There’s actually quite a few reasons why my online presence has been somewhat lacking the last few months. There’s been the usual stuff: work and life keeping me busy and exhausted and leaving me with very little free time. However, there’s been one particular thing going on in my life that I think warrants being shared.
Some context: When I was 8 or 9, I got a little long haired kitten I named Fluff. He was with me through the transition from elementary school to high school. He was with me through the highs and lows of growing up. He was with me through the transition to university. He was with me when I moved out on my own. He was my rock, my constant comfort. He was with me when I moved out to Newfoundland.
I was 27 when I moved to Newfoundland.
Since moving to Newfoundland, a lot has happened in my life. A lot of things that may one day be featured in this blog, a lot of things that definitely won’t, but through all these things I’ve had Fluff. Always ready with a loud and inviting purr just at the sight of me. He was never an overly playful cat, or an overly affectionate cat, or an overly demanding cat. He was just the greatest cat ever.
When I first moved to Newfoundland, no one believed me when I said how old Fluff was. Then in 2010 he started to look like a very old cat. Then in 2011 he started pooping around the house. I did all the bloodwork, radiographs, urinalysis. . . the only thing wrong with him was arthritis, and since he was pooping dry little nuggets that were easy to sweep up, I decided just to live with it. I treated the arthritis and we carried on.
He continued to boss around everyone in the house, get up into bed with me at night, managing the steps in my house to get to all his favourite spots. I saw him at the food bowl every day. Except for the poop all over the house, and no longer grooming himself, he was still the same cat. Thankfully, he loved being brushed, so I could take care of the grooming for him. And the poops were easy enough to clean up.
This went on for about 6 months. Sometimes he let out these heart breaking cries when he was trying to poop, but otherwise he didn’t seem overly bothered by life. One day, though, he was letting out a lot more cries than usual. Again, all of the bloodwork, radiographs, urinalysis. He was a bit constipated, and had a urinary tract infection. And had lost 1kg. I took care of the constipation, gave him antibiotics, and was puzzled by the weight loss. He didn’t seem any smaller…. he was already skin and bones… his bloodwork was all normal.
A couple weeks later his urinary tract infection was cleared up, he wasn’t at all constipated, and I still couldn’t find anything at all wrong on his physical exam besides having basically no muscle mass. But he had lost more weight. And he had started leaking from his bum… he still had the easy to clean little hard poops, but now he was almost always leaking a poopy liquid as well. For the first time in months he was pushing past the arthritis to pretzel himself and groom his back end, because he was bothered by his own mess. And he had lost more weight.
When an animal is going downhill and losing weight, and all the routine diagnostics are normal . . . there’s probably a cancer you can’t find. I know this. I tell this to clients very often. I KNEW that something was wrong with Fluff, even if I couldn’t prove it. But when it’s your own pet, it’s hard to be the doctor. I knew he was never going to get any better, but I still couldn’t make that ultimate decision.
I struggled with this for weeks. I started avoiding being at home, because all I could do at home was watch Fluff and try to make a decision. Ultimately, though, I knew I owed it to him to make a decision. And I knew what the decision should be. When you’re not just the owner, when you’re also the vet, it’s more than just “Do I euthanize?”. You also have to ask yourself “Do I do it myself? Do I do it at home? Do I have someone help?”, and I think these are the questions that were causing me stress. These were the questions I couldn’t answer.
The day I said goodbye to Fluff, I was a mess. I had been crying all night. I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t sure how. Eating breakfast, he came downstairs to have his own breakfast and when he went to get to the dish he liked, he stumbled and fell. He had no muscle or fat to cushion his bones against the cold, hard tiles of my kitchen. I realized how much pain he must have been living with every day while I struggled with this decision and I knew what I had to do. After everything he had ever done for me, I knew what I had to do for him.
That afternoon, up in my living room, I sat on the day bed and gently brushed Fluff. He loved being brushed. It was always his favourite thing. After a few moments, I gave him an injection to sedate him. I kept brushing him, and he lay there and purred while the drugs took effect. It wasn’t very long before he was deeply sedated. I had already said my goodbyes earlier in the day, and somehow in this moment I felt an incredible calm. I made an ink impression of his paw, and a clay impression as well. I took some clippings of his fur. I pet him down and gave him one last goodbye. I had a syringe of euthanol, and I used an intracardiac injection to give this lethal injection. In other words, I stuck a needle in his heart. And then I placed my stethoscope on his chest and listened to the last fluttering of life leave him.
As a pet owner, I have gone through goodbye once before. Making the decision to say goodbye to Fluff, saying goodbye to Fluff, wasn’t any harder than it had been with Charlie. As a veterinarian? This was a first. As a veterinarian, I believe, the hardest thing you can do is say goodbye to your own pet.
In the end, I knew that I owed it to Fluff to do it at home. He hated car rides. I knew I owed it to him to do it myself, and by myself. He hated strangers. We all want to make things as easy as possible for our loved ones. As a pet owner who is also a veterinarian, I was in a unique position to be able to make Fluff’s final moments as peaceful and comfortable as possible. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done as a veterinarian, and as a pet owner I would not have had it any other way.
Every cat in my life fills a place in my daily home life. Patrick likes to come into bed in the morning when I’m waking up. Stewie likes to hang out in the bathroom. Tristan likes to annoy me when I’m working on the couch. For over 20 years, Fluff has been the cat who comes to bed while I’m reading, and stays for a cuddle when I turn out the lights. I know I was very lucky to have had so many years with him, and only time will ease the ache I feel when I go to turn out the lights and he’s not there. It’s taken me a month to write this, and the tears are pretty steady flowing as I type. I miss my grumpy old man more than words can say. But I know that he had a good, long life. And I take comfort in knowing he’s no longer in any pain. In time, I’ll be able to think of him with only a smile. Until then, I’m going to go give one of my other furbabies a nice big hug. . .
Other things in my life that have been keeping me offline are sorting themselves out, and I should be back reading and commenting and such in good time. I think, though, I needed to tell Fluff’s story before I could start to really move on.