Today is a sad day. Today I will be saying goodbye to my cat Niki.
I found Niki in the Prince William County shelter after my first marriage broke up. I was in an apartment by myself. I’d grown up with cats and left our cat behind when I moved. Niki is a Tuxedo cat, colored black and white. In the shelter she was active and responsive which appealed. When I accepted responsibility for her and took her home, I found she was infested with fleas and that she had an odd limp to her rear right leg. I got her cleaned up and used a lice comb to clear out the fleas I couldn’t get with the shampoo (forehead mainly). Amazingly none reproduced and she has never had to deal with fleas since then. I called the shelter and mentioned her lame foot. They said I could bring her back and get another kitten but I was already bonded. I found out from a neighbor kid that she might have been hit by a car or abused by the family that owned her.
Her full name is Nikodemus, the name of the mouse (rat?) in The Secret of NIMH. She was in the house and I hadn’t picked a name yet so I was trying a bunch of different ones to see which one she responded to. After 10 or so minutes of different names, I threw out Nikodemus. She perked up and came to me and that was her name. Niki for short.
After a few months, I was thinking she should have a companion while I was at work. The apartment was smallish (2 bedroom) and she was always so happy to see me. I went back to the shelter and found a young Maine Coon. He was found in the cemetery and brought to the shelter. I claimed him and named him Charon. He was a pretty cool cat. Unlike Niki, he would sit on my lap. But they would fight and Niki would chase him off the bed. I was getting close to having to make a decision on taking one of the cats back to the shelter and I was leaning towards taking Niki back when Charon contracted FIPs. Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Over the course of a week, he went from being a happy cat to not being able to jump up on the bed without help. I took him to the vet and got the news. Since there wasn’t a cure, I decided to have him put to sleep. I was pretty broken up over it and made the poor decision to not be with him when it happened. I still feel pretty bad about not being there for him.
A week or so later, I still felt Niki should have a companion, another cat. My youngest and I went to the shelter and she picked out a long hair flame point male cat with a creamy white coat. She named him Precious although we also called him Stupid from time to time. It turned out he had worms which I discovered after he threw up in the laundry room and I found worms in his vomit. I took him to the vet and had that cleared up. Niki never did get along with him though.
Probably a year later, my ex bailed on the house we had bought and headed south. I moved out of the apartment and back into the house. My ex had no interest in the cat my youngest had so Precious was left with me in the house.
Not too long after that, I picked up a girlfriend. She moved in with her two kids and all her gear. Six months into it, we went to her sister’s place and picked up her cat. Morgan Le Fey. She was a long haired tuxedo cat and slightly insane having been left on her sister’s back porch for a year. She’d pulled all the fur from about half way down her body to her tail. The vet said she was just in need of company so she was welcomed into the house.
At the same time, my oldest came to live and brought her cat. Tazzy was a blue-grey cat. He was actually younger than the others and quite active. When my daughter bailed to go live in Sacramento (I think) she left Tazzy behind. Then I found I was unable to deal with my girlfriend’s kids. I was getting stressed and really annoyed by the way they were taking over the house and I asked them to leave. She and her kids headed to Richmond and for some reason moved into a pet-free apartment which left Morgan with me.
So now I have four cats in the house.
In the mean time, I was not doing my job well as a caretaker of the cats. There were a couple of cat boxes in the house but Niki pretty much pooped and peed on the floor near the upstairs cat box. Since it was in the Mother-In-Law apartment entrance hall which I never used, I would clean but didn’t really do anything to try and figure out what the problem was.
Moving forward in time, my second wife and I found each other on the ‘net. We were both on the same dating site and she had broadened her search accidentally and found my posting. We exchanged e-mails, Internet Messenger chats, and even exchanged recordings. I flew out to meet with her over Columbus Day and over Halloween she moved from Colorado to Virginia and moved in with me. Plusshe had two cats; Socrates and Ariel. Socrates was an long haired orange and white cat. He really never trusted me as far as he could throw me. Ariel is a black cat and was originally her daughter’s cat.
So now there are 6 cats in the house!
We had several cat boxes in the basement laundry room but Niki was still rather particular and wouldn’t always use any of them. My second wife was more of an organic hippy type so we used more natural cat litter vs the clumping Fresh Step (for example) type litter.
