It was the shoe clawing that left me uncertain.
She was getting old, over 18 years old. Her arthritis was getting worse, but she could still make it upstairs: slowly and painfully, sometimes having to pull herself up with her front legs rather than push from behind.
She had good appetite, always wanting to have her tastes of whatever it was we were eating. She was particularly fond of the salmon steaks I made, and I must admit to having salmon more for her sake than ours.
Then, she stopped eating as much. It started with her midday treats, which began to go uneaten more often than not. Then it was her dry food, and her morning and evening wet food. By the time she lost interest in the salmon, we were desperately worried. She still chased her feather around, though slowly, and not for long. I sometimes think she chased the feather more for us than out of interest.
We knew that this would be her last year. It's something that lurks in the back of your mind, but you don't actively acknowledge in your thoughts. It manifested in little things, like whether I should buy a flat of her cat food, or just a few cans. I bought the flat.
Taking her into the vet was something we didn't do lightly. As a young cat, she was abandoned, twice, at the Humane Society. I think she equated the carrier and the vet with loss, and fought against any trips with a desperation that left us shaken. The only good thing about taking her to the vet was returning home, when she would bound out of her box with a gladness that shown like a ray of silver hued sunshine— tail high, she would explore every nook and cranny of her home, and claw my shoes, to mark possession.
When she stopped eating, though, and could barely drink her water, we knew we had to take her in. During the exam, the vet tried to determine how far we wanted to take tests, because of her age, and the costs. But we had to give her a chance so ordered up the tests.
The results weren't completely definitive. A beginning loss of kidney function was expected, but not the fluid around her lungs. Not good, and ultimately fatal, but neither of which would account for her loss of appetite. The doctor did think there was a good possibility of cancer, perhaps returning via her thyroid where she had a tumor once before. We had treated her for her thyroid tumor, but in rare cases the problems can return.
We took her home as we waited the blood tests, and to think about what we could do. At her age, surgery is a high risk, and anything else would require frequent visits to the vet, only to prolong her life a few months. She hated the vet though, and I hated the thought of her last months spent in an endless round of vet trips, needles, being force fed, and poked and prodded by strangers.
We tried hand feeding her using baby food. She'd take a lick or two, but that was it. Still, she purred when rubbed under her chin, snuggled in our arms, and clawed our shoes,
That last day was warm outside, and so I took her out on the front lawn. She was an indoor cat, so this was an extraordinary treat for her. She laid on the cement of the steps and felt the heat of the sun-warmed surface as it soaked into her stiff joints. She walked about on the grass, nibbling on the blades. People would stop when they walked past and comment on how beautiful she was. She was beautiful, silver stripes with white mittens, one eye green and one brown. They didn't see what I saw though: the effort it took for her just to get to her feet, the weakness of her steps.
When not outside, she slept on my lap. After my roommate came home, she slept on his lap. That evening when we talked, asking each other if we were sure, she got up, came over to claw my shoe, and then laid down with her head on my foot.
At ten that night, roommate said good-bye to her and I put her in the carrier and took her to the vet one last time. In the room while we waited the vet, I held her in my arms and talked to her. I thanked her for the joy she brought us for 18 years. I told her how much we loved her.
The vet came in and picked her up to prepare her for the final injection. It would be given through a catheter, which is the quickest, painless approach. Little girl looked up at the vet, thinking she was roommate, and then hissing when she realized she was held by this strange person. My little girl still had fight. I felt pride, and even a faint hint of humor.
In a few minutes, the vet returned with her wrapped in a soft white towel. She was placed in my arms, and the vet asked if I needed more time. I held her close, and said, no, we had said good-byes. One shot, one last breath, a sigh really, and she was gone.
I left with the empty carrier. As I drove through dark streets I screamed—raw, primal cries of grief that stripped my throat. I drove until I couldn't scream anymore and then went home.
I no longer see her shape out of the corner of my eye, and it's no longer strange not to see her water and food bowls. I told myself I wouldn't second guess the decision we made. I don't most of the time, but every once in a while, when I put my shoes on, I remember that last time she clawed my shoe.