His life, and his death, were enveloped in love
by Debra DeAngelo
If there’s one thing that’ll make you forget all about your own troubles, it’s when someone you love gets sick. Even when that someone is covered with fur.
Maybe you’ve read about my little fur people, Angelo and Milo, before. Although they’re brothers, they couldn’t be more different. Angelo is a furry toad-beast who tops 20 pounds. Milo was always slender and never really cared much about eating. If he got distracted mid-bite, he’d just walk away from the dish. When he did eat, he was picky. Maybe he just wasn’t that hungry because his stomach was full from compulsive grooming.
When Milo would finish grooming himself, he’d start in on his brother, who is perfectly content letting him do all the work. Which means that Milo consumed twice the amount of cat fur, and this increases exponentially each fall, when both cats shed their summer coats and grow winters ones. More hair means more barfing, and ultimately more hairballs, which you always find first thing in the morning while still barefoot.
This year seemed no different. The barfing started, but no ultimate hairball was produced, as had been the case in years past. Milo lost weight, but he’d done that before and once the lodged hairball finally came up, he’d bounce right back. One day, the vomiting stopped even though no hairball was produced. But Milo didn’t gain any weight. He also seemed extremely thirsty. I attributed all of this to the ultimate hairball, but despite an array of products both conventional and natural — nothing came up.
As the days went by, Milo got downright bony, which wasn’t readily obvious because of his long, fluffy fur. And then his little light started flickering. He wasn’t his goofy, sparkly, pesty self. Maybe this wasn’t just another hairball after all.
I called the vet, and he said bring Milo right over. Blood work was done, fluids administered, and the unhappy diagnosis came in the next day: feline renal failure. I researched it online and the news is all bad.
To complicate matters, an X-ray additionally disclosed that either Milo’s kidneys had swollen to the size of small avocados or there were two tumors growing on them. But, the vet wasn’t ready to put him down.
He explained Milo’s condition to me, and outlined a treatment plan, prescribed four medications and liquid food to squirt down his throat, and had me return each day so he could administer subcutaneous fluids. Even with all these treatments, Milo wouldn’t eat anything — canned food, tuna, baby food, butter, canned fish fillets, roast chicken… he’d look at it, then slowly return to the water dish, and start his back and forth plodding trips to the litter box, until he finally curled up somewhere and went to sleep. After almost two weeks of treatment, he only continued to sink a little lower each day.
Milo’s deterioration was swift and severe. He was clearly miserable when I was shooting liquids down his throat, whether it was medicine or food. He hated the whole process, and he associated that process with me. He was no longer delighted to see me approaching. I was no longer his loving Kitty Mama. I became his torturer. Although I was trying to help him, from Milo’s perspective, I was clearly just adding to his misery.
Almost as difficult as watching Milo suffer was telling my daughter what was going on. She loved that cat like her own fur baby. There was no easy way to do it, and no good time to tell her. But even harder than that phone call was the one that followed a couple days later to tell her that the vet had reluctantly admitted that Milo’s condition was so bad and his hope for recovery so small that the time had come to consider putting an end to his suffering.
That was rough. Milo and Angelo are members of our family. I didn’t want to think about that morning when Milo wouldn’t be waiting faithfully outside my bedroom door with his fat toady brother, greeting me with kitty-yoga stretches, meowing for treats, and then joining me on the recliner to watch the morning news. But the sad fact was — that day had already essentially arrived. Milo hadn’t had the energy for greetings or kitty yoga for days. He just sat balled up under the desk, incontinent, mewing pitifully from time to time, clearly miserable. And I realized that all I was doing was prolonging this. Which meant the time for the ultimate act of loving kindness was imminent.
My daughter and I tearfully picked a day to have the vet come over. But that same evening, when I returned home from work, Milo was much worse — vomiting and unable to stand, and cold to the touch. I knew, down in my solar plexus, that he wouldn’t likely make it through the night. And if he did, the most humane thing I could do would be to call the vet first thing in the morning and end it.
I decided, however, that his last moments would literally be wrapped in love. At bedtime, I held him in a soft towel on my chest, just like an infant, his head right over my heart. He relaxed, and his breathing grew shallow and labored. I dozed off and on, and suddenly snapped awake at 1:30 a.m. Milo was still with me. Barely.
It was a work night, and I had to get just a little sleep, so I laid him in a padded basket and went to bed. At 4 a.m., I went to check on him, but he was already gone. And, rigor mortis was starting to set in. I later discovered that it takes rigor mortis three hours to set in. Which means, he literally passed over within moments of me setting him down. I let go, and so did he. Ironically, my daughter later told me that she had trouble sleeping that night. She went to bed at 1:30 a.m. You can call that a coincidence. But I won’t.
There wasn’t much I could do for Milo, but I temper my sadness in knowing he never knew an unkind moment in his whole life. He knew he was beloved. And the last thing he experienced on this earthly plane was pure love. There are people, let alone animals, who haven’t lived — or died — as well.
R.I.P. dear little Milo. May the catnip in heaven be endless.