiotic liquid was an epic battle. The only sure way of giving her the meds she came to need was to crush the pills and stir them into her food.
As time wore on, she began to expand her horizons and would venture upstairs now and again (something Charlotte had done from day one). But those visits halted abruptly in 2000 when Masetto arrived and took up residence with Allen. For Emily, the very sight of Masetto was enough to provoke angry growls, cries, and hisses, and from that point on, for several years, she wouldn’t set foot upstairs and would make scenes when he appeared downstairs. But this slowly moderated, to our great relief. Allen has pictures from 2009 showing Emily, Charlotte, and Masetto curled up in separate sections of George’s bed on Chrismas Day, a wonderful gift for us. And many was the night when we had three kitties to watch movies with us, Emily stretched out along George’s side, sometimes with her head resting in his open hand; Charlotte curled up in the crook of Allen’s left arm; and Masetto sleeping in his lap.
Emily shocked us by appearing at the top of the stairs one afternoon and walking into Allen’s office and jumping up on his desk. A historic occasion, it was; it had been ten hears; see the pictures here. After that she came upstairs more often. As Masetto got older and slept more and more, Emily seems to have felt free to roam; she even took to sleeping under Allen’s bed. In 2013 she was often in the office and in Masetto’s little condo (near the top of that file), which he could no longer jump up to reach. She had no problem doing that kind of thing until the last few days of her life. She was amazingly spritely.
At last, with Charlotte’s passing in 2012 and Masetto’s in 2014, Emily came to enjoy what she had always wanted: a one-cat household. In her final year of life, she mellowed greatly. Increasingly she became tolerant of strangers, less freaked-out by everything, and more companionable than ever before. She took warmly to Sarah, our cat-sitter, and would sit in her lap. When Allen and I would settle on the bed to watch a movie in the evenings, she would regularly take her place between us for the event and even climb into one of our laps on occasion. And at other times, when I was reading, she would come over and lie next to me, accepting pats and head scratches. She developed another endearing trait late in life: when she wanted food, she didn’t meow (she almost never used her voice unless angry or frightened); instead, she would climb up on me where I was reading and repeatedly push her nose against mine. Yes, the people at the shelter were right. With patience and a little time--like 13 or 14 years--she did finally come round! She found her inner kitty and her sweet side and began to bond with us in ways we never expected.
But she was losing ground. Emily had never grown to be a big cat. The highest weight recorded in her available vet bills was 9.44 lbs in February of 2011. Thereafter, she began losing weight, slowly at first and then rapidly. At her annual exam in October 2014, she had lost 23% of her body weight from her previous visit and she was now down to 6.56 lbs. But her blood work provided no obvious explanations. At this point she had been on doxycyline (antibiotic) and methimazole (hyper-thyroid medication) for quite some time.
In December of 2014 (in a repeat of an episode that had happened in April, 2012), she began rejecting her food. She would go through all the behaviors associated with wanting food, following me out to the kitchen, waiting while I prepared the food, and walking over to the dish. But then she’d turn away from it. I tried tempting her with tuna fish and AD prescription food, but nothing worked. When this went on for a few days, we took her to the vet and they kept her overnight, giving her various intravenous injections and appetite stimulants. Remarkably, they worked. On returning home she once again had a robust appetite, and continued that way for 11 weeks. But then in early March of ’15, the food rejection syndrome returned. On the 5th, we took her back to the vet (where they found she’d actually gained a little weight since December), and again they kept her overnight and repeated their ministrations. Things again looked hopeful when she came home and resumed eating. This time, though, the recovery lasted only 2 weeks, and we could see the handwriting on the wall. It seemed foolish and even cruel to subject her to the stresses of repeated trips back to the vet for artificial jump-starts that promised ever-diminishing returns.
What follows are some observations I jotted down in her final days.
Thursday, March 26. E. has gone through another day of rejecting all food, but she has been moving about, has been up and down stairs, has gone onto the porch to gaze a the out-of-doors, etc. As long as she shows all this interest in life, how can we decide to cut that life short? Right now she’s dozing in my lap, a practice she has only taken up very late in her life. I think she’s beginning to find that hunger is no longer an issue. She’s not restlessly pacing as she once did when she wanted food, and the pleading looks are fewer. Her food is always fresh and is there if she wants it, and she seems to know I can’t do anything more for her than that.
