Every morning for the last week, I have been waking up and dreading going downstairs. In fact, I’ve honestly been afraid to go alone, hoping that my husband will decide to get up too so I don’t have to face on my own what I will find there. It’s a familiar feeling. I went through it with my mom as her dementia exploded, with my dog, Pepper, and my cat, BK, as their time grew near, and they became weaker and weaker. And now, seemingly out of the blue, I am facing that scary, hollow space at dawn as it approaches the time to say goodbye to Velcro, our fifteen-year old orange kitty. I walk down the stairs, wondering what state I will find him in, and I realize that very soon, there will be the day when I don’t have this fear anymore. It will be replaced with a bit of relief that he is not suffering and the yawning chasm of sadness that he is no longer rubbing up against my leg while I make his breakfast.
My neighbor jokes that Velcro is my “familiar”, a term that refers to the animal spirit guide of witches, shamans or cunning-folk. The French poet, Baudelaire, who loved cats, wrote: “It judges, presides, inspires Everything in its empire; It is perhaps a fairy or a god? When my eyes, drawn like a magnet to this cat that I love…” My relationship with this animal is definitely complicated. He was supposed to be my daughter’s cat, but he decided from the first moment I held him that his world would revolve completely around me. He clung to me like, well, Velcro.
He quickly established himself as the King of our house, as vain and full of feline pomposity as a kitty could be. Velcro is a curmudgeon and a bully. He chases crazy pup, Stella, around the house. He sprayed and peed on my husband’s luggage, and it was only Mark’s love for me and our daughter that kept his Royal Highness from being tossed out into the cold. Promptly each morning and evening, he loudly demands that I feed him. Whenever I sit down, he claims my lap with regal posturing. His favorite place to sleep is wrapped around my neck with his face buried in my hair.
Several years ago, when Velcro developed the frightening habit of jumping on my head in the middle of the night while I was sleeping and biting my cheek, he was denied free roaming of the house. He stays in the family room at night, and over time, he and my husband have bonded as Velcro claimed Mark’s lap during “Monday Night Football”. When my mom died two months ago, I was truly comforted by the ball of orange fur snuggled on top of me whenever grief brought me to my knees. So, three weeks ago, when Velcro suddenly started wheezing, having trouble swallowing and stopped eating, we were not prepared for how much it would emotionally rock our family.
Having had a bad experience with Stella during the last time I took her to the vet, I decided to try going someplace new with Velcro when he got sick. And while this vet did all the right things, after x-rays and blood tests, she could not figure out what was wrong and thought it was probably some kind of cancer. Meanwhile, the King was wasting away. When the new vet told me on Friday that she was leaving for two weeks vacation, I decided to take Velcro back to our old vet. We had gone there for over ten years, and I really did trust them. Plus, they had added a cat specialist from Cornell Vet School to their staff. He could see Velcro immediately.
I rushed out to the barn before we went to the vet’s office yesterday, stood with Silk to pray for strength. “Okay, God, you drive. And by the way, we need a miracle please.” And we got a small one. The cat specialist was surprised by how healthy Velcro was after looking at the x-rays and blood test results. He feels like this is a cat who wants to live, but is just having trouble eating. Perhaps there’s a polyp in the tube from his ear to his throat, and it’s causing pain when he swallows. Perhaps some cortisone shots and antibiotics will shrink the polyp. He felt it was worth a try, so they rehydrated Velcro and gave him the meds. The vet reassured me that when I came down this morning, my cat would still be alive. Last night, for the first time in four days, Orange Man ate some chicken livers, and I slept soundly.
This morning, not so good. He coughed and wheezed after he ate a little, and now, he’s sleeping in the sun in the bay window in the living room. The vet wants me to give it until Friday to see if the treatment is helping. But it feels like borrowed time. This would all be much easier if Velcro was listless and fading away, instead of licking my hand and staring adoringly at me with his penetrating green eyes.
I have often thought that if one believes in reincarnation, it would be easy to imagine that Velcro was once a very handsome, vain man who has had to come back this time around as a cat. Despite all the bites and scratches he has given me, I have never hurt him, and all of us here have always forgiven him. “Captain Evil” is what I used to call him, but my love has never wavered.
As I was cuddling him yesterday, I felt that Velcro had finally come to realize how much he is loved. He has allowed me to syringe yucky pink amoxicillin into his mouth for five days. He let the vet pry open his mouth and poke around without any fight. One could argue that this is because he’s sick and weak, but it felt more like he, at long last, had complete trust that I was doing what was best for him. So maybe that was the lesson he came here to learn and it really is his time to go. I won’t let him lose so much weight that he can’t walk and his kidneys give out. I owe it to this good -looking fellow to let him leave this world without pain and with his dignity.
No need to make any decisions for a few more days. And who knows what God has up her/his sleeve. Maybe there will be another miracle.