Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Goodbye, Harry.

Last Wednesday I'd noticed Harry was slightly favoring one of his front legs, and noticed his leg and foot were swollen. A call to the vet confirmed that it was part of the lymphoma: tumors in the lymphatic system were blocking the drainage of lymphatic fluid. I was advised to increase the prednisone and apply hot compresses, and--  to expect more of this.

That evening the rear leg on the same side had also become swollen. Harry was looking tired, and I emailed my vet to confirm her availability, as he was clearly going downhill. She was very sweet and accommodating, and I said Sunday but sooner if Harry got much worse much more quickly.

"Will you tell me when it's time?" I asked him. "If you need to go, I'll be OK. " He'd always been a tough cat, protective, my pal, and I wanted him be able to let go.

That night we climbed into bed as usual, and he settled on my shoulder.  He kept shifting, getting up, turning around, trying to get comfortable, failing. At one point I woke to the sound of him rapidly licking his lips and got him to the bathroom just in time for him to vomit on the tile floor. He lost his balance and fell into the sick.

"OK, Pal, " I whispered, wiping him down with a damp cloth, hating to see him losing his dignity like this. I got him back to bed, where he once again tried to lie against my head, his paws across my shoulder. I dozed but woke to find him sitting up, looking haggard, staring at nothing in particular. He had an expression I'd never seen on him before. The expression said, "I'm done."

I scratched his head and stroked his back. "OK. Tomorrow. We'll just go in." And I simply knew that was the right decision.

Early the next morning I called my vet as she was on her way to work. "I don't want to wait until tonight after work for you to come here," I explained. "He's ready now, and I want to do this before discomfort becomes suffering. He's ready, so I'm ready."

She told me to call her back in 15 minutes so that she could get to the hospital and check the schedule. I put on some jeans and a T-shirt and sat on the floor cradling Harry, talking to him, crying a little.

The rabbit hutch is across the room, and I keep the door open. The rabbits have had a peaceful but neutral relationship with the cats. Amie, the girl, prefers to stay in the hutch most of the time, and both rabbits tend to keep their distance when the cats are on my lap.

So I was surprised when I felt something on my lap and looked down to see both rabbits at my side. Amie's chin rested on my leg, and she looked up at my face. This was unusual. I reached down and stroked her head. She stayed still, and then began licking my leg, moving down until she found my bare foot, licking my ankle.

I can promise you all this was new. And it was lovely.

I called the vet, who said they were booked, but could I come in now? I sure could. I debated bringing George, so that he could see Harry afterward know he was gone, but I decided I wanted this to be Harry and my last ride together, just the two of us. I didn't use a carrier, worried that Harry in his state would be uncomfortable and cramped, so I just set him in the front seat with me, where he settled into the passenger foot well and rode calmly all the way, with an occasional trip to my lap to check out the scenery. I chatted to him the whole way. I was reminded of our trip to Chicago, Harry getting car sick but then spending the ride on top of a crate in the passenger side, where he could be next to me. He's always been next to me.

We arrived at the the vet's and the staff at the front were lovely. I paid the bill first, because I didn't want to hang around afterwards. Harry sat patiently in one arm, held against my shoulder, blinking at the women behind the counter.

Because I've worked at an animal shelter and have actually performed euthanasia myself, I was given the choice to assist or let one of the techs assist. I wanted to assist, because I know that the person assisting holds the animal, and I wanted that to be me. It was only natural that Harry and I be together to the end.

Harry's veins are bad, so we had to use one in the rear leg. Harry was very cooperative as I held him in place while the vet ran a catheter. She was very good. Once the catheter was in, she got the syringe and asked me to let her know when I was ready. I shifted so that my arm was under Harry's head and my cheek was against his. I  kissed him, rubbed his side with my other hand, ran my fingers through his paws. He lay calmly on my arm.

"Thank you for being such a great friend," I whispered. Then to her, "OK. We're ready."

She administered the solution, and Harry went quietly and quickly. I felt him relax, and kept talking to him the whole time, thanking him over and over, telling him how wonderful he was. I knew he was deaf, but hoped he sensed the sentiment.

The word "euthanasia"is Greek for "Good Death." A Good Death is free not only from pain but also from fear. Harry had a Good Death, for which I was incredibly grateful, as was I grateful for the chance to say goodbye to him during the previous week. I know that everyone loves their animals and every pet is so special to its human companion, but Harry will always be so much more than my cat, so much more than my pet. He was really my friend. He met me every day when I came home, followed me around the house, sat outside my bathtub when I had my evening soak, slept with me at night. He loved to be with me, and the feeling was mutual. I felt special; I felt loved because I was important to him. We've lived in over 13 places together, and each one has felt like home because Harry was there to welcome me each evening.

He deserved a good death at the end of such a generous, wonderful life.  Rest in peace, pal. I miss you.


Lee Murray said...

I have an idea how you feel losing a friend. We lost two a year or so ago. Smokey was a large guy, grey with white socks and nose. One of three of Miss Whites babies that stayed with us when his mother and siblings went to the adoption center. He was only about ten, but developed cancer. The vet wanted to put him to sleep, but he came home instead and lived another week before passing away in his sleep. My brother in law made a casket and we buried him in the spring under a rosebush. Paula was a girl, with black fur, and a white spot on her belly. The following winter, she was very ill, couldn't stand and toppled over when she tried, but try she did. We took her to a different Vet unfortunately, and my Mother, who was Smokey and Paula's person, and I, took their advice and left her there. After a couple days of her getting worse, we took their advice and let them put her to sleep. I've always felt bad that she wasn't allowed to pass away at home, but hopefully she knew we all cared. My mother and sister went and got her, I couldn't, and in the spring she was buried next to Smoky under a second rose bush.
Buff and Punkin, Smoky's brothers were still here most of last winter, living in the barn, but stopped coming to eat. So I'm afraid they have also passed. All were 10-12 years old. The good news is that house and porch cats keep having babies.
Hope I didn't depress you, but they are wonderful friends.
By the way, your writing still reminds me of Richard Brautigan, very real, check him out sometime.
Lee Murray

JC said...

Hey Lee, thanks for the comment; it helps us animal lovers to know that others out there get it. I can't imagine not having an animal in my life. At some point, I want to do some long-term backpack traveling and it would be best to not have any pets that need care, but that's up to my critters and how long they bless me with their company.