In 2004 we moved from Virginia to Colorado. At that time we made the decision to halve our population of cats. Our next door neighbor took Tazzy. We found out a couple of years later that Tazzy got Leukemia and was put to sleep. I made my younger daughter come get Precious. She took him to a no-kill shelter. Morgan went with my second wife’s daughter. She made it to being around 22 years old before being put to sleep.
In Colorado, we have three cats. Socrates, Ariel, and Niki. Niki refused to use the cat box though. We got to the point where we left newspaper down so she could pee on that vs the floor. Then we’d just pick up and discard the newspaper every couple of days.
Socrates was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and needed to be put to sleep. He was brought home and put in his favorite chair (an Ikea one) and the vet came. We were able to say goodbye while he was in a friendlier environment. I felt better too as it wasn’t in a vets office on a cold stainless steel countertop.
Niki was always a pretty friendly cat compared to Ariel for example. While Ariel would go hide, she’s come out and say hi. She had a few places she liked. She loved to sit and watch the mouse cursor on the monitor. I’d put the cursor on a white part of the screen and let her try to catch it. She had fun with laser pointer lights as well.
When we moved to Longmont, the prior folks left a couple of things behind including an old chair. I had the chair next to the computer and Niki would lay in it to hang with me.
She also would lay on the old couch they left behind while we watched TV.
Earlier in 2011, Niki started acting oddly. Stumbling around a little even falling when walking around in bed. Since she had arthritis, I figured it was just the age thing catching up. We started giving her SynFlex for her joints, which of course she hated as she was getting it via syringe. At one point I was sitting on the couch when she headed downstairs and she fell down the stairs. I’d been watching her and checking her out and I figured she’d had a stroke. She could flare out her right whiskers but not her left whiskers and at one point, I was able to touch her eye without her blinking. Puzzled, we took her to the vet. He said there were a couple of possibilities including a brain tumor or possibly an abrasion on her spine. This is generally caused by abuse. He recommended an MRI to check it out but also said that if she got better in 6 weeks or so, it was likely the abrasion. She did seem to improve a little.
A couple of months later she all of a sudden got worse again. Not falling down the stairs worse (especially since we were watching for such things) but still worse than she had been. The commonality was that we’d taken a vacation both times and left the house in the hands of house sitters. She got better over time but still not back to “normal”.
Not long after that, Ariel was diagnosed with failing kidneys. With my second wife’s daughter giving birth last year, she went to Virginia to be with her and took Ariel with her. She didn’t want him to miss her, which was understandable. While she was gone though, I rethought the cat box situation. I emptied the pine pellet based cat litter and replaced it with Fresh Step. Niki started using it immediately! A very picky cat, Niki is. 🙂
In September, my second wife left moving back to Virginia and took Ariel with her. Ariel has been getting home infusions to deal with his kidney issues and seems to be doing pretty well (although he hates the needle of course).
About a month later, I noticed that Niki was really making a mess of her rear feet. Initially I thought it was the cat food (Science Diet). I was thinking she was throwing it up a little. I cleaned her up and every couple of weeks gave her a bath to try and clean it up for her. Ever since she had fleas, she’s been extremely picky about her fur. If I ruffled it, she’s spaz out and clean it again. I talked with my new ex and she suggested getting the Wellness cat Food. I switched and while it made it a little better, it was still a problem. I called the vet and took her in for a check up.
She had a dental problem. Her teeth were so bad, the vet thought she could see bone. I made an appointment with an oral surgeon and took her in for an operation. Since Niki’s now 18 years old going on 19, the vet said that she might not make it out of surgery in part due to her age. So I said goodbye to her before taking her in. Made her happy (purring) and spent some time with her.
I got her back and the doc said she had to extract 10 teeth. She thought she lost her at one point but ultimately she was returned. About a week prior, I’d received some antibiotics to give her to help with the obvious infection and after getting out, I received a 20 day supply (2 bottles). She had hated getting it before the operation and didn’t much like it after. She’d fight it, spit some out. I wouldn’t get it all in her but she did get some each day. After a week, I tried giving it to her in her food which she actually ate. So for about a week or so, she got the full dose of medicine. When I ran out, I called the vet because she was still puffy in the eye and leaking fluid. It also had a pink tinge to it as if there was blood.
