By Pat Edwards
(Written on March 2000)
I lost a very special friend last spring. My cat, Squeaky, died in my arms. I say “my cat” when I mention Squeaky, not because I wouldn’t share him with the rest of my family, but because that’s the way Squeaky deemed it.
About 14 years ago, our (then) teenaged daughter brought home a starved stray cat that had been living behind a business in downtown Eugene where a friend worked. We began feeding her and soon it was evident that she was going to have kittens. Squeaky and a brother were born on our farm, but about two weeks before the kittens should have been weaned, their mother was killed by a car. I brought them into the house and was able to help them survive.
Squeaky was always the “special” one, though. He had that certain mystique about him that some cats have. He sensed my moods and when he looked at me, he looked straight into my eyes and into my soul. He was never a well cat. He had a hernia and problems with digestion throughout his life, and he was not a hunter or fighter. His mother never got around to teaching him to clean himself, so he frequently had dusty feet or an occasional burr in his dark grey and white fur. But, he adored me and he made that obvious to anyone who was around him for any length of time. I was chosen to be “his” person.
I’d take him into the veterinary office to have his rabies shots, to have a leukemia test, and to get a refill on his steroid prescription to treat his flea allergies. Towards the end of his life, they warned me that his kidneys were beginning to shut down and he needed to eat the special low-ash canned foods available. I tried. He hated them! He refused to eat and I have learned the hard way over the years that this was his way of dealing with stress or adversity… he would just give up.
I came close to losing Squeaky several times over the years when he would wander too far from home and get lost in one of our pastures. After fruitless daily searching, we’d find him a couple of weeks later, lying on the branch of one of our huge oak trees or in a ditch somewhere, completely emaciated because he would not hunt. On those occasions, I’d carry him up to the house because he was too weak to walk and nurse him back to health as I had once done when he was a tiny kitten.
So, after a sincere effort to follow “doctor’s orders,” I went back to giving him his half can of Friskies (his favorite was the turkey and giblets) and all of the Purina Cat Chow he wanted. I knew that I would not have him much longer, but those were his terms.
One day last fall, it was obvious that he needed to be put back on his steroids. When he needed them he became neurotic and began vomiting frequently. My husband ran him to the vets’ office for his required exam before they would issue a refill and they told him that Squeaky was running a fever and that they wanted to put him on an IV for that afternoon. Jim left him there and called me at work where I was in a deadline rush to get a grant submitted (I work for the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.) When he called again that afternoon and they told him that they wanted to keep him overnight, I was so unable to deal with it that I told him to let them go ahead. But, when they called me at work the next day and said that Squeaky was not eating at all and that he needed to be on the IV for over the weekend, I argued that he was eating fine when I brought him in… that he was just stressed by the dogs barking and being away from home. The vet insisted, however, and still rushing to get the grant out that afternoon, I agreed.
My granddaughter and I went to visit Squeaky in the animal hospital that Saturday morning. He was lying flat on his side in this big cage with an IV tube taped to his leg. When he heard my voice, he raised his head and let out his trademark squeak of recognition and hobbled over to the door of the cage. I opened the door and picked him up, being careful not to tangle or pull out the tube. He grabbed me around the neck in the special way he’s always had of giving me hugs and held on for dear life. He “talked” to me and was obviously pleading with me to take him home. I wanted to, but no one was there on the weekend with the authority to release him. But, I determined that on Monday, he would be coming home regardless of what his condition was and that I would never put him through that stress again. Putting him back in that cage was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. As weak as he was, he clung to me.
When I got him home, he immediately began eating and regained his strength. He once again took his place in my lap in the mornings while I drank my coffee and read the Register-Guard… something that had been our routine for years. He was obviously active and happy. A total housecat for several years, he was once again venturing out on our deck to bask in the occasional early spring sunshine and even romp with one of our other cats. But, by mid-March, I could tell that his health was deteriorating. He stopped eating for a day or two at a time. He wouldn’t clean up his half can of Friskies and drank water constantly. I knew that he had probably developed a tooth or kidney infection. I took him into the vet to get him a shot of antibiotics under the condition I be able to bring him right back home. They said that he had an abscessed tooth and that, indeed, his kidneys were failing.. They sent home some pills to give him, too. That seemed to help for awhile although I knew that I was losing him. After a week or so of good health, he once again began skipping or not finishing meals. He didn’t seem to be in pain. I bought him specially formulated “kitty milk” and under the advice of the vet, some Beech Nut chicken baby food. He loved the milk and rallied. But then one evening when I got home from work, I knew that he was not going to make it. He had grown weak and had become incontinent.
