When I was 19, I went to the local animal shelter “just to look” (any other pet owners out there know how that goes?). I played with the cats that were up for adoption. They were cute but I was able to resist. But as I was leaving, the volunteer who had showed me the cats told me that she had one more, in the back. The cat had been there too long and was scheduled for euthanasia, but was healthy. The volunteer asked if I’d like to see her, and of course I said yes. She brought out a beautiful Siamese, who proceeded to meow at me and perch on my shoulder like a parrot.
I was in love.
I adopted that Siamese that day, without hesitation, without even checking with my then-husband about whether he was agreeable to my bringing home a pet. Two days later, after she had been spayed, I brought her home. I loved her instantly. My ex named her Angel. When he and I divorced, Angel and I stuck together and she made me smile in spite of my sadness, patting my face and meowing at me if I cried, snuggling up with me at night. She was always one of the bests parts of my life. I got older, added additional cats to our little family, and moved to Washington with those cats in tow.
Three years ago, Angel in for a routine vet checkup and found that she would need to have her teeth cleaned. There is nothing abnormal about this, but because of her age (11 at the time), the vet asked if I would like to do pre-op labs just to make sure there was no reason that Angel couldn’t handle the anesthetic for her cleaning. I readily agreed, knowing myself well enough to know that if I declined the blood test and something went wrong, I’d never forgive myself.
I really thought it was just a silly precaution. I really thought I was being a paranoid cat owner and that I was wasting my sixty dollars to satisfy some kind of irrational fear. I never dreamed that the blood test would show anything wrong with my sweet girl.
But it did.
Angel’s kidney levels were elevated, and she was diagnosed as being in early stages of chronic renal failure, or kidney disease. I changed her diet, switching her to a senior diet with kidney support. I took her back monthly for blood tests to make sure she was stable. After several months of this, her kidney levels remained the same, and ultimately I decided that as long as she was doing well, we could resume normal semi-annual checkups.
Angel is now 14 years old. Her kidney function remained stable until her most recent blood test, which revealed that her kidney disease had worsened greatly since her last checkup the previous fall. The news was rather grim: she would need to be given IV fluids under the skin every other day (eventually, it will be every day), and be given potassium supplements twice a day.
When the vet’s office called and told me, I tried to pay close attention to what they were telling me and to stay calm and objective about the whole thing. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I started crying. Even though I had known for three years that this would eventually happen, it always seemed like something far down the road, something I didn’t need to worry about.
When we first started her treatments, Angel perked up considerably and was more like her old self again. Three months later, we are again noticing that she is having some quiet days, where she prefers to curl up in a patch of sun on the special blanket I put by the back door for her. Her next blood test is tomorrow and I honestly don’t know what to expect. On the one hand, I feel like I should stay positive, but on the other, I know that the news will not ultimately be good, and I’m trying to be realistic and prepare myself.
Over the last three months, I have learned to accept the fact that my beloved girl, the sweet kitty that came into my life when I was only 19 and has been my best little friend ever since, is not going to get better. I am focusing on giving her the happiest life possible in the last months of her life. I pay attention to her good days and her bad days, because I know I have to be careful not to let her get to a point where she is in pain and suffering.
Having a terminally ill pet in the house is an adjustment. Twice a day, I administer medication that Angel does not like, all while telling her that it will make her feel stronger. Every other night, Bill and I sit on the bathroom floor, and he holds Angel in his arms while I start her IV and give her fluids under her skin. I do my best to comfort her, and he does his best to comfort both her and me, for the few minutes it takes for her to receive the required amount. There are frequent vet visits that must be scheduled. I dread those seemingly endless minutes, the time dragging on and on, while I sit first with her in the exam room and then by myself when a vet tech takes her back to have her blood drawn. In the days after her appointments, I anxiously await the test results, both wanting the vet’s office to call right away and wanting them not to, because they call me back faster when the results are bad.
Bill and I recently took a much-needed vacation, which I was only comfortable with because my amazing friend takes care of my cats for me and was unfazed by Angel’s newfound treatment routine. She texted me and let me know when Angel was having bad days, but knows my girl well enough to be there for her and to take care of her when she’s not at her best. If I didn’t have someone who could do all of it, Angel would have had to be boarded at the vet’s office in order for me to go anywhere.
We’re doing the best we can. For now, Angel is happy and that’s all that really matters. Now more than ever, she brings a smile to my face when she shouts at Bill to let her go outside, or sits with him in his armchair and kneads his stomach with her front paws (he says she likes to squish him). I watch her as she chases bugs on our back patio, and I laugh when she sits on the back of the couch and licks at my hair the way she always did when she was younger.
There is no real timeline, the vet cannot tell us how much longer she will be with us. Every cat is different, and there’s just no way to know. And so we keep her happy, and spoil her, and if nothing else I know that her life with me is good.