Euthanasia… and the story of two amazing petsPosted: December 1, 2011
I just read a Psychology Today article comparing human and animal euthanasia, and it made me think back to the two times I’ve decided to end the suffering of a beloved pet.
The first time was the worst, the hardest most gut-wrenching experience. When I think about it to this day, I still tear up and choke up. But I have no doubt it was the right thing to do.
I get sad when I think about it because I loved that damn cat so much. His name was Bert, and he was part of a duo of orange tabbies I got from my first girlfriend (who I ended up being with for nearly 10 years) right before I went to college. She had a calico cat at her house who had given birth to a her second litter of kittens in two years. The first had two orange tabbies who I adored, so it made perfect sense that I’d take the two orange kitties myself. They got them litter trained, hand fed, etc for me so that they’d be completely social when I took them to school.
They were the most amazing cats ever. Burt and Ernie (yep, went Sesame Street) couldn’t be more different but both awesome. Burt was fat, lazy – your typical Garfield kitty. If you sat down, he’d jump in your lap nearly immediately. Just an amazing pet. Ernie was equally amazing, but lived in Burt’s shadow. It wasn’t until after Burt died that Ernie really came into his own and became an even better pet than Burt was.
About 7 years later, I was living with the same girlfriend in Orlando and I found a lump between Burt’s shoulders. The next day, the doctor diagnosed him with feline fibrosarcoma, a horrible, fast-growing, typically malignant tumor that occurs to cats, typically near the site of an injection or vaccination. It went from a pea-size to a strawberry in only a few days and the doctor immediately recognized it and suggested surgery.
A day later, Burt went under the knife to excise the tumor. The doctor had to use wide margins as this type of tumor has “tendrils” that tend to spread beyond the tumor. The removal of skin was so extensive that they had to use staples, and Burt’s shoulders were pulled together until his skin stretched out over the next few weeks and months. I had to keep Burt in a bedroom by himself so that he didn’t do anything to the surgery site. Went in there all the time just to hang out with him, put ointment on his incision site, etc. He recovered from the surgery and within a month or two was back to his normal self. I thought I’d dodged a bullet.
Two years later, the girlfriend (who had become my Fiance) and I had split up and I was engaged to another woman – the one who is now my ex-wife (that’s a story all to its own). We had just gotten back from a 2-week trip in Europe. Before we left, Burt had been a bit lethargic and I thought I’d felt pea-sized bumps on his skin. When we got back, he was much more sullen, sick-looking and in general looked to be in bad shape. I took him to the vet again and they x-rayed and found tiny tumors all over. 😦
From the peak of bliss – a fantastic honeymoon in Europe – to the pit of dispair. I knew what I had to do – I simply LOVED him so much, I didn’t want to just medicate him to a longer life. I wanted no chance of him suffering. I decided to put him to sleep – to euthanize him. The decision was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had. I cried and cried for hours, but eventually called the vet and let them know. I was scared, sad, angry (at the cancer), and all the range of emotions you go through when grieving. But I was sure, and still am, that it was the right thing to do.
I took the day off from work. Spent all night and day with Burt. Took pictures of he and Ernie. If memory serves me, Bert was really lethargic – totally not himself. I cried and held him a lot – gave him kitty treats. Then I sucked it up, put him in the carrier and drove to the vet. I held him and petted him through the whole process, told him I loved him and watched him take his final breath. Then I kissed him, said goodbye, thanked the doctor and left.
In the weeks following Burt’s death, Ernie kept yowling – looking for him. Every time Ernie did that, it made me sad. Then one day, Ernie stopped yowling and he changed and became a lot like Burt. Burt’s absence, while noticed by Ernie, allowed Ernie to step into the “alpha” pet role. And he became the other most amazing pet ever. Ernie was the first cat Madison ever knew – her first word was “kitty”. Many of her younger pictures have Ernie next to her or nearby. She still talks about Ernie (I had to put him to sleep after 14 years due to stomach cancer – similar story there). She still talks about missing him.
So I can’t imagine doing the same thing for a loved one. Except I can. Our modern medicine is so advanced now, doctors know when they are just prolonging the inevitable. I’ve had a grandmother die of lung cancer, but I was living away at the time so I didn’t witness it. I heard my dad tell me about how she had good hours (no longer days at that stage – just a few lucid hours) and mostly slept, and she “died in her sleep”. Who knows which is more humane, but it seems more of a philosophical or religious question to me – is death, in whatever form it naturally happens, part of life?
The real point to learn is this – live every day as the most important day of your life. ALWAYS tell those around you how much you love them. NEVER go to sleep angry at someone. Right any wrongs NOW in your life – don’t wait. Treat everyone with love and compassion. In that way, death can never take anything from you or them.
But I still miss Burt – and I will always miss him. His spirit lives on in our new kitties – and they have some huge paws to fill. 🙂