Always an early riser, I had scheduled an 8 AM appointment for my sweet boy, Toes. We had been dealing with kidney failure for nearly three months, and twice a week I took him in for fluid replenishment, a sort of kitty dialysis. Except, this morning, I was there to see the doctor.
He wasn't eating, and in my ignorance, I thought there was something wrong with his mouth and that's why he wasn't eating. Maybe he had a toothache or something.
When his condition was first diagnosed in early May, I asked the veterinarian how I would know when we had reached "the end." I didn't want him to suffer. I just wanted to give him the best quality of life possible for as long as Nature permitted. The vet responded with a simple statement. "He will stop eating." And, there I was on a steamy Saturday morning in July thinking he had a toothache. How could I have forgotten?
It's been five days since then, and, in retrospect, it was denial. I didn't "forget." I didn't want to remember. I wanted there to be another answer. A simple solution. Even a complicated solution would have been more acceptable that no solution. But. There was no solution.
Upon arrival at the vet, the technician took Toes out of the exam room for the doctor to look at his mouth. I had insisted that something was wrong, perhaps with his teeth. I sat down, scrolled through my email and played a game of Dots. Then the veterinarian came in wearing her white lab coat, holding a sheet of paper with red marks on it. She said things like "kidney failure" and "danger zones" and "seizure." My brain fell down into my stomach causing a great pain. My heart was hurting. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, splashing on the paper she showed me with the red marks on it.
How could this be?
The vet was sympathetic and kind as all veterinarians should be, so, I asked her: "If it was your cat, what would you do?" She had mentioned her own cat earlier, when we first began the exam.
She paused. Then she said the words I didn't want to hear. I wanted to put my hand over her mouth. I wanted to take the question back.
In her gentle, quiet voice with the tiniest Scottish brogue she said, "I would let him go."
Even now, as my fingers dance across the keyboard, I have a knot in my stomach remembering the sick feeling in my chest, the knot in my gut, a sense of reeling as though I was losing my balance. But, I wasn't falling. My heart was breaking.
Whenever I visited him, Toes would be the one to sprawl across the coffee table, pawing at my hand to pet him. He was friendly and affectionate, so, I was glad he was the chosen one to come to my house. He arrived by car, sitting in my brother's lap, no kitty carrier visible. Once we were inside the house, we hung out, allowing the cat to get a handle on his surroundings, including our two female cats, Minka and Minipussy.
After about an hour, my brother left, and, in the blink of an eye, Toes disappeared. It took me an hour to find him, hiding between the full length winter coats tucked away in the doll room closet, where he would spend most of the next month of his life.
The thing about cats is that they don't all adapt easily. Toes had known only one home, only one master, and now he was in a strange place with strange people. It was sad to see him hiding, but, every day when I got home from work, I would coax him out to eat and be brushed. He had a thick coat of glossy black fur adorned with a white chest, white paws and white whiskers. The ultimate tuxedo cat. And, he was a big boy, weighing in at 18 pounds. My brother said his father was a Maine Coon and he thought that accounted for his girth. My husband called him Bozo, because, when he ran after the other cats, he seemed clumsy.
He followed me around the house, from room to room, sitting on my feet when I sat, standing guard nearby when I was on my feet. He was nearly always at the front door to greet me when I came home from where I had been, whether I was gone eight hours or eight minutes. I had never experienced this kind of affection from a cat and his behavior lead to my husband and daughter referring to him as "Mom's dog."
That's when I noticed he was losing weight.
I would often pick him up and carry him from one room to another just to get him out from under my feet. One day, I picked him up and he felt different. I called the vet and made an appointment the next day.
You'll never know how much I wish I taken him sooner, that maybe he would still be here. The vet said, "No." It's a part of the aging process in cats, he said. Maybe he was saying that to make me feel better. Maybe it's true. I don't know.
I never knew a love like that with a cat. I've loved dogs in my life. And, more than a few cats. But, this one was different. He was a soul mate. And, I will miss him for a long, long time to come ... maybe always.
I hope it's true what they say ... that when you get to Heaven, all the cats and dogs you've loved will be there to greet you. I sure do hope that's true.