If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that my family has suffered a loss. Our cat, Phantom, passed away Wednesday. She lived a long, good life of 18 years. She was a best friend, and I’m blessed to have had her for so long (since I graduated college). Everyday with Phantom was a joy.
We got the bad news Tuesday evening from our vet that Phantom’s latest health scare was serious. She had had chronic kidney issues for over a year leading to sporadic dehydration and constipation. I was giving her IV fluids every other night to combat the problems. So taking her in Tuesday morning I expected (hoped for?) a similar diagnosis.
Turns out she had a tumor resting on her bladder. A scan showed what were likely metastatic tumors in her bladder and her lungs. Without removing the tumor, she would be unable to urinate. Treating the cancer would likely kill her or only prolong her life by a few weeks. Not treating the cancer would cause her to suffer and die within 48 hours.
The vet used a needle to extract all the urine from her bladder. He wanted us to take her home and spend one more night with her. And we did. Phantom did not feel well, she was throwing up, and kept making empty runs to the litter box. But she stayed sweet and loving until the very end.
Wednesday morning I carried her to the couch, sat down, and placed her in my lap for the last time. I thought of all the times she and I had ‘fought’ for that space, me wanting to sit my laptop there so that I could work. She wanting me to know that I was her human (and therefore she was the boss) and she would sit there whenever she pleased. 95% of the time she won.
She purred. She napped. Like she always did. I petted her. I cried. And then it was time for the last trip to the vet.
An hour later, my baby was gone. Watching the vet sedate, then inject her with the drug that would stop her hard is one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured.
Here’s the thing that many people don’t get about cats, dogs, rabbits…the pets that become important in your life. An animal dies, and you’ll hear as many “Eh, you’ll be okay, it’s just an animal. Get another” as you’ll hear “Christ, I’m so sorry, I know that’s tough to handle.” These unsympathetic individuals are blind to the two-way street of friendship and love a good pet provides. Either they’re blind, or they’re simply cold-hearted and don’t care.
Phantom did something that exemplifies her importance to my family, and why we love her as much as we do.
I was scheduled to pick her up before the vet closed on Tuesday. I stopped on the way to get the kids. I didn’t foresee any terrible diagnosis, and the kids delight in helping with the animal and chatting with the vet. I get there and by the serious look on the faces of the receptionist and nurse, I knew something was wrong. I asked the kids to stay in the lobby while I went to the exam room. The vet explained what they found and what it meant. I became upset, but composed myself so that I could bring the kids back into the exam room with me.
But my daughter reads me like a book. She knew immediately something was wrong. The nurse brought Phantom into the room. Phantom was lethargic and had a hard time standing. She looked in a bad way.
“What’s wrong with Phantom,” my daughter (ten years old) asked.
“She’s not well. She has cancer.”
“Can they fix her?” my son (seven years old) asked.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“She’s dying soon, isn’t she?”
“Yes, baby, soon,” I answered.
As understanding dawned, both my kids brave faces melted to sadness and disbelief. Tears erupted. They dropped to the floor, leaned against the wall, and started crying.
Phantom’s ears perked up upon hearing them. She forced herself up, wobbly and weak. She looked at my kids and emitted a quiet, soft meow. I noticed she was prepping herself to jump off the exam table (about 4 feet high), so I grabbed her and helped her down. She had a distended bladder and I didn’t want it to burst.
Phantom limped over to the kids, meowed at them, and rubbed her face and body on their legs. She sat between them and let them pet her. She had always hated it when they were sad, and despite being on the verge of death, she still couldn’t let their heartbreak.
Some pets are indifferent to their owners and other humans. Feed them and keep them warm and that’s as far as the relationship goes. But some animals make real, personal, affectionate connections with their humans. When you find a pet like that, they do wonders to enrich your life. You learn what true, innocent love and affection is like. Your pet brings fun and levity to your life.
They’re best friends. Always on your side. Always by your side. Sometimes (literally) on your side!
These are things that pet owners understand.
And the poor souls who don’t understand why that’s so meaningful? I feel sorry for them. They’re missing out on one of the best things life has to offer.