Monday, July 14, 2014
Death of a friend
In August, it would have been 17 years since I adopted my cat Bailey. I first met her in a small pet shop in a strip mall in Shoreline. The local PAWs occasionally would put kittens in the store for adoption. She was this tiny spec of a kitten. They had named her Beta. I changed it to Bailey because she actually seemed to be more of a dark chocolate color than black and reminded me of Bailey's Irish Creme.
I had an older cat at the time named Cuervo. He was an orange tabby who I'd also adopted from PAWs. He took to Bailey quickly and they played together.
Bailey slept upstairs with me in the early years. She had this incredibly loud purr for such a tiny little thing. And she liked to sleep up near my face. In a half asleep state I accidently brushed her away from my face one night and her claws gripped onto my arm to prevent her from falling out of the bed. I woke scratched and bloody.
Cuervo died within a few years of me bringing Bailey home. He died of kidney failure after I found him bleeding out of the nose outside my house. I rushed him to the vet and he died overnight. I buried him in the backyard of my Shoreline house.
Bailey became the lady of the house. She never grew very big. She was always as light as a feather. I would sweep her up and hold her in one hand, then cradle her in my arms like a baby. She always had this serious expression on her face.
She was a hunter. She would bring in mice, moles and one time even a snake. She also defended her territory. One time I watched out the patio door as she chased a large cat through the yard and leaped up to swat his butt as he vaulted over the fence.
She was an outdoor cat for much or her early life. She used a cat door and came and went as she pleased. At night she would sit with me in my easy chair as I watched television. She was my companion for many years as I lived alone.
When I married and combined households, Bailey had to deal with two other cats that never did like her. When we moved Bailey became an indoor cat and spent much of her time shut away in our upstairs bedroom to keep her from being attacked by the other two cats.
The same was true when we moved yet again to our current house.
I am ashamed to say that I stopped giving Bailey much attention after we had children. I fed her and cleaned her litter box, but my focus was on our children. The cats became more of a irritation than the babies they had been to both my wife and I.
Still at our current house, Bailey never seemed to change. It wasn't until I did the calculation that I realized how old she was getting. She slowed down and slept most of the time, but she still was able to jump up on the bed and run from the other cats as need be.
In the past few months I noticed that her hair was getting matted as if she wasn't grooming any more. I just attributed it to old age. Then I noticed her eating less and less and drinking more and more water. She lost energy and no longer seemed to be able to make it up on the bed.
We took her to the vet thinking it was old age. The blood and urine tests indicated kidney failure.
She was pitifully weak for the last few days while we waited for the results of the lab tests. I sat with her and stroked her matted fur, murmuring apologies.
And on Friday evening, I held her for the last time as the vet euthanized her. It was the first time I have ever had to have a pet put to sleep and I am wracked with guilt and remorse. I am ashamed of the emotional neglect I am guilty of. And the ultimate pain was holding her while her life slipped away, telling myself it was to free her of the pain.
One of the hardest parts of this has been trying to explain death to my children. My daughter particular has taken it hard and has been telling me how much she misses Bailey and asks where she has gone now that she has died. I have no good answer. Not being a religious person, I don't have a strong believe in an afterlife. I'd like to think that she is in a better place. But I fight with the rationalization that humans have created the belief in an afterlife soon after they were faced with the reality that everything dies. Belief in an afterlife helps stave off the sobering reality that we all end.
I did tell my daughter what I told Bailey in her final moments, that she would always be in my heart. And perhaps that is where the better place lies.