Today is not a happy day in the House of Many Cats.
Back in January, I brought Vlad in from the cold, supposedly only until his paws healed. Then my friend told me he had small cell carcinoma and only had a few weeks left. At that point, I decided that Vlad deserved to spend his golden weeks in warmth and comfort, and eating as much 9 Lives Super Supper as he could swallow.
A few weeks passed, and Vlad was still ticking. He'd actually put on a little weight and was adjusting to life indoors. Within the first day, he'd figured out the litterbox. Drinking water out of a bowl took longer, but it sunk in eventually.
Toys never did. He never got the point of chasing something for fun; chasing was what he did to get his dinner.
As time went on, he slowed down a little. His big fat tomcat cheeks got bigger, and I began to suspect that although the tumors in his mouth weren't getting bigger, the cancer might be spreading into all that packed tissue. Toms grow those big cheeks to protect themselves when they fight - there aren't many blood vessels in there. Eventually the swelling started to creep under his chin, leaving only a little strip of soft fur to scratch there, but it didn't affect his ability to breathe or eat.
That was the problem - he didn't act sick. He slowed down a little more; he had trouble getting up on the bed but once my housemate donated her old aerobics step for him to climb up on, he hopped back up; he ate less dry food because of his mouth, but he still ate as much wet as was put in front of him. He still liked to cuddle every night when I went up to read with him before bed.
In the years that I've known that cat, it's been one thing after another - fights, bite wounds, infections, ripped up ears, and finally an eye wound that left him blind in one eye. I couldn't wait for him to show pain; I think he's had so much of it in his life that a terminal illness was probably almost restful.
I knew that sooner or later, I'd have to make the decision to let him go. Last week I talked to Mario, my housemate, and the two men around the corner who were his alternate parents. We decided on this Sunday because everyone would be around to go to the hospital with him to say goodbye.
Of course I immediately began second-guessing myself, and Vlad didn't help because he was perky and affectionate all week. Still, his fur was looking greasy and starting to thin, and despite his endless appetite, he wasn't putting on any more weight. I spoke to a nurse friend, and she said that it sounded like we were feeding the cancer at this point, and the cat was benefitting from the leftovers.
That was all I needed to hear.
When I decided to keep him inside, it was because I knew he wasn't well, and I wanted to be able to make the call when it was time, rather than have him disappear one day and worry that he'd died alone under a bush. Vlad deserved better.
And he got it. At 1:30 today, I put him in a carrier and took him downstairs to have a ramble in the back yard - his favorite territory and where I made his acquaintance 8 years ago. A few friends came over to say their goodbyes, and Vlad had a nice walk in the garden. He ate some plants, he peed on my roses, he rolled in the mulch and enjoyed the sun.
My neighbor arrived at 2:00, and we took him down to Penn's vet hospital. I don't like the place, they're ridiculously expensive, but they're very compassionate about euthanasia. The doctor took him back and put an IV in his arm, and then we got to spend some time with him in an exam room. He was a little stressed from the car ride and was panting and, being Vlad, managed to pull his IV loose before the doctor could touch him. Nothing was ever easy with this cat.
Finally we'd all said our goodbyes and kissed him on his big furry head, and the doctor gave him the sedative. He went to sleep in my arms, and then she gave him the second shot. He looked peaceful and about as kittenlike as I've ever had the privilege of seeing him look.
The house seems really quiet without Vlad bellowing for food, attention, litter changes, head scratches and what have you. He had more heart and more personality than a lot of people I've known, and he leaves a big space behind.
When I got home from the hospital, I hugged all my cats, especially the ones who were his. All the cats in the world don't make up for the one who's been lost.
It was time, Vlad. Enjoy your freedom. We'll miss you.
His ashes are going to be buried in my back yard, where they belong. If he had a stone, this would be on it: Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ...Wow! What a ride!