Please note: This post does go into some detail about death. I have tried to keep as much emotion out of it as possible—I’m not trying to make you cry for me, ’cause I’ve got that covered. I’m writing this not simply because I experienced it (there’s a lot of stuff I don’t share with you), but because I didn’t find anything along these lines while researching euthanasia. Oh, and Tom wants me to point out that he did buy me a present.
Oh, but I wish that were just some bad joke.
Last Friday was my birthday (thank you). It was also Mädchen’s birthday (adorable, right?). It was also the day we had Mädchen put to sleep/euthanized/killed (sound of brakes screeching, record needle sliding, etc).
So how does a vegan have an animal euthanized?
A little over a month ago, Mädchen developed a lump on her jaw that just wasn’t going away. We thought it was an infection and took her to the vet. The vet gave her some antibiotics but mentioned that she didn’t like the firmness of the lump. We’d give it a bit and watch it. Oh, by the way, over the last year, our 7.5-pounder turned into a 5.5-pounder.
Two weeks later, the lump was clearly not going anywhere. Had it grown? We went back to the vet. This doctor felt around and said he believed we were looking at squamous cell carcinoma. He also noted her irregular heartbeat, smallish kidneys, and “wasting” around her body. We could do a needle biopsy or a full surgical biopsy and x-rays. On our 16-year-old baby, we opted for the needle biopsy because it was less invasive. Once the doctor had given her a sedative and taken the sample, he looked inside her mouth and indeed saw the tumor coming up through her jaw. He said even if the biopsy came back inconclusive, this was the only diagnosis he had for us. Shit.
We took our babycat home and did a ton of Internet research. Even with treatment, cats with this type of tumor have very little chance of surviving a year, more like three months, and the average age of cats diagnosed with this cancer is 10-12. Shit.
The following Monday, we got the call; Mädchen had cancer. Because of her age and other health factors—and my feelings toward cancer treatment in general—we decided to take it as it came and keep her comfortable and loved. She was still acting like herself, rolling on her back for belly scratches and running down the stairs for breakfast. So, food whenever she wanted it, with treats of pumpkin, olive oil, nutritional yeast, Tofutti cream cheese—full-on Make a Wish mode. Then we got her on the opioids. Dopey McMeowface was her new name, but she didn’t mind. Junkies rarely do.
Two weeks later (last Wednesday, I think), we noticed a change. She was having a harder time eating, the tumor was growing, she was drooling more (sometimes mixed with blood), and she was far less energetic. I emailed our vet and asked for advice. I knew we would have to say good bye soon, but I didn’t know how to draw the line. I didn’t want to steal her life, but I didn’t want to make her suffer because it was too hard to live without her. We could not be selfish with her life.
I received an email back that night, and it just broke my heart. So kind, without giving false hope. They suggested that we’d know the right time, that nobody would question us, because we knew her best. We could up her meds and water down her food to make it easier on her jaw, and just monitor. (As if I wasn’t already spending 23 hours a day with her.) Tom and I talked, and the next morning I used their online appointment form to schedule her euthanasia for, well, today. I tried to call, but I just stared at the number on my phone and couldn’t hit the little green button.
Last Thursday night, she was bleeding…a lot. I had to tell Tom to look away while I cleaned her up. Something had happened; the tumor pushed through in a new spot. The bleeding stopped, but Mädchen was clearly in a lot of pain. We talked about it, and there was no way around it, if she looked as miserable the next morning, we would see if we couldn’t get her in on Friday. Our birthday.
It was the most difficult call I have ever made in my life. But they were again very kind and understanding. We had an appointment for that afternoon, so we had the morning to cuddle with her and try to get a paw print for tattoos. Even in her weakened state, this was pretty impossible. We eventually brought a scanner over to her on the couch. Not perfect, but enough. We packed up a bottle of water and some tissues, decided her carrier would make her the most comfortable (even though the thought of walking out with an empty carrier nauseated me), and gave her an extra little dose of the dope.
When we walked into the office, they got us into a room immediately, which I noticed had a little fountain and box of tissues in it—we were in that room. We talked about whether we would bury her or would we want a private cremation or group cremation. Did we want a clay paw print? We aren’t big on physical remembrances so we just chose the paw print and group cremation. What would we do with her ashes? But after our amateur attempts, we needed that paw print!
They gave her a big ol’ sedative shot, which she took like a champ once I took over face and front paw duty for the tech. They gave her some baby food, which she loved, and she slowly got limp and sleeeeeepy. They left us with her for a few minutes to let the sedative fully kick in. Tom held her and we told her we loved her. They took her in back to put in the port for the rest of the shots; cancer kitties often have circulatory issues, so this is the fastest, most effective method.
She was brought back into the room on a cloud of fuzzy blue blanket in a basket. Yes, it was the sweetest, most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Tom had to leave, which I understand. She was already asleep. He’d said good bye. There was nothing more to do than watch her die. Which I did. They gave her some anesthesia, waited a minute, then the euthanasia shot. She never jerked or twitched; her breathing went from super low to null. The doctor listened to her heart and verified it had stopped. She then left me alone with her for as long as I needed.
I did walk out with an empty carrier, and I was so out of it, I lost my credit card somewhere between the exam room and home. (It’s cancelled now, so don’t even try it.) We went home, we went into mourning mode, and we decided that I get the next week to salvage my birthday. So get ready for an upcoming (cheerier) Birthnukah post.
Before you judge me for taking my cat’s life, or for not trying radiation to slow the growth, please know that I have been with this cat for the past 16 years. She was a tiny kitten in a box full of tiny found kittens and we were instantly drawn to each other. She’s been a part of my life months longer than Tom. I asked her to not age or get sick, but that’s not the way life works, and this happened to be what took her down. To put her through treatment would have been painful and without much more than a sliver of temporary hope. Mädchen knew she was loved, is loved, and will always be loved.
I want to thank Laurelhurst Veterinary Hospital for being so, so lovely. Every step of the way they treated Mädchen, Tom, and myself with respect and compassion. Death is fairly easy for me to accept, but actively ending a life was the single most gut-wrenching experience I have ever been through. From the doctors to the poor guy who had to listen to me cry on the phone, they were professional and kind, and I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like without them.