It is with a heavy heart that I have to write this. In a million years, I never thought that I’d have to teach my kids about death so early in their lives. But only an hour ago, I had to hold our precious kitten, only seven months old, as a veterinarian injected him with medicine to stop his heart.
My kids don’t know yet, though I did warn them this morning that the cat was sick. Dan’s response was predictably blasé when Mark asked him if he was sad that Sand Digger was ill. “No. MY cat is okay.” And it’s true. Dandy is in wonderful health. He weighs at least twice as much as Sand Digger did, and he has always been the dominant cat in the relationship. He’s the one that has torn our brand new couch to shreds, gets into the cupboards to scavenge for food and tries to trip us up every time we go up or down the stairs. His personality is so similar to Dan’s – the troublemaker – and it didn’t surprise me at all when Daniel decided to name him Dandy.
Sand Digger, on the other hand, has always been a gentle soul. He was the quieter of the two cats. He occasionally caught his nails on the furniture or our skin, but it was never intentional. He was the one who would hide somewhere quiet and dark and not get in the way. He weighed very little. And he loved to sit on laps, purr and have his belly rubbed.
We adopted our two kittens back in November, through Petsmart Charities during their National Adoption Weekend. Mark wasn’t keen to take on pets at that point, but I was adamant we could handle it. Dexter had been asking for a cat for SO long, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to do it. When I saw them in their little see-through cage, I knew they were meant for us. Beautiful little black and white domestic short hairs. They already had names (Morton and Kaiba), but my kids wanted to choose their own. That’s how they became Sand Digger (named by Dexter once he saw him use the litter box for the first time) and Dandy (named by Dan because he wanted a Dan Jr).
From the beginning, these two cats were trouble. For the first several weeks, we thought that everyone was allergic, as we all developed runny noses, sneezing and coughs, and I actually contacted the charity to ask about giving them back. Thankfully, we soon got through that stage and all was well. I was delighted we could keep them after all. But later, when I hurt my back in a snowboarding accident and could no longer keep the promise I made my husband that I’d do all the work taking care of the cats, I started to reevaluate the situation again.
If I’m honest, we have gone back and forth and back and forth on whether or not to keep the cats. I worried they didn’t get enough attention. I knew that Mark hadn’t bonded with them and saw them as a nuisance. The kids had lost interest in them for the most part (unless a new cat toy came into the house, and then they played for a day or two). I’m of the firm belief that you don’t get a pet unless you’re prepared to take care of them for the rest of their lives. But as a mom of three very young boys, I also wanted to make sure that everyone was happy.
The truth is that the kids had been scared of the cats. Or rather, they were scared of Dandy. He was the more aggressive cat. He wanted to play all the time, and he played rough. He wanted to attack their feet if they moved them. He’d jump on them while they were sleeping. They were nervous and jittery around him, and they asked several times for us to get rid of him. But when I actually began to seriously contemplate it, Dexter was horrified. “You can’t give them away! They’re family! We take care of our family!”
And so we did.
For the past few weeks, I’ve noticed Sand Digger wasn’t himself. He was even less effusive than normal, preferring to go into our closet and sleep on a blanket all day long. He didn’t play or climb much. He’d come out in the evenings and lay on my lap, wanting to be petted. I worried to Mark that he might be sick, but there was no real sign of it. He just seemed to lack energy.
Two nights ago, Mark put them down in the basement, as we do every night. He came to bed and said, “You should check on Sand Digger in the morning. He looked like he might be hurt. He was limping.” I immediately wanted to go down, but it was late, and Mark convinced me to wait until morning.
Yesterday, I woke up and went looking for him. But he was nowhere to be found. I took Dexter and Dan, and we went through every room in the house twice. I posted on facebook, asking for advice, and I was given plenty. We looked inside cupboards and drawers. We looked inside furniture. I discovered that the box springs of our bed were torn apart as kitty hiding spots, but Sand Digger wasn’t there. For seven hours, we looked again and again. We checked outside. We checked the garage. The thought that kept running through my head, and I’m not even sure where I got it) was, “Cats hide away when they know they’re going to die.” I prayed I was wrong.
Eventually, as I checked inside our pull out couch for the fourth time, I spied him laying in a corner on the floor. He wasn’t moving. I picked him up, and he was very stiff and seemed uncomfortable. I laid him on my lap, and he barely moved. He was clearly sick. I grabbed up the kids and drove to the nearest vet, arriving just before closing. They saw us right away. The nurse said right away, “Oh boy, you really are not feeling good, are you, buddy?” The doctor came in and picked him up and said pretty much the same thing. I explained the symptoms and my worries. I mentioned that I’d seen some bright red blood in the litter box a few days ago, but I had no way of knowing who it’d belonged to. The doctor set him on the floor to watch him walk, and he only took a couple timid steps before stumbling.
They took him for bloodwork, and the doctor came in to tell us his concerns. He said that he suspected something called FIP, Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It is a rarer disease usually afflicting young cats. It is caused by a reaction to infection with the feline enteric coronavirus. Most cats who become infected with the feline enteric coronavirus essentially get the flu and never develop anything that can in any way be described as serious. Some cats, however, react with this devastating syndrome.
There are two types, one is “wet” which the doctor saw no evidence of. But the other is “dry” and that’s what he believed our cat to have. He gave us many options including hospitalization, medications and surgeries. I opted to get the medicines and bring him home to hope for improvement. They injected him with some water under his skin as a way of keeping him hydrated, and we got a steroid and an antibiotic to give him every 12 hours. I placed him in a warm bed in the upstairs bathroom, away from kids and the other cat. I had his litter tray, a bowl of water and some food for him, but he didn’t move from his spot. After two doses of the medicines, I saw no improvement, but I kept checking on him throughout the day.
This afternoon, I sat with him on the floor, and I watched as he dragged himself a few feet toward his litter tray. He couldn’t stand or walk. He didn’t make it. He shuddered violently and passed out. He woke quickly, but he was so out of it. I grabbed him up and drove to the vet again.
When I got in, the doctor from yesterday saw me and came over. He said he’d have called me to check on him already, but he’d had an emergency surgery this morning. I told him that Sand Digger was worse. They got him a room, and the doctor picked him gently up. He was limp and unresponsive, just breathing heavily and purring loudly. He tried to set him up to see if he’d stand, but he just fell on his side.
After conferring with his colleague, he told me that he didn’t hold much hope. He again said that they could do surgery or try different meds in case it wasn’t FIP but some form of bacterial disease, but he was pretty pessimistic that anything would work. He didn’t think he’d last a few hours, let alone a few days. He said that euthanasia would be the kindest thing, but he’d do whatever I wanted.
In the end, with tears in my eyes, I signed the papers to end his suffering. They took him off to fit him with an IV, and I waited. He came back a few minutes later, and the process was explained to me. One injection would sedate him, the other would stop his heart. I held him and petted him as the first injection was given. He was in the middle of a lick when the medication kicked in, so he fell asleep with his tongue lolling out of his mouth. It actually made me smile. The second injection worked very quickly, and the doctor confirmed he was gone.
I cried. I cried so hard. I had trouble getting words out, but I thanked the doctor for all he’d done, and I did my best to pull myself together to drive home.
In a few hours, my kids will be home. I will have to tell them that their cat has died. I will have to find the strength to smile and give them comfort.
I know we will all miss our beautiful boy. Dandy will get extra cuddles and love, and we will move on. But Sand Digger will never be forgotten.