Driving back to the farm a week or two ago, I passed a dead cat on the side of the road. It looked exactly like one of our little barn kitties. The poor thing had either been sitting on the edge of the asphalt or trying to cross when something crushed its head at high speed. Brains all over the pavement, the perfect little moon of its face twisted in wide-eyed surprise. My heart surged into my throat.
I flew up the drive to the barn, shouting for Jon before even unbuckling my seatbelt. He wasn’t anywhere around. I ran into the barn, crying, “Jon! Jon!”
And then, “Meow! Meow!”
And out came the two little barn kittens, eyes still sleepy with nap. They leaped off a chair where they’d curled up together and came bouncing toward me.
“Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! You’re okay! You’re okay! I’m so glad you’re okay!” I sang, and it was true, I was suddenly so glad, so grateful that neither one had met the ugly end up the road.
Jon came into the barn a few minutes later and laughed at me. I cried.
That was two weeks or so ago, and now one of the little cats is dead. I found him hunched over and breathing strangely just before the weekend. A scan at the vet revealed an inoperable tumor on his heart that was collapsing his lungs and airways.
The vet tried a short course of antibiotics just to see if it made any change, but of course it didn’t, and the poor little cat spent his last night in a clinical setting. The next day, I came to the office and we put him to sleep.
I’m not good at these sorts of decisions, not when they apply to my own life. The coward in me wanted to take the cat back to the barn and let him go naturally, whatever that means. The truth is it wouldn’t have been pretty. He was already not eating and moving, spending his hours burrowed in the hay loft, safe from predators. Letting him go naturally meant he would have suffered. Letting him go via euthanizing meant only I would suffer.
This is the price we pay for loving animals, but oh, it hurts.
I think we have a fiction of how easy and beautiful putting an animal to sleep can be. Certainly I’ve heard stories about how they go peacefully. It didn’t happen like that for our cat. He was scared. He was in an unfamiliar setting. He was coughing and struggling and found little pleasure in being handled. The vet gave me a few minutes alone with him. I tried not to cry because I didn’t want to scare him. I stroked his back and ears and face and he purred with delight, and then descended into a coughing and choking fit. He slipped from my hands and off the table and cowered in the corner, under a chair.
The vet gave him a swift sedative, but the needle must have stung because he cried and cried. So that’s how he went, in what must have seemed terrifying and unjust, crying and writhing under my hands on the floor.
We want to give our animals the best of ourselves but it just isn’t always possible.
He didn’t fight it long, maybe two minutes, and he finally relaxed. The vet gave him the official euthanasia injection and he slipped away. I made arrangements for a cremation. I’ll spread his ashes at the barn, the only home he ever knew, and where he lived a joyful, free life that ended far too soon. He didn’t even make it to a year old.
Outside of the clinic, at the house next door, a man and woman were on their knees in their garden. A bird flew by with a writhing worm pinched between its beak. Life goes on. So it is.