Friday, March 27. It seems to me that E’s following me out to the kitchen each morning and milling around while I prepare her food (which she rejects) is now simply habit, and not an expression of any hunger feelings. I suspect that the pangs are gone and she is just following lifelong patterns. She shows no outward signs of suffering and still goes up and down the stairs. I pray we’ll know when the time has come to say goodbye and will neither rush that day or delay it past what kindness demands.
Monday, March 30. It’s now been about a week since E. has eaten, but still she doesn’t seem to weaken. Maybe she moves a bit more slowly, but she goes up and down the stairs, jumps from the floor to the bed, and follows me from room to room, sitting in my lap when I settle down. She gives no signs of suffering (though I’ve heard that cats are good at concealing any suffering they feel). Her interest in her surroundings continues. For example, there’s her eagerness to go on the porch and observe the outside. Unfortunately it’s still too cool to leave the porch door open for her, so she only gets brief visits. She shows interest in things indoors as well. Lately she’s taken to putting her paws on the toilet seat and watching the swirling of the waters—something she never did before in her life. And today when I opened the clothes dryer, she immediately put her paws up and leaped inside--something else she’s never done before. Her lively curiosity and her desire to be with us (following from room to room, lap sitting, etc) make it impossible to consider that final trip to the vet just yet.
Tuesday, March 31. Around 1 AM I went to the bathroom and E. followed me there. Then I slept some more. When I returned to the bathroom around 4, I found Emily curled up asleep on the toilet lid! Another first. I came back to bed and when I got up at the regular time she was back on the bed, sleeping. This time she didn’t get up right away and follow me to the kitchen as per her normal pattern. Eventually she did come out while I was fixing my coffee, but she seems to have slowed down a lot. Again today she spent some time on the porch and some time upstairs, but Allen said she had trouble walking. And now she has begun to smell bad, just as Charlotte did in her last days. I can smell her from 4 feet away. I suppose it’s because she’s consuming her own tissues and breathing out the vapors. Surely this is a sign that she’s ready to go. Something else I’ve noticed: All her life I could tell she was in the room from the sound of her sneezing. It was a lifelong respiratory affliction that the vet could never manage to cure. And now I realize that I haven’t heard her sneeze for days, perhaps for as long as 2 weeks. What an irony that she should finally get relief, just in time to die. And how remarkable it is that she has now outlived Charlotte, her much more vigorous and healthy cage mate from the shelter by more than 3 years! She’s an amazing cat. At supper, Allen and I decide to ask Bramer for a euthanasia appointment for Thursday morning, the day after tomorrow, and I email the request to them.
Wednesday, April 1. During the night I find that Emily has left her customary pillow and is sleeping right next to my head. She remains there all night. In the morning I have to gently relocate her so as to spread up the bed and give myself a place to read and have coffee. She is completely inert, just quietly breathing and nothing else. I know her time has come, and I send the vet another email asking to advance her vet’s appointment to today.
Despite her total lack of energy, she drags herself to the bathroom while I’m shaving and stretches out on the bathmat (unseen by me), and when I take a step back from the basin, I accidentally step on her (with a bare foot). She doesn’t cry out or try to move away; she just lies there. I carry her back to the bed.
At 7:55 the vet’s office calls and says Dr. Rahn has an opening at 12:40. So it’s scheduled. A few minutes later, when I’m in the bathroom again, she drags herself back there and flops on the bathmat. Again, I carry her back to the bed. Allen and I decide to forgo our morning walk, since she seems so reluctant to be left by herself. I’ll stay with her until we leave for the vet. Allen will dig a spot for her in the back garden before we leave.
At 1:14 PM, it’s all over. Emily is resting peacefully in the ground on a brilliantly sunny spring day. Allen prepared a box for our kitty with an old shirt to wrap her in, and he included 2 photos: one of me holding her and one of her curled up in her basket. Our very last kitty, gone. Goodbye, dear Emily.