I’m currently sitting here in my office at work with an ominous feeling of dread pervading my every thought and feeling. Jo and I have been talking for weeks about the fading health of Maurice, our much-loved and incredibly elderly cat of twenty years of age, and only just yesterday made the decision that the fateful time had come for him to cross the rainbow bridge. This, as you can imagine, was a collossally difficult decision to make and I was given the task of making a phone call yesterday to the vets to make the arrangements, which I could barely do over the phone without my voice cracking and tears streaming down my cheeks. It completely and utterly crushed me.
Today has been a day where powerfully raw emotions have been assailing our already-traumatised minds; the natural cycle of doubt, denial and fear prompting us to say things like:
“…Are we making the right decision?”
“…But he looks brighter today.”
“…Hold on. Shall we cancel the vet appointment and see how he goes?”
…But the hard, cold reality that we’re hopelessly trying to deny is that his kidneys are packing in, he walks at a snails-pace as he’s riddled with arthritis and he’s been doing that caterwauling thing that old cats do when they’ve lost their marbles for ages now. The purr-monster he used to be has faded to near-nothing, he’s a shadow of his former self and it’s reached the point where we’re beginning to see the signs that his quality of life has started to suffer as a result.
Cats are very clean and proud creatures, but poor Maurice has reached the point where he finds clambering into his litter tray too difficult, so he’s pooing in a few different locations in the house, such as at the end of the hallway and at either side of our bed. This isn’t great, as you can imagine, and it means that we were having to buy puppy training pads and place them at these spots in an effort to save our carpets. It’s not a problem though, because he’s undoubtedly worth the effort. It’s not helped at all that he’s had almost constant dihaorrea for the last few months, which has made the act of cleaning up his mess less than pleasant.
His indignity only increased in more recent weeks as he’s not even cleaning himself all that much. This means that his once-glorious and thick fur, which caused me to refer him the ‘luxury cat’ in happier times, has started to become matted and greasy. It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to witness.
If you’ve ever had to go through it, dealing with the loss of an animal companion is without doubt one of the most painful things your heart will ever have to suffer through. The first time I had to deal with this was when Corey, my little blue budgie, died quickly from a tumour in his chest. I must’ve only been twelve years old or something when it happened and it taught me that loss was an awful thing to deal with and I remember crying for days afterwards.
In my adult life, the first time I had to deal with the loss of an animal companion was unfortunately not long after I met Jo. Kincardine MacDougall (Dougall or ‘Doogs’ for short) was the first horse I ever got to know. He was a mighty and handsome beast of a Highland Pony.
Dougall’s death came completely out of the blue – we were out seeing him one night and he seemed absolutely fine, but when I turned up to see to him the next day it was immediately apparent that something was terribly, terribly wrong with him. To cut a painful story short, we had to quickly transport him to Edinburgh’s Dick Vet equine hospital for emergency surgery but it turned out that, despite our efforts to move quickly, it was already too late. He was already in shock and was in a state of multiple organ failure. Something called a strangulating lipoma had wrapped itself around his intestines and effectively killed his guts, causing catastrophic, toxic shock to his whole body. The only viable option the surgeons had was to put him to sleep. The acute misery and pain this caused Jo and I is difficult to put into words, and it turned our whole world upside down.
Having been through that, I have to say that there’s an awful lot to say about the death of a beloved animal when the control of its fate is completely out of your hands; when its death is sudden, shocking and heartbreaking and hits you like a sledgehammer. It’s an incredibly distressing thing to go through at the time, but after it’s happened and you’re through the worst part of the grieving process you can take a step back and sort of feel thankful that you never had to make a decision to end their life. It’s a million times worse when you know that their health is in a decline and you can see the gradual change from them being happy and vibrant to dull and listless and, in the end, start to sense that things are taking a turn for the worse.
We’ve watched Maurice’s health decline for a long, drawn-out time; possibly as much as two to three years, but in the last six months it’s been much more apparent – and for the last week or so it has become noticeably more acute, which set the alarm bells ringing for us.
Wind back the clock
I first met Maurice when he was the already-grand old age of thirteen, and back then he was a vibrantly intimidating ball of menace. He was stuffed to the tip of his furry tail with ‘cattitude’ and would happily let you stroke him for a while until he had decided ‘that’s quite enough of that, thank you very much’ and would turn his fangs and claws on you without as much as a twitch of a warning. A tummy-rub was never part of the agreement. Ever. Everything with this boy was on his terms only. No negotiation.
When I first moved in with Jo, I’m not going to deny that I found him mildly terrifying. She had given me prior warning that he was either going to adore me or despise me. Fair enough, I thought – I’m like that with most humans too. Thankfully, as fate would have had it, he chose to adore me and was sitting on my lap and purring like a wee tractor within minutes of visiting her house for the first time. I was very honoured, apparently, because he despised most people.
Maurice was an outdoor cat in his younger years, but due to a catalogue of incidents and close-shaves, Jo was forced to take the decision to keep him indoors – which is how I’ve always known him to be. In the latter years of his life, he really took a shine to me and part of his nightly routine – without fail – was to sit on my belly/chest when I lay down in bed and purr endlessly. If I stroked him he would have literally sat on me for hours, his nose within an inch of mine, but in a lot of cases – as cats tend to do – he decided when he’d had enough and slinked off to lay at the bottom of the bed where he’d sleep for the night, or until he got hungry and would pester Jo to feed him.
He was such a character in a lot of ways. When he was more agile, he was prone to having moments of madness where he would scream up and down our hallway, bounce onto the bed, then scream up and down the hallway again. More often that not, this was the direct result of him having a particularly satisfying poo. He also weirdly loved carrots in bags, salt & vinegar crisps and Vitalite spread. Yes, he was indeed very odd. But that’s cats for ya.
In the morning…
It’s now 8am on the Saturday morning and the clock is ticking closer and closer to the event that ever fibre of my being doesn’t want to go through with. The vet appointment is for 9:15am, I’ve barely slept and Jo and I are still trying to cling onto the distant hope that the vet is going to say that he’s fine and insist that we take him back home again. In our heart of hearts however, we know what the outcome is going to be…