One of my cats is 17 and today will be the end of her journey. It's been a trying couple of weeks and seeing how quickly she's gone downhill these past few days after a recent diagnosis has shown that it's time to let her go. She's been an amazing and wonderful pet, and I thought I'd share some details of this time and other times along her life.
Her Name and Origin
A college friend and I were both graduating in 1996, and agreed that we would get an apartment together. Being on our own for the first time, we thought it would be ‘cool' to have a pet. Since dogs weren't allowed in our complex, we decided to get a cat. Actually, they weren't allowed either but the people that ran the front office told us that it was ‘company policy' for no cats, but that they were the only ones that would enforce any rules, and said that having cats was just fine.
As it so happened, my buddy lived in the country and they had cats around who were always having kittens that his parents would give away. One had just recently had a litter, and when he and I went down to grab some of this things, we picked one of them out. That became Zooie, which is pronounced zoo-ee.
Her official name is Kazuya, which is from a video game, Tekken 2, that we played constantly throughout senior year of college. Kazuya was our favorite character, and even though the character was a guy and the cat was a girl, we didn't care. However, she became Zooie from the start.
An ‘Only Cat'….In Her Dreams Anyways
Zooie has always wanted to be an only cat. This was evidenced early on. After we decided she'd be our cat, we didn't take her home right away so that she had the right amount of time with her mom and siblings. After we took her home, she settled right in. My roommate had to go back home to get more stuff, so Zooie and I tagged along. Although she'd only been ‘domesticated' for a week by that point, she wanted nothing to do with her siblings or mom, hissing and growling at them.
A couple of months later, my roommate actually got another cat, as he'd always liked Persian cats, and decided to get one. Zooie terrorized him for as long as she could get away with it (see below). Later, I got another cat, Boomer, who is still around, and Zooie has spent most of the last 13 years pretending that he doesn't exist.
Zooie Learned A Lesson
As I mentioned above, my roommate decided to make it a two-cat household after a bit of time. Boz (short for Bosworth) was brought in and he was a timid cat from the start. I barely registered that we had a second cat, for he spent most of the time hiding under a bed. And, when came out, Zooie definitely sent him packing as she'd usually chase him right back to where he hung out. We tried coaxing Boz out and tried keeping Zooie at bay, but nothing really worked for the first couple of weeks.
Then, one day, my roommate and I were watching TV and we saw Boz come out. We encouraged him as usual and this time he went over, hopped up on a table and started playing. He was batting around the cord for the vertical blinds. Almost on cue, Zooie came over and watched, then started trying to chase him away. Where he would typically acquiesce and run back to the room, Boz had finally had enough. As Zooie growled at him, he jumped off the table, turned to face her, reared back and gave her a smack right across her face. He put his paw back up in the air in case he needed to do it again, but there was no need for that. The message was clear.
Zooie slowly turned around and walked away, trying to keep some of her dignity intact, while Boz jumped back on the table and resumed his playtime. From that moment on, Boz was out and about almost constantly.
Zooie Warms My Heart
Because of varying job locations and the fact that I was getting ready to buy my own place, my buddy and I decided to move out of the apartment after a couple of years. The next place my roommate landed had a no-cat policy which was actually enforced. Even though he hated to do it, he left Boz with me, figuring he knew I would take care of him, plus he knew the two cats were pretty attached by that point.
I bought my first place, a condo, and the cats settled in. While the cats shared the space, Zooie had one area, a closet in my room, that she staked out and made it clear was her spot. Any time Boz went near there, she would chase him away and wouldn't back down. They shared the rest of the condo, but that was hers, and Boz knew it.
Sadly, Boz got very sick less than a year after I moved in. I noticed him losing weight and slowing down. The vet found that his kidneys had never fully developed, which unfortunately was a somewhat common thing in his breed. By that point, his kidneys had already done all the work they could, and couldn't keep up with the demands of a fully grown cat. There was nothing that could be done, so I enjoyed the few weeks I had left with him.
