Hello to everyone kind enough to still take a look at this sans photos of elephants and ancient Hindu architecture!
My re-entry into American life has been a rocky one, for the most part. At first, I could not be happier to be home surrounded by my loving fur babies and amazing boyfriend, Walt (who arrived at the airport looking Indiana Jones-ish handsome as ever….roses in hand!). But after a few weeks back to my normal routine (and an amazingly wonderful surprisingly perspective-changing long weekend in Walt Disney World). I find myself missing my Incredible India. Or perhaps, just missing being on the road, away from reality.
Handsome Walt at my family’s annual Kite Day!!!
There has been a lot of sickness and sadness in my family for this past month. Being a woman who was surrounding by sickness and tragedy for a few pivotal years in my childhood, moments like these are always particularly challenging. People and animals in pain with nothing I can do about it, despite my strong instincts to make some heroic action that will save them, is just plain awful. They are going on their way, and I struggle with that, as most of us do, I suppose.
Anyhow, the transition into an afterlife that I am here to talk about today is the one of our beloved cat, Bobo. Bobo was a good boy. He was handsome, with a long black and white tuxedo coat, big green eyes, and an adorable little swagger in his walk. He was also a difficult cat at times…you could almost say spoiled. He woke poor Walt up 2 to 3 times a night by meowing in our faces and knocking over cell phones and glasses because he was hungry, only for us to walk into the kitchen and find that he still had some food in his dish — he just wanted fresh food. Now, ideally.
He never covered his poop. Instead, he would do what he had to in his litter box, then hop out, and leave it for us to come and cover. Or even worse, poor Roman (his feline bro) would do it to mask the unbearable stink. Sweet Roman….
Ro and Bo — To Infinity And Beyond
Classic Roman and Bobo during our ‘2012 Christmas Card Photo Shoot’
Over the past six months, Bobo had been having some tough times. He couldn’t eat because his teeth were in rough shape, so we had dental work done. Then he could eat — and would eat tons and tons of food — he seemed happy and still energetic, but started to have raging nonstop diarrhea and/or ongoing vomiting. We ran all of his bloodwork, including an expensive special thyroid test and GI panel. Normal every time. We tried antibiotics, probiotics, weekly B12 injections, fluid injections, daily pepcid until finally we settled on something that he seemed to be doing better on — rabbit meat.
Bobo could only eat rabbit meat, and of course, the only place you can buy cans of pure rabbit protein without anything else mixed in, was at the vet. Holy $$$$$$$. The cases of 24 cans were about $55 each, and weighing only 9 or so pounds but with a crazy appetite, he went through about 3 cans a day. He loved the stuff, though, and even put on a few ounces now and then. Totally worth it. The whole time he had been in my life, at least, he had never cost any more than an annual vet visit and a few deliciously affordable cans of Friskies.
Bobo’s Other Favorite Spot — The Laundry Basket
Honestly, who the heck ever thought up the idea of feeding beef or chicken to a cat anyway? No wonder they are all sick and getting diseases vets have never seen so rampant. Cats should be eating rodents, birds, fish. Things they would catch and kill and devour with a smile on their face. I don’t think a cat would even give a cow a second look as a food source?!?!?!
If you want to be a millionaire, I suggest being the person who finally creates a rodent-based cat food for cats. My vet said she doesn’t understand why that doesn’t exist yet — especially with so many cats suddenly having allergies to absolutely everything. Their systems and nutritional requirements are much more delicate than dogs — I’m not even a vet and I can see that plain as day.
Then we had a problem. The vet ran out of rabbit meat food. All the vets on the North Shore ran out. The factory wasn’t shipping any. Panic. We searched all over and read label after label after label, finally settling on a few cans of food that either 1) had rabbit but also included another kind of animal protein that was not chicken or beef or 2) had no rabbit, but did have duck or some other kind of common-sense-cats-would-kill-and-eat-this-animal kind of protein as a primary source, also not including chicken or beef. At first it was ok, then it wasn’t.
On Mother’s Day this year, I came home from work to find Bobo looking very weak lying on the back of the couch with vomit all over and inside his nose, causing him to have trouble breathing out of it. Off to the vet. More B12, more fluids, more antibiotics. His weight was down a half of a pound since the last vet visit ten days prior. The vet looked at me and said she was very concerned. Now, seeing that our best estimate for Bobo’s age was around 15 years old (but he could very well have been older) and that he had recovered from setbacks like this before, I felt confident that with some extra TLC and extra, extra rabbit food — finally back in stock, mind you — he would be fine and back to gaining ounces in no time.
Bobo gobbled up his beloved rabbit with fervor. I knew he was healing with each bite. But then, he started running into the bath tub and right in front of us having loud and scary diarrhea. He started vomiting little bits of water and foam all over the house, he started skipping breakfast and laying in his favorite spot — the sun-drenched back of the couch — for the whole day. I still didn’t think anything of it. He’s just weak from before. He just needs to stabilize on the rabbit and he’ll be fine, he was happy and still had somewhat-normal energy and appetite levels…he just needs time.
Bobo (Im)Patiently Asking for Food!!!!!