The vet checked her out and suggested an MRI or X-ray. I opted for the X-ray and brought Niki back in to get that done. Since you can’t ask a cat to hold still for an X-ray, she had to be sedated again. And again, since older cats might not come out of it, I spent a few hours Thursday saying goodbye again. Like before, I didn’t want to have her go without me being able to say goodbye. But she came out of it successfully and was ready to come home. The vet showed me the X-ray and suggested she had an abscess due to the dental issues. She showed me where she felt it was an abscess. I was concerned that it might be an injury since she’d fallen down the basement stairs at least once and might have hurt herself. She assured me it was an abscess and provided a list of specialists (ophthalmologists for her eye) and had one specially highlighted. He was in Boulder only once a week though.
This past weekend, I noticed the swelling around Niki’s eye was much worse. She also started having a nasal discharge which looked a little bloody. Monday I called to make an appointment. They were able to get me in on Monday at 2:45 if I was able to get her down there. This was in Englewood, about an hour away. The way she was talking, they’d be able to perform the work Monday afternoon. Since it had gotten worse, I was able to get the rest of the afternoon off and bring Niki to the doc. I left work at 1:30pm to pick her up and take her down to the specialist.
The assistant took a history of Niki from me and then the doc came in to check her and the X-rays out. He did a pretty thorough checkup around her eye. He poked at the left and right sides of her face. She flinched when he tapped the right area but no reaction when tapping the left side of her face. He did a side by side finger compression comparison (like press thumbs below the left and right side of her face). He checked her eyes themselves, the third eyelid kicked in on the right side but the abscess behind her left eye pushed it out so much that it didn’t come out. Then he said that it wasn’t an abscess but it was cancer behind her left eye. The bloody nasal and eye discharge indicated there was a breach in the bone between her eye and nose and the X-ray show bone distortion. In his 20 years of experience, this was cancer and pretty aggressive. She probably had a week to a maximum of a couple of months.
We discussed options, a radiologist, oncologist, operations, and a feeding tube with a good chance it won’t make any difference. I asked the doc if she was in pain right now. He asked how she was doing. She was still bugging me for food and pigging it down and greeting me at the door when I got home so based on that, we didn’t think she was in much pain. The swelling had to be a little throbbing like pain but not the pain as the doc was indicating would happen. It would happen though. The pain would increase until she wanted to hide from the light and not come out even to eat.
I thanked the doc (he said “peace” as he shook my hand) and we went home. I fed her dinner and did what I normally do in an evening.
Just two days later though she was picking at her food. She didn’t want to get up out of bed and was very very slow coming down the stairs I made for her. She would sit in the kitchen doorway and meow at me but without actually vocalizing. I’d read an article on how pets and cats specifically show pain and I realized I didn’t want to wait too long before letting her go. It would be selfish of me to keep her around if she was in pain. She’s already been stumbling around. Her eye looks horrible and puffy. She’s shaking her head pretty often and rubbing her face. While she may not be in the final amount of pain, I really didn’t want to wait that long. I think part of my responsibility is to help her on her way when it gets to a certain point. And yesterday morning she basically took a couple of bites of food but didn’t eat the rest. I came home at lunch and she was on the couch but was slow in getting up.
So at lunch I went ahead and took her out for a short walk and let her eat grass. She was pretty happy at being outside but still stumbled about and shook her head. After bringing her back in, I gave her new cat food and she ate that pretty quickly. At dinner she had a little of what I gave her but came back a few times. I took her for a walk around the block but every time I put her down, she tried to head back home 🙂 This morning she ate a little of her breakfast and then watched me as I got ready for work. I gave her more breakfast before I left.
I’ll be coming home today at 11:15 or so to grab lunch (she likes the chicken in Chipotle’s) and maybe feed her some scrambled eggs. A friend will be coming up at lunch to provide comfort and support, walk with me and Niki around the lake and generally be a friend.
Then at 3pm, the vet will come. I’ll say my goodbyes for the last time as she fades out and then the vet will take her away. 🙁
If it should be….
If it should be that I grow frail and weak,
and pain should keep me from my sleep,
then you must do what must be done,
for we know this last battle can’t be won.
You will be sad, I understand,
but don’t let grief then stay your hand,
for this day, more than the rest,
your love and friendship must stand the test.
We’ve had so many happy years,
what is to come can hold no fears.
Would you want me to suffer? So,
when the time comes, please let me go.
Take me where my needs they’ll tend,
only stay with me until the end,
and hold me firm and speak to me,
until my eyes no longer see.
It is a kindness that you do to me,
although my tail it’s last has waved,
from pain and suffering I have been saved.
Do not grieve, it should be you,
who must decide this thing to do.
We’ve been so close, we two these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.
by Julia Napier, copyright 1999