I’ve struggled with words for this post for over two weeks, never certain that I’ve got it right, or even close to it. It’s hard to put some things into words, and this is certainly one of those times. So let me tell you a story…
It all started one day as I working access control, and I heard over the radio as they dispatched a patrol to assist someone with a kitten that was in their car engine. I didn’t think any more on that until I was turning in my radio for the night a couple hours later and a couple of the guys immediately came over to me. “Hey, you like cats! Want another?”
I declined, protesting that I was already thought of as the “Old Cat Lady” with the two I had adopted during my time in the army, and I hardly needed to cement the image with a third…but then they handed me a cardboard box and I looked inside. Huddled in the corner was a tiny ball of calico fluff, hardly bigger than my two hands clasped together. She still had engine grease on her nose, and as our Animal Control didn’t work after 5pm unless it was a “vicious breed” the little baby had nowhere to go for the night. Being the sucker that I am, I agreed to take her me. “Just for the night,” I told myself.
On the way back to the arms room, she started to talk. I was told by one of the guys that had been with her since they saved her from the engine that they had begun to worry about her because she hadn’t made a sound since they’d gotten her over two hours prior. She continued to talk from that moment on. When we got home and I fed her and she talked around her food as she ate, and if I wasn’t holding her on my lap she’d cry until I picked her up again.
For a few days I kept telling myself that I would only keep her a little while and then I’d take her to the shelter. A kitten her size would be adopted out quickly, so she surely wouldn’t be put to sleep. As each day passed, my resolve melted. It was hard to even consider taking her in after those first couple days. The sweet thing didn’t even know how to drink water from a dish when I’d gotten her home, and with her first attempt she dunked half her face in the water and came up with the most indignant and offended look I’ve ever seen on a cat’s face.
I think I knew from the beginning that I was too attached to let her go. I’d given her the name Lucky before I even got her into the car for that initial trip home.
She was soon a regular in the house, and once I was sure that the other two cats wouldn’t attack her she was out exploring the house and getting into all the normal trouble that any kittens do. As with that first night, she always found a place to curl up on my lap, or if I was lying on the couch watching tv she was always curl up on my chest.
Some people will easily admit that dogs each have their own personality, but are slow to even consider that cats are people too. Lucky was quite a character! She had such a loud personality….well, a loud everything, really. Her purring could be heard from across the house, and her meows were heard across country. She may have hid any time I had guests over to the house, but when it was just me, and I was on the phone or on the computer talking to my gaming friends on Ventrilo, she always wanted in on the conversations. She was well known in my guild, and many of them would say, “Hi Lucky!” as soon as they heard a meow in the background from my mic, even without being told that it was her as she had “spoken” to them so often.
When we moved to the house in El Paso from the apartment, Lucky tried to climb up the chimney to hide, and ended up totally covered in soot. When I gave the cats a bath, instead of fighting and trying to claw her way out of the tub, she just hung there in my grip, purring under the water as we rinsed the shampoo out of her fur. And when we moved to Pennsylvania, it took her probably a couple months to accept Dylan’s presence, but once she did, she wasn’t shy about sitting on the back of the couch next to his computer chair and reaching out her paw to tap him on the shoulder and demand his attention.
About two months ago, I noticed an abnormal lump on Lucky’s tummy, just under her rib cage, with a diameter of about two and a half to three inches. I set up a vet appointment as soon as I could, but it wasn’t with our normal vet. He sent us home with an antibiotic, saying that it might shrink whatever it was that had caused the growth. The antibiotic made no difference, and on the next vet visit with my oldest cat, Friday, our normal vet said to bring Lucky in when Friday came in for her next checkup a couple weeks later.
When the vet saw her, the diagnosis was immediate and grim. The mass was caused by breast cancer, and while talking about the treatment options, we decided to take an x-ray. The doc wanted to see if there were any other growths that would make surgery feasible or if the cancer was already too advanced. What we saw was….nothing. My poor little Lucky had so much fluid built up in her chest that we couldn’t even see her heart on the film. The vet then sent us home with a diuretic to try to flush the fluid out of her chest so we’d be able to take another x-ray the following week and see if the cancer had already spread into the chest.
I started her on her medicine right away, wanting nothing more than to help ease the discomfort and pain that my sweet girl was in. I wanted so much to believe that we’d be able to save her. As the night wore on, Lucky settled in the far bedroom upstairs, and when I called to her before I went to bed, she didn’t come to me as she normally did. Rather, I just saw the reflection of the hall light in her eyes as she looked to me.
Overnight, Dylan (my boyfriend) checked on her a few times, and he said she had stayed in the same spot all night. Her breathing was more labored, her panting much more pronounced. She wasn’t eating. She wasn’t drinking. It was a very difficult decision, but we knew that she wasn’t getting better and that we needed to end her suffering. I called the vet’s office and made the appointment.
I spent the last couple hours of Lucky’s life by her side. She tried to purr as I stroked her head, but it was half wheeze. When it came time, we bundled Lucky in a sheet with Simon the Cat and Dylan drove us to the vet’s office. They gave us a few minutes for our last goodbyes, and they let us stay with her as the doctor gave her the injection. Lucky was gone quickly, even before the syringe had been emptied by half. I felt the change in her the moment she left us.
I’ve asked Dylan over and over if we did the right thing. I’ve never had to make the decision to put an animal down, and it still weighs on my heart even though I logically know that it was what was needed for my sweet little Lucky. I worry and wonder if I wasn’t attentive enough, if I overlooked something that would have diagnosed her sooner so that she could have been treated.
We took her home and buried her by the rosebush in the back yard, where her spirit can run and play. She’s free from pain now. She no longer has to struggle for breath. I hope she understands that we didn’t want her to suffer, that we love her, and that she’ll always be my Baby Lucky.