I knew it was time to let him go. I held him in my lap all evening and when we went to bed, covered him carefully. I got up during the night to hold him and talk to on him. By morning, we were still cuddled together in my lounge chair. His head was limp, but he would occasionally open his somewhat glazed eyes and stare full into mine with that same unconditional love and mystique that he’s always displayed.
I wrote an email message to my supervisor at work that I would not be going to work that day, and I went back to holding my little buddy. I talked and did a lot of crying, telling him as he slipped into unconsciousness that I was there and what a good kitty he had always been. No one else was around. My husband had left at 4 a.m. to run errands for our store in Lorane. It was just Squeaky and me.
The letter that I wrote to my supervisor in an email message describes our final hours on that morning of March 28, 2000:
I wanted to let you know… I may not be coming in today. My Squeaky is dying. My very special 14-year old cat has been at the brink of death many times during his life… in fact he must be into his 10th or 11th life right now. I know he’s surpassed his standard 9 lives. But, last night… this morning… it’s for real. I won’t be able to bring him back this time. He’s been ill with an abscessed tooth for the past couple of weeks and I was sure he’d be gone before we got back from our trip last week, but he held on and even rallied when I got home. He was on medication and was eating the little dabs of Beech Nut chicken & broth baby food and the special, formulated “kitty milk” that I dribbled into his dish several times each day. But, I knew that his kidneys were beginning to fail him and I knew that he didn’t have a lot of time left… even though I had convinced myself that once again, he and I had come out on top… had beaten the odds. He was once again “talking to me” and insisting on sitting on my lap each morning as I drank my morning coffee and read the R-G. He actually tottered out onto our deck yesterday morning to check out the dog dish, to let our dog know that he was still “in charge” even though he had no desire to eat anything. As he sat on my lap yesterday morning, he gave me his usual nudges against my chin with his nose while he purred and scraped the side of his canine tooth gently across my skin. But, when I got home last night, he was so weak that he could barely stand on his own. He wouldn’t eat and only drank a little water while I steadied him at his dish. I held him all during the evening… the dishes are still in the sink… and I took him to bed with me last night to keep his “oh-so-frail” body warm. About 1 a.m. I decided that he would be better off lying in his round, fleece-lined kitty bed, swaddled in a warm towel so that I wouldn’t smother him. I got up every hour during the night to stroke and talk to him and slept lightly in between visits. This morning, miraculously, he is still holding on. He can’t lift his head and he no longer wants to be picked up, but when I reach down and stroke the soft fur behind his ears and between his eyes, he opens them and listens to me talk to him in the “kitty talk” that we’ve always shared. I can’t leave him now, and I won’t take him to the vet’s office for an injection that will end his long struggle. He’s not in pain and he’s much more comfortable at home knowing that I am here with him.
When I got up at 5:30 this morning, I put on my boots and selected the site where I will bury him. I dug his grave on a gently sloping hill under two beautiful fir trees that stand century in the pasture beside our driveway. The soil isn’t muddy. It’s crumbly and rich from years of shed fir needles. It’s ready, and I think he’s ready, and… I guess, I’ll have to be. So, would you please forgive me for putting a cat before my job? I will monitor my messages from home and will be in tomorrow for sure. Thanks for your understanding.
Squeaky died in my arms around noon that day. It was peaceful. He drifted into a coma and slowly stopped breathing.
I buried Squeaky in the little grave that I dug for him that morning. Shortly afterwards, I planted a bed of pansies and day lilies on top and my granddaughters and I have tended “Squeaky’s Flower Bed” since. The area deer have enjoyed the pansies, but the day lilies still stand sentry.
I miss him still and will always weep whenever I relive his life and death through these words. In my opinion, it was the best way to say goodbye to a special friend.