Spiff, my valiant orange cat, died yesterday at about 1:45 PM.
He was 14 years old. During our time together, we lived at seven different addresses, and he endured my moves through four different jobs and six different “significant others.” I’m quite sure that our current arrangement was most satisfactory to him. Our house has seven sets of patio doors, which are very cat-friendly as they are windowed all the way to the floor, and I share this house with my precious and lovely Martine, who Spiff grew to love and admire as much as I do.
I’ve spent half of my adult life with this cat as a constant companion. He was the most “present” cat I’ve ever known — in some ways more dog than cat in the way he would follow me around the house and meow at me whenever he felt like talking. I’d meow back and we’d have some lovely discussions.
Spiff loved to watch me work, although at times I wondered if he was mocking me. After all, his life was pure bliss. He never lacked for food or attention.
He loved to be carried around on my shoulder, like a baby being burped. He also loved to drape himself across my shoulders while I was working at the computer or to just hang around the desk feeling the vibration from my typing. He also loved to plop down on my legs when I was watching TV, or on my back when I was laying on my stomach. “Where’s Spiff?” was a very rare question, because where ever I was, Spiff was there too.
A couple of years ago his health started to decline. First there was a thing with his teeth — which caused him to lose a bottom fang to his endless embarrassment. Then there was a digestive allergy, which required us to feed him special hypo-allergenic cat food made from brown rice, duck, and pheasant. I’m not convinced he wasn’t faking for the sake of a better diet.
In recent months there has been a general decline in his energy and vitality, which culminated 10 days ago, during the heat wave, when he suddenly developed a breathing problem. Late that evening he started panting and howling, and his back legs had lost mobility. We rushed him to an after-hours veterinary clinic, where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. They put him in an oxygen tent and kept him overnight.
Next day, he was feeling better so we took him home along with two kitty prescriptions — pills, and a liquid to be administered orally. The vet said he might hang on for a few months, maybe a year. He had a swollen heart and a body that didn’t manage fluids well, so it was hard to say with any certainty.
Although his breathing was back to normal, poor Spiff wasn’t. In the 10 days that followed I got him to purr only once. The rest of the time he just dragged himself around, looking defeated. We would get him to eat his pills by grinding them into his breakfast, but he absolutely hated taking the liquid medicine. We had to bundle him into a towel, and while one of us held him, the other would squirt the medicine into his throat with a syringe. He would choke and howl and it was very stressful for both him and us.
On Wednesday night, at bedtime, I noticed his breathing was a bit fast. Nothing serious, just a bit fast. On Thursday morning he didn’t come down for breakfast, and Martine found him upstairs in one of his favorite spots, breathing fast and heavy.
He wouldn’t eat, and when we tried to give him his liquid medicine he let out the most heartbreaking howl. An hour later he was hunkered down, panting like a dog after a two-mile run, and drooling excessively.
Apparently the medicine wasn’t enough, and it’s not realistic to expect to put a cat in an oxygen tent every ten days. Clearly it was all over for Spiff. Even if he survived this attack, his quality of life was poor and there didn’t seem to be any way to fix that.
We knew what had to be done. Fortunately, a local veterinarian does home calls for euthanasia. We made the arrangements. The vet would arrive at 1:30 PM. I took the day off work.
We spent the next few hours comforting Spiff as much as we could, but he was really suffering. His lungs were gurgling from the excess fluid, and he never stopped panting with his mouth wide open. Every few minutes he would tilt his head up, like a wolf at the moon, and let out a heart-breaking howl of pain and anxiety. Those three hours were very, very long.
The vet showed up right on time. The procedure was quick and painless — at least for Spiff. Martine and I were crushed.
It seems excessive, but we opted for an individual cremation. His ashes will be returned to us next week, at which time I’ll bury them in the zen garden out back. I know that sounds overly precious, but I don’t see it that way. From my point of view, I’ve been responsible for every aspect of Spiff’s well-being for 14 years, and I have never minded it. Now that he’s gone, I couldn’t just push his body away — I feel responsible for it too.
For some nice pictures of Spiff, check his tag on Flickr…