3 am this Monday morning — Memorial Day 2013 — Walt woke up from a sound sleep and said he needed to check on Bobo. I heard Walt cry his name, but still thought maybe Bobo was high up on a cabinet unable to get down or something — certainly he couldn’t be too bad. Then the call for me to come, then the dash into the room with the litter boxes (or the cat room, as we lovingly call it) and there he was. Lying on the floor. Motionless, vomit on his little paws, completely listless with eyes shifting slightly now and then. I felt so helpless. How can we help our little friend who just days before was this feisty old man demanding more and more cans be popped open for him.
We sat with him for a few minutes as he laid there. His breathing was beginning to become labored and almost looked as though there were two parts to it. Inhale, Inhale, Exhale. Inhale, Inhale, Exhale. I knew then. I had seen that kind of breath before. That’s when you bundle the cat up, and quickly rush him to the vet.
But it was 3 am, so we didn’t do that. Instead, we called the Emergency 24 Hour Vet and asked for their advice. Thank God for the amazing vet tech we spoke to, because she reassured me that with his age and all of the previous battles he had been having, that most likely there was nothing that could be done, and as long as the struggling didn’t become unbearable for us, if it were her cat, she’d keep him as comfortable as possible and let him die peacefully at home.
Ever since I read this incredible, life-changing book years ago, I have been thinking more and more about natural death and animals.
Must-Read for Dog Lovers!!! With Lots of Tissues.
I have had numerous animals, as have my friends and family members. I grew up riding horses almost everyday, and at the barn, I saw kittens be born, dogs running around wild and free, horses get sick and be led out back to be put down. Never once in my life, however, had I seen of or heard of a domesticated animal being allowed to die on their own. All of the animals in my lifetime that I have been blessed enough to have known were euthanized — and usually, this meant a frantic dash to the vet with yelling and tears and nothing but sheer terror and stress in the air surrounding these animals. From everyone I have surveyed since Bobo’s death, this seems to be the norm? Natural death is now unheard of unless in cases of car accidents, animals eating something poisonous by accident, or finding an already passed animal by surprise.
Their instincts, naturally, are to go off someplace quiet and just labor through until their moment comes. This made me wonder, why? Why don’t we just do what we do with people — manage pain and unpleasantness as best as we can, but let them die in their quiet usual surroundings with the people and other animals in their lives who loved them, telling them they will be ok, and that they will be there until the very end.
Bobo got that. He had Walt, his best friend, roommate and partner in crime, sitting with him until that final goodbye. He had me, cleaning the vomit from his paws, stroking his beautiful fur, holding his paw and kissing his forehead. He had us both reassuring him that he would go to a place that was filled with blue skies, birdies to chase and fish to catch. He had Roman and Bella (our dog) standing outside of the room watching and waiting, and I’m sure he could smell or sense that they were there for him — they loved him. All of our other animals who had passed would be up there waiting for him, and he would never be alone or in pain again.
I am not going to begin to say it was completely pleasant and without some struggle, gasping, tears, and desperate prayers to God to take him quickly and without pain or fear. It honestly did look a lot like seeing my sister give birth, up until the last few moments. It was a lot of work for him — it was exhausting, just like I’m sure it was on the day he came into the world as a kitten and took that first breath.
What I am going to tell you about his passing is that it was quiet, it was peaceful, it was familiar, and it was — in it’s own way — sublimely heroic and beautiful. I think if I were a cat, that’s the way I would want to go.
I believe this will be the future and the norm, just as breastfeeding and midwifery are the norm now when only twenty years ago they were considered dangerous, unnecessary and just plain gross. Natural death will be the carefully and compassionately planned exit for most pets who are not suffering from some horrible disease, and perhaps will even be the plan for those who are, with proper management.
As someone who works in the Pet Care Industry, as well as a being a pet owner myself, I know that people value and consider their pets as true members of the family — usually, they are viewed as children, who rely on you to care for them. I have been hearing more and more about the idea of Pet Hospice, and I really love this. For instance, my beautiful American Bulldog, Maggie, is 13.5 years old — certainly years older than I had been told to expect from this breed. In October 2011, she was diagnosed with a type of cancer that gave her only 2-6 months to live — maximum. I began feverishly researching the idea of pain management and death at home, and I found this organization. The New England Pet Hospice is a group of people who will counsel you through these last months, providing pain management, education, and strength in the belief that a peaceful death at home is possible and sometimes, preferable. Luckily, a year-and-a-half-later Maggie is still going strong, and (fingers-crossed!) seems to have been mis-diagnosed.
I am not saying this is the absolute and final way it should be. I am also not going to begin to suggest that I am against euthanasia in cases of extreme suffering where no comfort can be provided. I have had animals put down before, and I stand by those decisions. That was the right move in their cases. But, in cases like this, where an animal’s body is simply shutting down, I think there is a case to be made for the idea of using a hospice-based system for the final moments of an animal’s life. It should and (hopefully) will become a more available option offered by organizations like the New England Pet Hospice, as well as individual veterinarian practices. There are ways around the panic and fear of an animal’s passing, and I believe this is one of them. It is also a way for us, as their loving owners, to be ok with letting them go, and to begin healing from their absence.
I think humans are terrified of not only death, but seeing the dying process. Being a person with a wild and vivid imagination, I was definitely one of those people. I had heard the horror stories of violent deaths, struggle, refusal of the person or animal to pass because of fear of what was happening, of where they were going, and of how the people they were leaving behind would cope with their passing. I didn’t think I was strong enough to deal with all of that. I am forever grateful, however, that as it turns out, for Bobo, for my love, I was.