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Goodbye Kitty

Today my husband and Ernie and I will be saying good-bye to our beloved kitty, Dally. We have had her for almost 21 wonderful years. She has had virtually no health problems, only requiring some simple meds as she aged. We have had five cats, and this decision never gets easier.

My first cat, Guinevere, had many health and behavioral problems. But we loved her dearly. She lived to be 18 but the last few years were rough. I never really thought much about euthanasia decisions for pets. Naively, and like many people, I thought they “just died.” I was in my late 20’s at the time and ignorant about many things I know now. A good friend shared with me that “just dying” is very unlikely to happen with a pet that has had a good home and regular veterinary care. As Guinevere went downhill, she retreated more and more to a corner of my closet, and even stopped responding to pets and caresses. The decision became clear although it almost killed me. The morning of her appointment at the vet’s I woke up in a panic attack and could hardly breathe. She was our first kitty and we still think of her and hope she is waiting to greet us somewhere.

With our second cat, Merlin (whom Guinevere always hated!!) it was almost a clear-cut decision. As he aged and lost weight, he had some kind of seizure, but seemed to recover. Several weeks later we heard a thud in our bathroom and found him unconscious on the floor. We rushed him to the vet. On the way, I told Ernie that I didn’t think he’d just fallen, and when we got to the vet we would probably have a decision to make. After a quick consultation it was clear to me that an attempt to bring him back, although possible, was the wrong thing to do. I said good-bye to Merlin that morning. It was unexpected, but the decision was easier this time.

I had waited a few years after losing Guinevere, because I thought Merlin deserved the chance to be the only kitty, instead of playing second fiddle to her. But with his loss the house seemed terribly empty. My life was getting crazy, as my stepfather had just been admitted to a nursing facility after a massive stroke, and my mother couldn’t cope. In between trips back and forth to Indiana, I decided we were getting two kittens as soon as we could.

In December of 2002 we welcomed Dilly and Dally into our home. They came from a shelter in Arlington Heights run by a wonderful woman named Kay. I wasn’t sure she would have kittens at that time of year, but she told me about two littermates that she had been keeping for her son. Her son decided he didn’t want them because they were longhairs. I told her I didn’t care what kind they were, what color they were, what gender they were, I just wanted two little kitties and I wanted them NOW! I rushed up to Arlington Heights that same day and brought my new babies home, singing to them in the car all the way.

Where did I get such goofy names? Well, as I said, I waited a few years after losing Guinevere. I had a friend named Lisa who was getting very impatient with me. She once told me, “I’m going to a shelter, getting two kittens, dropping them off, telling you their names are Dilly and Dally, and that will be that.” And she was right. Dilly and Dally they were.

I had worried there wouldn’t be enough love left in my heart for new kitties after so much trauma around Guinevere and Merlin. Why do I worry about stupid things like that? I had so much love for my new babies it seemed my heart wouldn’t hold it all. After a few little colds and tummy upsets they were trouble-free. Have you ever heard a sneezy kitten with a stuffy nose? Still makes me laugh to remember it. I was also told after the neutering that Dally had a funny uterus. Wonder what makes a cat uterus funny? Does it tell dog jokes?

We lost Dilly in April of 2019. She had almost stopped eating, but I didn’t notice right away because at that point Ernie was on the feeding duties while I handled litter boxes. Dilly curled up on the couch with me and didn’t move much for a few days. Ernie told me he was taking her to the vet. I don’t remember why I didn’t go – probably some work thing – but he called me and told me they’d found a large tumor near her bladder and there was nothing that could be done at her age (18). I told him to wait for me as I grabbed a cab and rushed north. At the vet’s, I held my baby Dilly and told her good-bye. While it seemed to come out of the blue, again, the decision was clear.

I wish my last few years with Dally hadn’t been complicated by my cancer treatment. During the spring and summer of 2020 while I endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Dally was at a point where she almost seemed to be having kitty dementia. She screeched constantly and kept trying to jump on my chest. In hindsight, I think she knew something was very wrong with Mommy. I probably smelled wrong. But I was terrified she might accidentally scratch me (it happens even with the best kitties). I’d been warned repeatedly about the dangers of infection during chemo. And, of course, I was terrified at the prospect of being admitted to a hospital during the worst of the pandemic. I would constantly push her away, and I admit I completely lost patience with her. I wish so much I could take back every cross word I shouted at her. Even after I recovered, there were plenty of days I wondered how my sweet lap kitty had turned into a screeching banshee. That part never got much better.

Dally remained active, and screechy, almost to the end. It was hard to get her to take her meds. We tried peanut butter, sour cream, yogurt, everything we could think of, but nothing worked consistently. I think our inability to get her at the right dosage probably contributed to her noise and confusion. There were times, after Ernie fed her, when we would pick her up and carry her to her food bowls, because it seemed like she’d forgotten where they were. To me, it was like an elderly person (and yes, me now, sometimes) entering a room and saying “What did I come in here for?” I’d always thought older cats slowed down. Dally did not. She ate well, and craved lots of cuddles, up to the very last few weeks.

While on a “vacation” break in Michigan (and why do those never work out?!?) Ernie called me and told me Dally was going downhill, and he needed me home so we could make a decision. I rushed home and contacted Lap of Love veterinary hospice for a home euthanasia. We had already decided this time around no one was rushing to the vet’s.

We muddled through the next tough days, holding Dally as much as she was willing. She still craved couch cuddles but was spending more and more time alone on the bed. She had pretty much stopped eating, and most of the time her back legs weren’t working right. She had been peeing outside the litter box for a week or two. But still it was hard. In so many ways she seems like the same sweet kitty. But I know what’s ahead for her, and it won’t get better. Yes, we could hold her and clean her up for a few more days, but what would be the point? Doesn’t she deserve better than that? As always, it’s up to the one who knows and loves her the best to decide what to do. I know what’s ahead for her and if I can save her that, I will.

Dally is gone. Dr. Isabel from Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice administered the anesthesia and the whole process only took about 30 minutes. Dally was aware enough to greet the vet with a coo and a head rub but mostly she just slept. I kept my hands on her the whole time so she would know she was never alone. I know we made the right decision, but it’s been twenty-one years since there were no animals in our house and I wonder what the next days and weeks will feel like.

I told Dally to be nice to Dilly, that I would always love her, and that she was the best kitty we ever had. I will keep her paw print next to Dilly’s and be grateful that we had such a sweet kitty for so long. Goodbye baby girl.


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