Oreo found her way to my wife while she was still in college, after bouncing around between homes that had cast her out because she wasn’t litterbox-trained. The truth, as it turned out, was that she was perfectly litterbox-trained, it was just sometimes hard to tell, owing to her chronic, explosive diarrhea.
Best. Cat. Ever.
We’re not sure exactly how this started. At one point, we determined that one of her teeth had rotted away, and we wondered if she had developed diarrhea because she wasn’t chewing her food due to the pain. We developed this theory when my wife noticed that Oreo was throwing up whole, unchewed food, and I noticed that my wife was the sort of person who closely examines cat barf. And, sure enough, when we got the tooth removed, her diarrhea – which, in honor of the show Haven, we began to refer to as “The Troubles” – went away.
But, much like a slasher-flick villain of the 80’s, The Troubles came back a year or two later with no discernible logic. And we certainly tried to determine what caused The Troubles, or why they came back. Oh, did we try. Naturally, Una worried about the discomfort that Oreo might be experienced, but there was also the fact that she was capable of producing the most vile smells that any human has ever encountered.
And, of course, there was the mess. To put this in perspective, we’re discussing a cat that once shit on the ceiling. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine exactly how this happened.
But even though we never figured out where The Troubles came from or why they came back, we found that we could mitigate them practically to the point of non-existence by feeding her very carefully. We determined that the only thing she could eat safely was a specific type of frozen meat medallion. The wrinkle, of course, was that Oreo had other ideas. She decided early on that nothing would stop her from eating anything and everything. Oh, you gave normal food to the other two cats? Yoink. You hid food on the counter? Jumping up there was certainly no problem. Put yogurt in the trash? Psh. That was just a matter of prying the door open with her paw, opening the trash can’s lid with her nose, and digging it out with her face.
Fun fact: they sell cans of compressed air hooked up to a motion sensor to act as a deterrent to cats getting into stuff they shouldn’t. We came to refer to these as “turrets,” and I’ll say that I highly recommend them if you ever feel the need to scare the crap out of your wife.
With enough effort, we did eventually manage to reach a sort of equilibrium. For a while. But one day, the Troubles came back with a vengeance. We struggled to figure out what to do now…was she getting into something new? Had her teeth rotted again?
We never quite figured it out, because shortly thereafter, Oreo stopped eating.
Since she ordinarily snatched up any food you put in front of her, we rushed her to the vet, who determined that Oreo was suffering from end stage kidney failure.
This struck me as…wrong. I had always thought of the cats as silly little creatures, with silly little problems. A fear of the vacuum. An inability to figure out that scratching an ear with a front paw just doesn’t work. A fight over who gets the squishiest spot on the back of the couch. But at seven years old, she wound up facing the same serious problem that we all do eventually.
The vet pumped her full of fluids, which seemed to give her a new lease on life – she started eating again, and she suddenly had more energy – but it was still just a lease. We found a vet that made housecalls for euthanasia, and we made an appointment.
We spent the next week in a sort of limbo, that weird space between life and death. There is a strangeness to grieving someone whose emotional reaction is basically, “Hey, guys, what’s going on?”
Because what other reaction would she have? She didn’t know she was dying. She knew she didn’t feel like she used to (even after the fluids, she wasn’t grooming properly, and she had gotten clumsy), but not that this was what the rest of her short life would be like. But even if she didn’t know the end was near, she did notice that we had changed. Before, we had spent years pulling her off of counters or fighting with her about whether she should eat our food (her opinion: yes)… but all of the sudden, we gave her anything she cared to eat.
The other cats’ food? Bits of egg? Yogurt? Why not?
Okay, she shit a few places she wasn’t supposed to, but still.
Her last morning before the vet came to put her down, we gave her bacon. Bacon isn’t terribly good for cats, for much the same reasons that it’s not great for people, but since her health was no longer a concern, we let her have a little fun. It was far from the only treat we gave her, but for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it’s because that was her last treat.
And then the vet came, and where there had been a cat, there now was… not.
After Oreo, I made it a point to spoil the other dipshits (Boy Cat and Jake) regularly. Their lives are short, and their pleasures are simple. The treats were plentiful, and the catnip flowed like water. And – Jake’s favorite – the laser.
As an aside, it’s difficult to adequately express Jake’s love for the laser. When I first showed it to him eight or nine years ago, he would chase it until he started to pant, and was willing to run in circles so fast that he got dizzy. Dizzy cats are hilarious. I highly recommend them.
But the perceptive among you may realize that getting paired up with Oreo in a blog entry does not bode well for Jake.
You see, about a month ago, we noticed that Jake wasn’t eating like he used to.
Kidney failure, it turns out. Not as far along as Oreo’s was, but just as fatal. Apparently kidney failure is pretty common among domestic cats. I may have used the “slasher-flick villain” analogy too soon.
We started giving Jake fluids twice a week, but it didn’t prove as helpful for him as it was for Oreo. He continued to lose weight, and is now at about five pounds – half his former weight.
In the meantime, I’ve started referring to him as “Make-A-Wish Cat,” because in the last month, we’ve tried to do whatever we thought would make him happy in his final days. Results have been mixed. He’s enjoyed the opportunity to sit on our laps for hours on end, no matter how uncomfortable we are, and he’s loved the extra time with the laser (even if his energy isn’t what it was), but he’s lost his appettite for the human food that he once tried to steal while we weren’t looking. I’d kind of always imagined that he’d get the chance to eat bacon like Oreo did, but it seems the time for that has passed.
This leaves the awkward decision of when to kill the cat. You can’t ask him how he feels about it, so you’re left to decide on your own when you cross the line – how do you know if there is still enough joy left in life to justify the pain? He still goes for certain treats, and curling up in our laps, or playing…but his grooming has suffered, and the same clumsiness we saw with Oreo now affects Jake.
And here we are.
Jake’s final appointment with the vet is scheduled for Monday morning.
I was hoping we’d have a little time before the end, like with Oreo, where he’d be almost like normal. Time for bacon, or cheese, or whatever else we never let him have throughout his life. But death isn’t the sort of thing that goes according to plan. So I guess the lesson behind Jake’s story is this: Give your loved ones bacon while you still can.