I called our vet clinic at 8:03 this morning. While our wonderful animal doctor had a full slate today, her receptionist always does her best to squeeze in a euthanasia appointment when the situation is pressing.
Today marked the tenth day since our sweet kitty, Leroy, was diagnosed with cancer. I took him in to the clinic after he lost a noticeable amount of weight and spent much of his time hiding in the bathroom.
The doctor swore softly when she found the significant mass in Leroy’s belly. X-rays showed he had developed lymphoma or an intestinal cancer that spread to his lymph nodes.
Leroy came home from that initial appointment with steroids to be taken twice a day. His doctor told us that a lymphoma in cats often responds well to prednisone; there was a good chance he would be able to live comfortably for weeks or months with the medication. The veterinarian did not believe he was experiencing pain.
Terminally ill animals tend to hide their symptoms. By the time we realized Leroy was experiencing something suspicious, the cancer was advanced. The Electrician and I believe the most ethical choice is letting our furry family members go when they begin to struggle. We would never knowingly allow an animal we love to decline from struggling into suffering.
Eight hours after the first dose of prednisone, Leroy was voraciously hungry. His energy increased and he jumped up on the couch to cuddle, something he hadn’t done voluntarily for a while. We were grateful he was feeling so much more like himself. The Electrician and I told Leroy he could live like a king until he decided he was ready to leave us. Leroy ate as much wet food as he wanted. He napped in any spot he chose, even the previously forbidden dining table. At night, he curled up beside my pillow and usually fell asleep with his chin on my left hand.
Over the most recent weekend, Leroy suddenly continued losing weight. The difference in his body was noticeable, and his skin sagged, despite him eating and drinking. He started hiding again, and wasn’t strong enough to jump up on the furniture. I found him well-hidden in the laundry room this morning, and just walking from the bathroom to the kitchen left him winded.
Leroy was ready to leave us. He rode to the vet on a cushion on the passenger seat, calmly enjoying the sun that splashed across his back, purring when I scratched his jaw at the red lights.
Ten months ago to the day, we brought our Sherman to the same room. He had the same kind of cancer. We brought an old towel from home that day so he had something familiar to lie on during the euthanasia procedure. I told the clinic people I didn’t have the heart to take that distinctive towel home again, and that they could keep it for other animals or throw it away.
I was surprised and somehow comforted that our old towel was on the exam table today. Some things can’t possibly be coincidence. I like to think that towel meant our Sherman was saying hello and promising he would meet his dear friend Leroy on the other side.
The veins in both Leroy’s forelegs collapsed when the technicians attempted to place an IV catheter that would allow the final medication to be given smoothly and painlessly. After putting him through two big pokes with no success, I was given the option of a sedative injection. The new plan was for Leroy to feel very relaxed and experience no pain while his doctor injected pentobarbital directly into a big vein in his inner thigh.
The veterinary technician gave Leroy a needle of ketamine with other serious stuff while he snuggled on my lap. I cradled my sweet cat and told him all the best things about him while he became drowsy. The kelly green bandages over his failed IV sites exactly matched the t-shirt I was wearing, borrowed from my husband’s side of the closet.
Leroy was conscious, purring very softly my arms, when the doctor came back with the final needle. The euthanasia drug was the colour of a blue freezie. I asked to continue holding him while he left us. As hard as it was for me, I wanted him to feel safe in his last moments.
Even the large vein was uncooperative, but the sedatives protected Leroy from pain or distress. I heard a few gentle, fluttering purrs just before he slipped away.
I took Leroy from my parents’ rural home when he was four or five weeks old. He was far too young to leave his mother, but coming with me prevented him from being eaten by the coyotes that snatched his siblings. When we met, he was small enough to sit on one of my palms. I’ve never been sure if it was our very early bonding or just his personality that caused Leroy and I to be so close, but I’m pretty sure he thought I was his mother.
In his twelve years of life, Leroy never put a tooth or a claw into a person, even when he would have been justified to draw blood. His favourite thing was cuddling with a human, preferably a woman; he would drift into a trance of joy, drooling incessantly all over whoever was petting him. While we were fostering rescue dogs, Leroy showed endless patience with the new mammals coming and going from our home. He was a bundle of love all his life. Even people who came to our house declaring they didn’t like cats commented after a short stay that Leroy was different, and they had never met a sweeter feline.
Writing is healing for me. Losing Leroy is a burning rawness tonight, and it will be for some time, but it feels important to honour the wonderful little being he was.
Farewell, my sweet, handsome friend. You will be deeply missed.