Kill Your Cat

catMy mother’s cat died today. My mother, turning 84, is a cat person, and I’m not. It’s not just that I’m allergic to their dander. This cat, Missy, hissed at me from the start, and always threatened to scratch me or anyone who came too close.

This post isn’t really about cats, though. It’s about facing death rationally. Missy wasn’t my mother’s first cat. She lost a couple of grown felines to coyotes, a couple of kittens to hawks, and one, after my parents had moved, jumped out of a ground-floor window and ran away.

Missy was with my folks for about 16 years when her eating and drinking habits began to change. Supposedly this only began about a week ago, but I suspect she began showing her age more gradually than that. Not having taken the cat to a vet for many years, my mother wasn’t in a hurry now. I Googled the situation and figured she would regret it if she didn’t try, so we took her and her cat to a local vet that allowed walk-ins for an extra fee.

The vet, seemingly a very compassionate woman, examined Missy and told my mother (and me and my husband) that she was very sick. Could be organ failure, kidney trouble, cancer. In fact, she would probably die soon. The slim hope of temporary improvement would require expensive blood tests and a few days in the hospital.

The doctor told us that allowing her to die at home wasn’t the best choice, as it wasn’t necessarily going to be a peaceful death, that it might involve seizures and choking for breath at the end.

My mother chose not to take the vet’s advice, nor even to believe her entirely, and we took the cat home. I did some more Googling, even looking into how someone could terminate their own cat if they didn’t have a handy vet or couldn’t or wouldn’t spend the money ($117 in this case, we’d been told). That didn’t seem a viable option for my folks, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it.

I hated that the cat was going to suffer, but my mother kept saying, “She’s not going to die yet. I’m not going to have her killed.” Four days later, the cat was dead.

Our four elderly parents’ mortality was the first thing my husband and I thought about when all this was happening. Our own too, certainly. I wondered if my parents would think about that too.

It’s been an interesting lesson for me–now I have a clearer idea of what my mother has in mind for her own end. No extraordinary measures, she has written down, and she has told me it’s pain she most fears. And yet, here we have a clear example of trying to prolong a beloved pet’s painful demise.

I don’t have a tidy conclusion to share. Do you?

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry

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