Quality of Life: Euthanize Me?

Annie circa 2009Today has been rough. We’ve arrived at that point in a pet owner’s life when we had to make the hard choice to let one of our pets go. Annie was 20+ years old. My hubby received Annie from friends of his. She’d been a teenage, street mother and was maybe four or five when dear hubby took her in. She was a tiny little thing with so much fur, she appeared bigger than she actually was. Oh, I suppose she was that big….she was a binge eater. Living on the streets does that to a cat. We called her fatty bombalatti because she reached a point when she had to squeeze through the cat door and couldn’t make it under the fence. A couple of years ago, she had a very close brush with the end. She lost almost four pounds, a lot for a cat. She refused to leave the back porch and could barely eat.

We have a fabulous vet. Arun is kind, empathetic, but full of common sense when it comes to pet care. I took her in and he gave me two options. One, a shot full of antibiotics and steroids that might cure her and she’d perk right up for 35.00. The other a long length of tests and treatments that would likely do little to help for thousands of dollars. We agreed the cheap route would be just fine. She did perk right up.

Last year, Annie was barred from the house after she lost control of her bladder. We set her up with a heating pad, her food and fresh water. She seemed okay with that particularly when the puppies arrived. They were too loud, too out of control and too darn friendly for her taste. Occasionally, we’d let her in to hide in the closet and it worked out well because as soon as the girls discovered her (and they did) she wanted out.

James L and Annie Xmas 2009
James L and Annie Xmas 2009

I’ve mentioned before that the kids were little when dear hubby and I met, courted and married. Annie embraced them with a head butt. That was her way of demanding attention. It was quite abrupt and sometimes forceful. Son 1 is particularly fond of our animals, of all animals in general. He’s been that way since he was born. He acts like one of them be it cat, dog, horse or whatever. If it’s furry, fuzzy or friendly, he has a way with them. Gets it from my father, James L. We always joke that if it’s a baby or an animal, it’ll love my dad. Son 1 is exactly the same way, except he’s not into babies. Not a bad thing for a teenage boy….whew!

Hubby and I started discussing Annie’s future when our groomer told us she wouldn’t wash and shave Annie this year. Annie’s arthritis was too severe and it was just cruel to manipulate her. I can hear what you’re thinking….shave a cat? Yes, our friends S and A turned us onto this practice. They  have five cats and guess what? Cats don’t love the process, but they sure do love the results. So we started having Annie shaved at the beginning of each summer and by the time winter rolled around, she was furry again.


Lack of grooming was a problem because Annie had given up grooming herself a long time ago. I figure when I’m 80 or 90, I’ll want a weekly trip to the hairdresser too. Annie could barely walk and limited her travels to about 15 square feet. Her bed, her food bowl, her litter box and occasionally the drive way, if we opened the garage door….she refused to go through the cat door any longer. We thought we’d let her drift through summer, lounging, eating, and sunbathing. That was fine for a bit, but she started missing the litter box and throwing up. I kept hoping we’d walk out one day and find her curled up quiet and still. Nope, she was a scrapper. She was hanging on. It was clear she was in pain. She tender footed it anywhere she walked. She could barely lay down and if she did lay down, she was damned if she was getting back up.

Hubby and I made the hard choice. This is what it is to be a pet owner. Responsibility sucks sometimes. Her quality of life was diminished and it was terrible to watch. Son 1 was and is furious with our decision. We’re just killing her because it’s inconvenient. Just let her lay around. How would you like it if someone made that choice for you? You know what? If my life was four square feet…food I was vomiting, the toilet that I couldn’t get to and so much pain all I wanted to do was lie still….please, make that decision. Better yet, I’ll make that decision and it won’t fall to anyone else.

As a writer, characters in my stories die. I just told a friend that’s what ups the stakes for a reader, not every one of my characters mind you. See Just Trying To Keep The Conversation Lively for my opinions on that process. Sometimes I don’t even know a character is going to die until I’m well into a story. Western culture is distant from death. We’ve sanitized it, removed ourselves from it and fight every minute to defeat it. Death is a part of Life and if we box it away, how can we value the live we lead?

Not to muddy the blog up too much, but it’s one of the symptoms of the Treyvon Martin case and the other loud music case I read about today. Death is impersonal. Several folks said that if Zimmerman hadn’t had a gun, he wouldn’t have followed the teenager. You bet, because then it’s messy and complicated. I took Annie to the vet this morning. They were very gracious and offered to complete the entire process without me there to see. I thought about it for a minute….it was tempting. In the end, I owed it to Annie. We’d made a decision for her and it was the right one.

I picked her up to get into the car and she sank into my lap. She didn’t mewl or cry like she usually does going to the vet. We went into the back room designed for this sort of thing and she tucked her head under my arm. They administered a sedative, but I don’t think she needed it. I stroked her head and held her for a bit. She almost didn’t need the second, fatal injection. Her heartbeat was so weak and slow. Arun and his nurse, Stacey were consoling and understanding. I suppose this is the worst part about being a vet too. She went in one heartbeat. It was so quick and quiet.

She was ready to go. Perhaps that’s me rationalizing or anthropomorphizing, but she was so resigned and seemed really relieved. We don’t do pet burial or cremation. We don’t take paw prints or momentos. We have long memories and lots of pictures. We also have big hearts and will eventually find room for another wayward animal who deserves more than to be abandoned, abused or broken.

For characters, it’s quick and quiet too. Writing two death scenes was troublesome for me. One character I knew was going to die, but the other…..I was sad. The death of characters shouldn’t touch us more than the death of living breathing creatures. LIves are significant. Even if it was only a cat. The passing of a life should be noticed. Somehow we have to find that connection, that intimate understanding that death is a part of us, so that we will start to understand that to heedlessly take a life diminishes all of us.