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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A Farewell to a Feline Friend
It was springtime in 1999. The day was warm and the windows were open in my college apartment. I was in my upstairs bedroom reading a book and had left the backdoor open to create a cross flow of air through the apartment. Motion in my bedroom door caught my eye and the little tortoiseshell colored cat was walking into the room. We met eye to eye and she said "meow" then as casually as cats can be she turned around and walked out of the house and onto the back porch. There she waited for me to come visit with her. This kitty had been visiting near my home for a couple weeks prior to this visit but it was the first time she entered my apartment. She had become the defender of the back porch. No other kitty was allowed to venture there. At night she meowed wanting to be let in, or at least to talk to someone. It was only a couple days later that I adopted this little wayward feline.
Soon I graduated college then got married. We discovered that Amber (our furry friend) didn't cause an allergic reaction to my wife like other cats did. Amber became an important member of our family. In fact for the first few years of our marriage my mother-in-law referred to her as the grandkitty.
Some days she would run around like a cat possessed by a tiger, growling everywhere she went. She loved sitting in peoples laps on cold winter days and of course scratching on the stairs. You could have long conversations with her in the language of cats. She was a very vocal cat with her "meows," her "merps" and her purrs. She was mischievous and fun. She never liked the toys we bought her, only the everyday items that could be used like toys. Strings and bouncy balls were her prey with an occasional attack on the toy mouse. And she loved cat TV, you know, that window that looked out upon the bird feeders. Her favorite stars were the doves, what a tasty meal they would make!
In 2001 we moved to a new apartment in Manchester, TN. It was soon after this that Amber had trouble. We brought her to a Vet and discovered that she had the beginning stages of Feline Chronic Renal Failure. Chronic Renal Failure is where the kidneys don't filter the toxins in the body properly. Without a properly functioning kidney the toxins build up to poisonous levels. The doctor hooked her up to an IV and began filtering her system with fluids which helped immensely. The IV fluids eventually turned into a home treatment for Amber. Every couple of days we would hook up an IV bag to a needle and run subcutaneous fluids under the skin on the back of her shoulders and lower neck. This kept her very healthy for a long time, a very long time. Originally we were told that we'd be lucky to keep her going for 3-4 years. Three to four years turned into five to six which eventually turned into over seven years.
Just before Thanksgiving she had another flare-up. She couldn't eat and only wanted to lie curled up on the couch or underneath a bed. We brought her in to the Veterinarian where we had fluids pumped into her over the weekend and she made a miraculous recovery. Her blood tests had moved from complete renal failure to normal. We were astounded and so was the Vet. He had never seen a cat move back into the normal range from acute renal failure before. Her behavior changed back to normal and she played and visited with us again, but it was only temporary.
Last week she reversed course. She was listless and not eating, the two telltale signs of a kidney failure flare-up. We knew that this event being so close to the last flare-up wasn't a good sign. I brought her in last Thursday to the Vet and had the him run another blood test. It was high again. We had her treated with the fluids until Monday and another blood test run. The numbers were even higher. One more day with Amber was all we had. I brought her home Monday and we made her as comfortable as we could. We took pictures in front of the Christmas tree and did our best to explain to our 3 year old daughter what was happening.
It's hard to figure out how to explain the death of loved one to a toddler. In the end we decided on the truth. We told her what she needed to know, that Amber wouldn't be around any more. She had a disease that she couldn't recover from and that she would be dying soon. Dying is a concept that 3 year olds aren't fully capable of understanding. Often people say things like "She's going to sleep" or "she's going away" but those statements give the wrong impression. Telling my daughter that Amber was going to sleep might make her afraid of sleeping or make her think that Amber would wake up again.
This morning we took Amber back to the Vet and said our goodbyes. Euthanasia wasn't something we wanted to go through but when you have a cat as sick as Amber you have to do what is best for her and not something for your own emotional well-being. Over the years we've tried about everything to help her short of a kidney transplant for which she wouldn't have been a good candidate due to her age.
I've always been an animal person but in my mind was always more of a dog person than a cat person. A lot of people might even think that all our efforts to keep Amber alive were silly to begin with, afterall cats are a dime a dozen and if you've seen one cat you've seen them all. Not so! They have distinct personalities. They become a part of the family and you just can't let them go without a fight. We all fought hard. Fighting a terminal disease isn't easy for anyone and sometimes the best you can do is draw it to a stalemate, to extend the quality of life as long as possible. Amber brought us a lot of fun and a lot of joy over the years. I suppose in the end there is a balance between the lifetime of joy they bring you and the grief you feel when they leave.
Today I buried a friend that I've known for a third of my life. A cat who would greet me at the door after a day of work and chase me up the stairs. A cat who sat in laps, chased laser pointers and attacked unsuspecting feet as they passed by. A cat who would tolerate merciless pettings by babies too young to understand the concept of gentleness. A friend who was there to talk to even though she didn't understand a word you were saying, and if she did she never let on. Farewell Amber, we'll miss you!