After a few weeks, it was clear that he had hit his end, and I made his final appointment for the following week, and took the weekend to spend some last time with him. On one of the afternoons, I was laying in my bed watching TV, and he was up there with me, enjoying being petted. Zooie walked into the room and went into her closet. Boz jumped down and ambled toward the closet. I knew how this would go down. As it always went down. Boz would take a step into the closet and Zooie would chase him out. Trying to spare him that stress on his last couple of days, I said, “Boz, come on, don't go in there” and tried to coax him back up there.
He looked back at me with a look that all but said, “Don't worry. I've got this.” He proceeded into the closet. I held my breath waiting for inevitable growling, hissing and chasing that had taken place every time up to then. It didn't happen. There was nothing but silence coming from the closet. I waited a minute. I waited a few minutes more, then curiosity overtook me
I got up and quietly walked over to the closet and peeked in. There, I saw something that melted my heart and does so every time I think of it. Boz was sitting there and Zooie was cleaning him off as cats do. Mind you, Zooie and Boz were close but I'd never seen either of them do this to one another.
They spent a better part of an hour in there whereupon Boz walked out, no hissing or growling, and I knew that they'd said their goodbyes.
So, Is It Her Time?
There are a million other stories I could tell. I'll stop for now but know that she always brought joy and comfort, and all she ever really asked when it came down to it was food, water, shelter, litter, and a spot on my lap for a little time each day, where she could purr, drool and fall asleep, which she always did.
Zooie was a model of good health for upward of 15 years. Then, she started drinking more and more, and it was verified that her kidneys were starting to go. The vet recommended giving her fluids, which I stared doing, and changing her diet. This worked well, as her kidneys pretty much stopped deteriorating.
However, a couple of months ago I got this sense that something wasn't right. I could see her moving a little slower, drinking less, and just slowing down. I took her to the vet, and they checked her out, but said things seemed fine. She recently had bloodwork and her kidneys hadn't shown further signs of deterioration. Still, having known her for 17 years, I knew something wasn't right.
Recently, she had her annual checkup, and when I got a phone call from the vet, I knew it couldn't be great news. I had thought it might be her kidneys, but it wasn't. It was worse. We had cheap cat insurance that wasn't going to cover much if anything.
They found a pretty big lump on her neck, and they ruled out some of the more common issues, such as a cyst, an abscess, or a problem with her thyroid. They suspected it could be cancerous, but had no way of knowing without taking a biopsy. I had already decided that I wasn't going to put the cat through anything major given her age, so all the biopsy would do is tell me whether it was cancer or not. Even without knowing, the vet did say off the record that when it comes to lumps on their neck, at their age it usually in cancer and it usually is aggressive.
Either way, treatment would involve surgery to remove the lump, potential chemotherapy, and other things that I was not going to put a 17 year old cat through. At her age, she's roughly the equivalent of an 86 year old human, and I know that since she can't speak, I'm speaking for her and I know that ‘no surgery' would be her direction.
A few days ago, she started having more issues. She really slowed down to the point where she stopped going anywhere. She started spending most of her time in corners, under furniture, or down in the basement, which is something sick animals often do as an instinctive thing so not to give away that their sick to predators. She started refusing her dry food altogether, and would only nibble at her wet food. (Background on that: I have had to feed both cats three times a day for about ten years due to health issues with Boomer, the other cat, and up until now, she's always eaten all of her food at each sitting.) She would eventually finish it but only after returning over and over to the dish over a many-hour period. Definitely not normal. Over the weekend, she pretty much cut that out as well.
Most of all, I can just see in her face that she isn't right. Some may think that animals don't have facial expressions like humans do, but I'll tell you that after you spend 17+ years with any creature, you most certainly can see things in their face. And, when all these other things started happening, I could see by the look on her face that I'd never seen before, and that this was…pretty serious.
I've always said that I will do right by her and not let her suffer so that I can keep her around, and it's near the time to make that decision. I've been waiting for a few days just to make sure it isn't a bug or something else that she could snap back from, but so far she isn't showing any signs of bouncing out of it.
I've had part of me worried that I could be making a rash decision and doing something too soon, but an even bigger fear is that I would wait too long.
She has been with me ever since I graduated college, entered the real world, and ‘became an adult'. It's going to be very hard to say goodbye to a loved companion I've had for that entire phase of my life. Still, when people agree to adopt pets we agree to the deal that we're likely going to outlive them. I know that. I accept that.
But, man, is it ever hard.