Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thank Goodness for a New Year

I am quite looking forward to a brand new year, as the last month of 2008 was a rather terrible one for our family. We went from having three indoor cats to one, and we lost our beloved Great Dane, Babe.

Izzy was a cat we hadn't planned on having. DD#2 and I found him one evening, dashing under cars in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. He had a collar on, so we knew he wasn't feral. I grabbed him up, as I knew if I didn't he'd be a wet spot on the parking lot in about two minutes otherwise. We brought him home, where we already had two indoor cats and three outdoor cats. He was tiny, about six weeks old, and because that was too young to expect him to go through the cat door to the litter boxes downstairs, set him up for (what we thought would be) a short while in DD#2's room.

The poor kitten had terrible diarrhea that went on for weeks. We took him to the vet, who ran tests, tried a variety of medications, all to no avail. Finally the vet threw up his hands and told us the cat had a digestive system that was permanently damaged. We considered euthanizing him, but I couldn't bear the thought. Finally a light went on in my head, and I thought that perhaps he had food allergies. Turns out he was allergic to any sort of grains. So from then on we fed him, and the other two inside cats (Cleo and Kitzel) very expensive non-grain food that came from the health food store 45 miles away. ((sigh))

During the time before I diagnosed this issue, Izzy developed a bad habit of eliminating in inappropriate places, including all over the basement, and even once on my bed. I swore that wouldn't happen twice, especially after I got a new mattress. Fast forward two years, he's a fully adult cat, (neutered), with a not very nice attitude, and bad litter box habits. He was funny and adorable, but never wanted to cuddle or be petted, any time we tried he'd bite, despite months of working with him. And he would go out of his way to eat the dog food, which had grain, and which would give him diarrhea all over again, and lead to poop in improper places.

At the start of December, we began to notice that both Babe, our ten year-old Great Dane, and Kitzel, the 14 year-old marmalade cat, had started to fail. Babe had been coughing, and at first the vet thought it might be allergies, but as time went on we knew it was not. Kitzel had been losing weight, which at first we attributed to the non-grain food being better for him (he was very fat before.) Things were very busy during the start of the month, and I will freely admit I didn't clean the litter boxes every day, so Izzy started pooping on the floor in the basement again. But the last straw was when he pooped on my bed, at 11 pm at night, pulling down a bedspread so that he could poop on my new comforter. I was finished. The next morning I took him and the $40 bag (for 15 pounds!) of non-grain cat food to the local no-kill shelter. They listened sympathetically, and told me they had a volunteer who would take him home and care for him by himself (which was what he really needed.)

That was the second Friday of the month. Five days earlier, Babe collapsed on her cushion, was breathing as if she had ten gallons of fluid in her lungs, and we thought she was going to die. I took her to the emergency vet where they wanted me to spend $655 to leave her there for four hours so they could run a multitude of tests. Babe was a month away from turning ten years old, which is very old indeed for a Great Dane (they usually live to about eight.) I declined the tests. The next morning we went around and around with two other vets, one of whom wanted us to spend $1,800 on tests, the other (who was our normal small animal vet), did a minimum of testing, and told us what we had figured - she was dying, of congestive heart failure (plus there was a suspicious mass near her spleen.) We took her home with some meds to help with the fluid in her lungs, and waited.

So, dealing with aged and dying dog, cat who just made life unbearable, and then I turned around and looked at Kitzel, to realize that he hadn't just lost weight, he was a bag of bones. I told myself I'd take him to the vet that week, only he beat me to it. On a Monday morning, as DD#2 was getting ready to go to school, Kitzel peed on her purse while she watched. Now, cats are smart, they don't do things like that unless they are trying to send you a message. So James took him to the vet, where they determined he likely had cancer. And we made the decision to euthanize him. ((sigh))

The following week, late on a Saturday night, Babe collapsed again. James sat up with her for most of the night, and the next morning, although she was able to make her way outside, we knew it was the end. It was important to us to leave her with her dignity intact. Dogs know they are not supposed to eliminate in the house, and the good ones get very embarrassed and emotionally upset when they do (as often happens towards the end.) She had collapsed twice, and had stopped eating. It was time. We spent Sunday crying, trying to find a vet open who could help us. Once we found one, James took her (he is much braver than I am, bless him for being able to be with animals at the end.) Her loss has left an enormous hole in all our lives.

It's odd. I adore cats, have had them since I was a baby in my crib. But dogs are different somehow. They become companions in a way that cats just don't. Babe was part of our family, and I still miss her terribly, as I know we all do. We did almost nothing for Christmas. No outside lights, no inside decorations, we didn't even trim the tree. James set it up in the living room, but we couldn't even go in there on Christmas morning, as it was where her dog bed was. I finally vaccumed out there yesterday, and had the hardest time with it, feeling as if by vaccuming up her hair I was removing the last traces of her (although I know we'll be finding Babe hairs for years yet.) It's just been a wretched, wretched time for us, and I am hoping that the New Year will bring some happiness that helps us past these losses.

Non-animal people don't understand how close we can get to our critters, and explaining to them is hard. But those of you who read this who do have pets and livestock you love, I encourage you to go out, give them a small treat, spend some extra time with them grooming or otherwise attending to them. Because just as with people, we never know when we'll lose the ones we love, and it's important that they know we care.

Rest in peace Babe and Kitzel, we know we'll see you someday on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. We love you...