Judging by the fact that I have dreams (less than happy dreams but they’re not nightmares) about watching my old cat, Blackjack, die, I can only assume that it’ll be a while before I’ve really moved on about this. See, on May 28th, I watched the vet hunt for a vein with enough blood pressure for her to inject him with an overdose of an aesthetic. They tried the veins in his paws, his legs, even his ‘bad’ leg, and nothing worked. Finally they had to use his jugular vein (which tends to make the OD take longer). When they put the needle in, the blood spurted into the syringe before Dr. Susan could inject him. Then I sat and whispered to Blacky, my dear sweet Blackstone, as I watched his eyes slowly dilate and then glaze over. From the moment he’d seen me until the needle was in the room, he was purring at me and rubbing his head all over my hands. I scratched his ears and smoothed the fur back on his head (he always had a cowlick), and finally his breathing slowed down, his heart stopped, and he died. Dr. Susan had a nurse take him away to be buried with the other cats (we had entertained thoughts of digging a hole for him in the ‘yard’ at my grans, but we decided not to).
And then Ipstenit and I drove home.
We’d come to my grandmother’s for other reasons, and Blacky had been rather sick when we got there. He’d moved in with her 8 years ago when I’d moved out of the house and was unable to bring him with, and Dad had moved to the ‘farm’ in the woods. Blackstone was born with a cleft pallet, a pug nose, a hair lip, concave chest, misplaced liver and he was anemic. To top it all off, his right hind leg grew out funny. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never seen it, but basically the muscles developed such that the leg was permanently outstretched and sort of hooked at the paw. If you’re thinking he was the fucking ugliest cat ever, you’re probably right.
I loved Blackjack to death, and I’d actually seen him born in my backyard, those 15 years ago. His mother was a half-feral cat we ‘rescued’ when our across-the-street neighbors got kicked out of the house they rented. It was called Squalor, and I bet you know why they were kicked out. Flapjack (the momma cat, she was sat on in a Laz-Y-Boy as a kitten) came to us at about 11 months old, and promptly got knocked up. The next think you knew, we had four kitten. Whitejack (aka Col. Potter), Orangejack (aka Gingi), Stripedjack (aka Stripey) and Blackjack.
The vet (Dr. Susan) told me that he appeared to have liver cancer, based on the way Blacky’s body was reacting. He’d had the galloping shits for a few days and had been to the vet overnight recently for some IVs. He couldn’t keep food in long enough to gain weight back and he was very tired. But he was so happy to see me the first night that I had to sit with him and pet him. He’d rarely gotten out of my gran’s reading chair since he’d gotten ill, and suddenly he wanted to jump up on the couch with me and purr.
Hell, even my current cat won’t do that. But he was a total whore. He loved guests, he loved people, and he was thrilled to have attention paid to him. Blackjack went to Cleveland in the summer of 1995, and camped out on the air conditioner. That winter he saw first snow and camped out on the heater. Finally he got used to it and was thrilled to have run of the apartment. My gran had a dog at the time, but Blacky had grown up with first a Doberman/German Shepard mix, and then a psycho border collie. So he was dog friendly.
For eight years he lived there, happy and loved.
On the 25th Blacky was taken to the vets because he couldn’t keep anything in. On the 27th the vet called and I talked to her about how he was doing. We talked about how he was stable but not great and that he may need a serious decision. She would monitor his health and call us the next morning. The 28th, we talked about the phone about quality of life and long term care. I worried, because we were planning to drive home that day, if I was making a rash choice. My grandmother told me I had to make the decision, and I had tried to talk with her about it on the 25th. In the end, I told the vet we’d be there in about an hour.
The things to know:
1) Blackjack never howled in pain or seemed to be in discomfort.
2) Blackjack never lost his appetite (he bitched when I fed him only dry food)
3) Blackjack continued to be a stoner boy over catnip.
4) Blackjack never curled up away from everyone else in the back of the room.
5) Blackjack remained the attention whore.
In fact, the only way we knew he was sick was that he had diarrhea.
I know that a lot of vets tell you that a sick animal will suddenly adopt strange behavior, show a lack of attention to personal grooming, a disinterest in food, avoid the family. But that never happened.
Some people find euthanizing a pet to be disturbing. You can be with your pet when he is euthanized and the process is fairly quick. It takes about two to three minutes (Blacky was about three, but the jugular vein is not the best for this sort of thing). They have an IV injection, and if you’re there, they hardly seem to notice. The eyes do weird things. Blacky always had huge, round, green eyes. The pupils got larger and then glassy, finally fogging over. He had some tremors and finally a rather noticeable exhale. I could see when he stopped breathing, and felt his last breath on my hand. The eyes remained open and I gently tried to close them. They didn’t.
Once I made the decision to put Blackjack to sleep, it was actually harder to decide what to do with the body. We opted for mass burial, after asking if cremation was suggested because he’d been sick. Dr. Susan was willing to send us the ashes, but since we didn’t want to bury him in the yard and I had no grand idea, we decided the mass grave was the best. It was far better than some of his siblings got, and certainly better than his poor mother (who disappeared one day).
For what it’s worth, I regret the mass burial choice today. I wish I’d asked for the cremated body to be sent to me and then I would have dumped him in the lake or taken him back to my grans and secretly buried him myself. I feel like I abandoned him in the end and I should have done more. But I also feel that Blacky was hanging on until he saw me one last time before he died. From the moment I stepped in the door until he had to be rushed to the vet, he was happy, and tried very hard to be well. Cats know, however, and there was no denying that he knew he was sick.
I still miss him a lot and I wish I’d taken him in with me when I’d moved to a better apartment. I wish I’d been there more with him. I wish I could know that he knew how much I loved him.