This was supposed to be a post commemorating the life of our thirteen year old cat, Simon. Instead, it’s a story of people foisting their morality on our family at a difficult and inappropriate time.
Simon, our cat, my cat of thirteen years, started behaving strangely last year. He was up on the kitchen counters scouting out food like a maniac. I mean, as if he was on speed or something but the kind of speed that would make someone hungry not make them lose their appetite. He was constantly mounting Funky though neither of them have any kitten making capacity. He was obviously losing weight. We brought him in, did some blood tests, found out he had hyperthyroidism. I’ll be honest that my first reaction was to start thinking about saying goodbye. But, one option was medication given twice daily that could make him live a long healthy and happy life. Josh and I worked it out that he, Josh, would take on the medication job since he felt it the right thing to do. I felt fine with that as I didn’t want to lose Simon and if he could be happy then we were all set. It would cost about $40 a month plus $65 every three months plus whatever the costs of the “medication level” blood tests. Again, as a family we decided it was worth it. Not an insignificant decision in terms of expense and commitment.
He almost immediately got better. Put on some weight, stopped jumping up scavenging for food, gave Funky a break except for the occasional quickie they were already used to, etc. A couple months later, though, he started acting weird again. Oh, and the puking. There was lots of puking through all of this.
We brought him back in. More $ for tests. Adjusting the prescription. He seemed better. He was really sensitive to the medication so if we forgot it, we could see the behaviors come back really quickly.
After another session of “is it really working” I told Josh I thought we needed to set a $ limit on what we’d be willing to do for him. It’s a very ugly part of pet ownership, the fact that they are in fact not human. And, it’s my opinion that that means we have to consider the financial impact of caring for them. If it costs a lot of money to keep them feeling okay, that’s an important part of the equation.
We agreed that we’d keep him on the meds as it was, bring him in for quarterly blood checks, but leave it at that. If he got sicker again we wouldn’t go back into the testing testing testing to see what was wrong. We almost stuck to that, but if memory serves we may have brought him in once more for something.
A few days ago he was puking a lot. More than usual. Josh was out with the girls but I txted him several times letting him know I thought something was more seriously wrong. Simon also started to act lethargic—very unlike him. He plunked himself in a cardboard box and pretty much didn’t move. He sat in there with his face less than an inch away from the side of the box for a long, long time. And, most important to me, I felt he was telling me it was time to say goodbye. I really did. He was saying, it’s time. This is it. Please help me.
Oh, and he had started pooping not in the litter box.
Josh called to schedule the regular blood check. I reminded him that we had agreed if Simon got sick again we wouldn’t do more than we already had. So, if Simon had lost weight (which we both believed he had) and if his behavior didn’t improve (it hadn’t) we would euthanize him. Put him to sleep. Help him die.
We agreed as a family this was the best thing for everyone. We agreed as a family that I’d take Simon in and make the decision at the appointment.
When I brought Simon in, I told the receptionist that it was more than a regular blood check. I explained some of the larger symptoms and told her that we’d decided if he had lost significant weight we wanted to put him to sleep. (I hate that phrase, but sometimes “help him die” startles people.) The receptionist looked up, shocked, and said, “Well, that will have to be the Doctor’s decision, too.”
Um, okay. Seems fair. Don’t want to have people just popping in for a quick pet killing, right?
I explained that of course if the Doctor thought Simon was fine we wouldn’t do anything.
We had the appointment and the gentle jabs of guilt started. Now, it could be my guilty conscience over making such a difficult decision (though the decision wasn’t that difficult to me as it really seemed in Simon’s best interest) but after I talked with the aide who weighed him, took his temp, etc. about our wishes, she brushed it off.
“You probably don’t brush his teeth?”
“Right, we don’t.”
“Has he been urinating more frequently?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t noticed. We have three cats, I just wouldn’t notice if he’d been peeing a lot more.”
The “has he been urinating” question was asked multiple times. I realize it was probably just a form she was using, but it sure made me feel like an insensitive ass that I didn’t know about his peeing habits.
Then she took a photo of him. I asked what that was for and she explained it was for their computerized record system.
