At the end of the ninth life
by Debra DeAngelo
For the first time in nearly 14 years, there’s no kitty greeting me at the door after work. No kitty alarm clock meowing at the first hint of dawn. No warm, purring coil of fur next to me on the recliner.
Angelo is gone.
My fat, furry, faithful little friend was spared the misery his brother Milo endured, ironically, exactly one year ago. Angelo was put down on the Friday before Thanksgiving, the same day Milo finally succumbed to kidney failure. This was my first experience with ending a pet’s life, and “wrenching” doesn’t begin to capture the experience of grief and empathy smacking headlong into each other like two rams on a hillside. Through tears, you summon the fortitude to place your pet on a soft towel, and stroke and soothe him as the veterinarian slides a needle into his vein.
And then, he’s gone.
Life just stops, right there under your hand.
Talk about cognitive dissonance — you just participated in ending your beloved pet’s life. You made the call. You made it happen. That final image of Angelo slipping into the beyond keeps flashing through my mind. I still struggle to come to terms with what I did. My brain knows it was the only choice. My heart is still working on it.
Putting Angelo down was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But I’d learned a lot from Milo’s illness and death. I knew what was in store for Angelo; I’d learned that keeping an animal hanging on until the last moment is not the kindest choice. I’d learned that prolonging the dying process isn’t the same thing as prolonging life.
What I didn’t learn until after Milo passed was that he didn’t have simple kidney failure. Milo, and Angelo, had polycystic kidney disease (PKD), where huge cysts grow on the kidneys, shutting them down. Toxins accumulate in the animal’s blood and organs, and it becomes insatiably thirsty. When they’re not plodding back and forth between the water dish and litter box, they’re vomiting convulsively. Their weight drops and drops until they’re nothing but loose fur draped over skeletons. They’re tired and miserable, and as each day passes, the light in their eyes grows dimmer.
It’s no way for a cat to live. And a horrific way to die. I console myself in sparing Angelo from Milo’s fate by considering that had he been out in the wild, he’d have died months ago, in a fashion far worse than feeling only the pinch of a needle.
I learned one more thing after Milo passed: what he was. I posted his photo on Facebook, and someone asked, “Isn’t that a Norwegian Forest Cat?”
What the heck is that?
I googled it and my jaw literally dropped when I saw page upon page of more Angelos and Milos. Prior to that, I’d never seen any other cats like them. With lion-like ruffs of fur around their necks, and dense, thick coats, both were huge — nearly twice the size of an average cat. Angelo, the larger brother, topped the scales at 22.5 pounds. They were also unusually docile. They never hissed or scratched, and rather than running and hiding when people came over, they’d stretch right out in the middle of the group as if to say, “We have arrived… let the adoration begin.” And it always did. Even people who didn’t like cats were drawn to them.
I attributed their serene temperaments to my superior Cat Mommy skills and their indoor-only lifestyle, but I’d congratulated myself too quickly. It wasn’t me. It was in their genes. Norwegian Forest Cats, called “wegies (pronounced weegies)” by aficionados, originated from cats that traveled on Viking ships. They had to be able to survive brutal cold and harsh conditions, and their job was to keep the vessel rodent-free.
As for the docile temperament, it’s not hard to imagine how that was genetically selected for. A hissy, pissy, temperamental cat wouldn’t last long on a Viking ship. One sharp swipe at Olaf, and that cat would be overboard. Only the sweet ones survived.
I researched the breed some more and discovered that wegies have a shorter lifespan than most cats, 14 years on average, and are very healthy and hardy cats, predisposed to few diseases. Except one: polycystic kidney disease. There was my proof. That’s what Angelo and Milo had. Their kidneys were the size of avocados when they died, visibly protruding from their sides like pregnant mares.
Despite the risk of PKD, I don’t think I’d be happy with anything other than another wegie. Trouble is, they’re difficult to find, and that makes them expensive. Yet, despite my cheapskate tendencies, I’d probably pay whatever it costs, and make the seven hour drive to visit the one and only breeder in California.
Ironically, I got Angelo and Milo for free, from a couple out in the country who had litters of these amazing, beautiful, fluffy kittens once or twice a year. They live on a ranch, and had a cat they’d inherited from a relative that was a superior mouser and kept the barn free of mice. When she had kittens, they’d just give them away. But you had to get on a waiting list to get one — they were that popular. I waited almost a year until my number rolled up, and was there the first day they were available to claim my two cuties.
When the mother cat finally grew too old for breeding, the couple had her fixed and kept one female kitten to keep the line going. Sadly, she was accidentally run over, and the line of the most wonderful cats on earth came to an end. And until I can find another, I’m afraid there’ll be no more pets for me. Once you’ve had a wegie, nothing else compares. Angelo and Milo are — were — proof.
Rest in peace, sweet boys. You’re together again.