Last week, I was reading the PostSecret blog when I came across this postcard:
It hit me “right in the feels,” as they say.
I can’t remember any time I actually didn’t stay with my cats as they were euthanized. I’ve always felt like it’s my responsibility as a cat guardian to be with my furry friends until they draw their last breath. It’s heartbreaking, yes, but when you’ve shared a life with your cat friend, it’s worth the tears to see them off on their journey to wherever cats’ souls go after they die.
Castor’s euthanasia was particularly heartbreaking. We had adopted him and his brother, Pollux, from the animal shelter on my 13th birthday. They were both kittens at the time, and, as was usual back in the early 1980s, they were both indoor-outdoor cats. Pollux was the first to suffer from his outdoor life: I went out to wait for the school bus one morning and I found his body by the side of the road. He’d been hit by a car the night before.
Castor, on the other hand, grew up to be a robust tomcat who probably fathered quite a few kittens in the neighborhood. He was a scrapper, too, and he often came back with scratches and the occasional abscess. But back then, we didn’t think much of it. We just cleaned out his abscesses and looked upon the chip he got taken out of his ear as a badge of honor. Again, back then it really wasn’t a thing to spay or neuter your cats. When our little calico, Iris, had litters, we found good homes for them and went on our merry way.
Looking back, I’m surprised that I didn’t imagine life for cats to be any different, despite Bob Barker’s repeated exhortations after every episode of The Price Is Right: “We’ll see you next time, and don’t forget to have your pet spayed or neutered.”
In any case, when Castor was about 10 years old, he began getting recurrent mouth infections. He’d get better on antibiotics, but as soon as the antibiotics were discontinued, the infection would come back again. Both my family and the vet thought this was odd, and after several rounds of this, the vet recommended that we test him for this new disease called feline immunodeficiency virus. Back then we called it “kitty AIDS” because, well, it was the early 1990s and the AIDS crisis was still making news. And AIDS was caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, so it just kind of made sense.
I’d moved away from home after I graduated from college, and I was living with friends in another city. Mom called me one day and said that Castor hadn’t been doing too well. I came back to visit with him and found out that “not doing too well” was an understatement. He barely moved from where he was sitting, and he hissed and growled when I tried to pet him. I cried as I looked at him, thin and pain-wracked, and I knew what I had to do. And since he was my cat, I was going to take care of it.
I called the vet, I made the appointment, and I took him there.
Back then, they didn’t do all the preliminary insertion of the catheter and sedating before the euthanasia drug was administered. Instead, it was just an injection of the drug directly into a vein. Castor fought the injection–no matter how sick he was, there was still some part of him that wanted to live, I guess–but I knew I couldn’t let him suffer any longer. “I love you, Castor!” I said with tears in my eyes as he died before me. It was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching in every possible way, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I took his body home and we buried him at the family homestead. But not before I spent half an hour crying in the car before I could drive anywhere.
I’ve sat with two other cats as they were euthanized: Dahlia and Siouxsie. The experiences were light years different from my experience with Castor.
With Siouxsie, on the other hand, euthanasia was more of a sacred occasion. I’d originally thought of having it done at home, but I just couldn’t bring myself to have her die in my living room. My friend Carmen took Siouxsie and me to the veterinarian’s office. I brought her favorite blanket with me. The vet tech took me into a dimly lit exam room with another blanket on the table. As I took care of the business end of things, the tech brought her into the treatment area and placed the catheter in her foreleg.
Then the vet came in and gave came the sedative. I hugged her and held her on my lap as the sedative took effect. I had time to tell her how much I loved her and how grateful I was that she’d been a part of my life.
This was the last time we’d spend together as “mama” and cat–at least this time around. I made a point of remembering all the good and wonderful things about the 19 years we’d had together and thanked her for getting me through some of the hardest times in my life, too.
I stay for euthanasia because I want the closure. I need to know for sure that my cat is dead and isn’t half-alive somewhere and wondering where her person went. I stay because I want the last thing my cat to feel is me gently stroking them as they sink into the sleep from which they won’t wake up. I stay because I believe it’s my responsibility to do so.
Not everybody can stay during a euthanasia, though. I’m not going to lie, it’s freaking hard to do, to watch your beloved cat die. So no judgment from me if you’re one of the people who has to leave the room. I’m just saying, I stay and that’s why.
Do you stay during your cat’s euthanasia? If so, why do you choose to do it? What’s it been like for you? Let’s talk in the comments.