Being the birth/death bookend of our family means handling the activities and rituals attached to these events for the non-human members of our family as well. I've noticed over the years that it doesn't matter if the pet is a cat or a dog. In all likelihood, the departing pet can be a fish, a bird, a hamster . . . something small. No matter how small, each tiny family member has found a place in our backyard. Cammie, our hamster, is under a rock at our former home. Several gold fish have provided food for roses over the years. A few dogs departed during my childhood. In adulthood, it has been cats.
DH speaks cat. Cats know that our house is a sure fire place for adoption. Unattached cats hang out on the porch and if they are persistent, we start feeding them. It is only a matter of time before they discover the pet door in the backyard. Once that small door is found, the cat is ours.
This is how we acquired Gus. Gus hung out next door under our neighbor's RV for a couple of weeks and refused to leave. Finally determining that no food was forthcoming, he relocated to our front porch. A month later, he found the cat door and he moved in.
Gus became the most recent in a series of kitties that have adopted us. With each new addition, DH and I fall into a routine. He feeds them, makes sure there is always plenty of food, handles the cat box, and occasionally prepares them for visits to the vet. DH doesn't like to handle these medical matters. He's not much for human medical matters either but that being said, you can always rely on DH if something needs to be done.
I suppose if I were not the designated bookend of our family, Don would handle illness matters as well. But he has me so he doesn't need to. It's a responsibility I don't mind shouldering. He organizes the stuff of daily life, I handling the healing and end of life stuff. Today was one of those bookend days for me.
Back on my 4-20-07 post, you may have read about Gus' cancer and the the loss of one of his ears. He recovered from that but we knew he would not be out of the woods for long. It would be a short second chance. There were other signs that cancer was still present. Fall arrived and turned to winter. Gus ate and ate and ate. But, he did not gain any weight and more alarming, he did not develop a winter coat. He started slowing down. Breathing seemed labored. He became incontinent. He didn't complain but I knew we were going to have to face one of life's bookends soon. Gus' second chance was running out.
Yesterday I came home to Don just finishing the clean-up of a particularly messy accident Gus had in Don's study. At that moment, the switch just turned on for me. I knew I had to do something. Gus was not stretching out in his special place. We found him sleeping in, for Gus, odd places, like the hallway to the bedrooms. He pretty much slept where he dropped.
We've lost a few cats that have wondered off in their old age. Seemingly healthy but just slowing down, one day they would just be gone. Other times, age and/or illness precipitated a crisis and a midnight, after-hours run to the emergency vet. I realized that I did not want Gus to get to crisis point. I did not want Gus to just wander off to die alone. So, today I took Gus to the vet.
Dr. Flores is such a great vet. She loves animals and hates seeing them suffer. She does not encourage extra testing for sick animals. She encourages compassion for the very sick creatures who are in our care. We spent time talking about Gus in a special room they have assigned for hard moments such as this. The animals and their humans have privacy.
It was peaceful. Gus was enjoying the scratching and petting on his chin that he liked so much and then very quietly it was over. My part of the silent agreement that Don and I share was over. I brought Gus home and Don took over his part of our agreement. By the time I returned home from work this evening, Gus had joined Smudge and Paw Kitty in the corner of our yard, safely tucked away at the feet of our statue of the Holy Family.