So, a little odd that I’d just said we were probably going to want to put him to sleep (he had lost a pound and three ounces which for a previously 9lb 7oz cat is proportionally a lot). Acting as if we weren’t going to… This went on when the Dr. came in. She kept talking about how we’d check him out then we’d “regroup and look at our options.” She found an irregular heartbeat that hadn’t presented before. She made a big deal about no pain on palpitation of his belly. After the exam, which seemed a little surreal since I’d been quite direct about the fact that with this weight loss we were going to put him down, she said, “Now, we’ll want to do an EEG” (or something, EKG maybe?) “and check his blood levels…” I interrupted her and said, “Actually, we decided as a family if he had lost weight that we would put him to sleep.”
She was clearly startled by my abrupt statement, but I was starting to get pissed. How dare they start ignoring our wishes? This was an enormously difficult decision for Josh. Heart-wrenching. What if it had been him or some other deeply connected pet owner? These animals become family. For most people the decision to end their life, especially when having to include the financial realities of our priorities, can tear them apart. And the staff at this veterinarian’s office pulled out all the guilt-inducing stops. I mean, seriously. I won’t go into the entire thing, but they were basically pleading with me, “You won’t just try giving him Pepcid once a day? It could resolve the problems.”
“No, we decided as a family that if he had lost a lot of weight we would stop trying to help him feel better and put him to sleep.”
(“Just give him a Pepcid” my ass. This means not only purchasing the pills, which may be cheap I don’t know, but it’s an additional expense. It also means chasing Simon down and getting the pill into him. He *hates* that and he’s a biter. It’s one more daily job in our already over burdened family. It’s not “just a Pepcid,” YOU JERK.)
“I’ll go talk to Dr. alskdjfskl,” (I don’t know the main vet’s name) she said.
She came back in and said, “If you will sign over ownership of him we will use our Angel Fund to do the diagnostic tests. He will become a clinic cat.”
Now, listen. I don’t believe in just putting down a cat because they are inconvenient. And you might think that the “Angel Fund” idea is a good one. But he is our cat. He is ours, we love him, and we want the best for him. Imagine him suddenly in a strange place, strange smells, strange people, blood draws, forced to take pills by a stranger’s hand, never seeing his family cat members again, possibly feeling like crap all the time as they are trying to find out what’s wrong. That is what’s best for him?
We love our cat. We made a very difficult decision. They tried in every conceivable way to manipulate my heart strings. It happens I don’t respond well to that. But I really get angry when I think of the well-meaning people who might end up spending ridiculous amounts of money because of the guilt trip they lay out.
I asked them to give me a minute to consider it all. As soon as they were out the door I knew what to do.
I put Simon in his carrying case. I went to the cashier. I said I’d like to pay for the visit. I asked them to please give me copies of the records for Stick and Funky (our other two cats). I didn’t say anything else. I didn’t cause a scene, though I seriously considered telling them off. I haven’t mentioned yet that my young daughter was there for all of this.
Now I have to find a vet willing to help Simon die peacefully who will also care for our other babies who will also respect our decisions about our feline family members.
I suppose this is a warning. Ask your veterinarian now about their position on euthanasia. Don’t wait until you’ve made a horrible choice to find out they’re going to try to imply you don’t love your baby enough, that you’re not trying hard enough. Don’t wait until you’re in the situation where it feels as if your choice is “heartless bitch” or “loving pet owner.” Because I’ll tell you right now, if my daughter hadn’t been there I would have let them know what I thought about their manipulations. It would have been a scene and they all would have hated it. I would have remained calm but would have very clearly said, “It’s awful you would try to guilt me into extending his life just because you think that’s what is right. It’s awful you would imply that this is a decision we made lightly. It’s insane you are not hearing what I’m saying. It’s horrible you won’t honor our wishes. Obviously, we won’t be coming back here. And, you should know that I’ll be sure to let everyone I know about the horrendous experience I had here today.”
And, probably, knowing me, after I had paid the bill, I would have said very clearly, “Could I see the Dr. again please?” And when she came out I would have looked her in the eye and said, “Fuck you for trying to make me feel bad. I feel sorry for your clients who fall for your guilt trips.”
My daughter was there, though, so I was polite and only passive aggressive not directly aggressive. “Well, different philosophies,” I said to the receptionist. And, really, that’s all that it is. It’s still shocking to me that they would take that moment to try and foist their agenda on me. As of this writing, Simon has spent most of his time either trying to find food on the counters or lying still in that cardboard box. He is not himself. His eyes are glassy. He wants to be done. And, in the next week or so, we will help him.
Edited to add: Simon was euthanized in August, 2011. He was on medication everyday for more than five years. Due to his thyroid condition, his heart and lungs deteriorated to the point where breathing required great effort. He lived a good, long life.