Monday, March 29, 2021

"I don't know how you do it!"

"I don't know how you do it!"

I get that question a lot, regarding the times I have to euthanize a foster cat, or a precious pet of our own. I am a little bemused by the comment, and I don't really have a response for it. I don't have any superpowers for avoiding sadness and grief. It breaks my heart every time an animal needs to be put to sleep, but I am absolutely committed to being there for them right until the very end. When you work with as many animals as I do, loss is constant and inevitable, and you must find a way to deal with it without falling into depression. It's not easy for me, and honestly, I can't really tell you how I do it. I just do it because it needs to be done, because I want to do it, and because those animals need someone to make these decisions for them and to be there for them,  and I manage it without letting it (so far) break me. I love these animals, and it's not like I can shield myself from the pain their passing causes; I don't push away or ignore my sadness. Sometimes it washes over me like a tsunami, and sometimes it's like the last ripple from a pebble being thrown in a pond; just a quiet kind of sadness that you knew was going to roll over you. It's the hardest part of having pets (and fostering them): the time when you must accept that improvement is impossible, and acknowledge that the kindest thing to do is ease an animal's suffering through euthanasia.

And all the foster cats who have been euthanized while under my care, become, in my mind, my own cats. Ours is the last (and sometimes only!) home these beloved kitties had, and while I had dreams of bringing them every one of them back to health and adopting them out to loving homes, sometimes it ccould not be. So my euthanized fosters are forever mine, buried here in the woods at our farm. I loved them as much as I could while they were on this earth;  I loved them as much as I love my own pets; I love them still.

 This sweetheart is Bobby, an incredibly lovely cat who came here last July after his owner passed away. He was a big grey love-bug. Sadly, he developed liver failure, and despite the extraordinary care he received from my vet clinic staff, and my own efforts at tube-feeding him, he deteriorated to the point that we had to euthanize him. I cried many tears over this dear cat. My consolation is hoping that in some way, he has been reunited with his loving owner. Bobby came to me to me with his friends Harley and Mama when their owner went into hospice care.


The past year has been really difficult in terms of losing animals. I have had to euthanize three foster cats, plus a stray that had been hit by a car and was left with a pelvis shattered beyond repair. On top of that, we had to euthanize our sweet pony Esme, and then fewer than three weeks later, we found our most beloved cat Naomi lifeless in the bathroom. When I found Naomi stretched out on the floor, a dead weight behind the door,  I broke down and cried in a way I have not done since each of my parents passed. I did wonder that morning how I could bear to lose even one more cat. Then I had to euthanize my foster kitty Scarlett in February. Somehow, you just get through these things. I have to remind myself that the good outweighs the bad, and no one gets through life without suffering. 


This little kitten is Lucy. She had FIP and when her seizures became uncontrollable, I had to have her euthanized. She was just six months old and was perhaps the sweetest little kitten I have ever known. She was found in a ditch in poor shape. I nursed her back to health, only to find out she had FIP. I am grateful for the time I had with her.


Periwinkle was brought to me by my friend Liz, who runs another cat rescue. Periwinkle was very traumatized and frightened when she arrived here. She has been found injured and was kept in a dog cage for MONTHS before her "rescuer" finally contacted Liz. Her back end was covered in her own excrement, and she has urine scalding on her  legs. We got her cleaned up and feeling better, but a couple of vet visits in, we realized that Periwinkle actually had a fracture in her spine that meant she had little control over her bladder and bowels. There was just constant leakage going on. The kindest thing to do was to euthanize her.  The one thing I am grateful for is that my friends Katie and Joey took her in to foster for a while, and won her trust, allowing Periwinkle to know human love and kindness before she had to pass over. Periwinkle refused to trust me, but she sure loved Katie!


For me, being there at the end of an animal's life (or a human's, for that matter!) is a privilege and a blessing. To be in that quiet room, stroking an animal and expressing love as they pass over is, while sad and difficult, also very moving and special. For me, the most important thing is to let the animal know that they were so very loved.

Animals have done so much for me that I feel it is a gift to be able to do things for them, like be there in the final hours. I had a terrible childhood with a neglectful and emotionally abusive mother, but through all that, animals were always there for me. (In fact, my Mum was a huge animal lover and that was something she was able to impart on me. Her own childhood was worse than mine, and animals were her refuge too.) If things were bad, I could always talk to my dog, or cuddle my guinea pig, or laugh at my gerbils playing in their cage. My dogs and cats have always been the most excellent listeners! They don't judge, and they never lie. 

I've loved animals since I was very small and I will always do whatever I can to help them. It's not heroic or brave or selfless... it's just what I want to do. It's the thing that gives me, for the most part, joy, and that joy outweighs the inevitable but sadness that come with  rescuing animals in need. You can't always have a happy ending.


Scarlett, euthanized in February. My vet clinic staff fought long and hard to try to save this beautiful girl. She had a truly sh*t life on the streets before she came here. My friends Joey and Katie fostered her for a year before she came back to me for her final months. She had a horrible, intractable case of calicivirus that no treatment would overcome (and believe me, we tried absolutely everything!) At the end, her mouth and tongue were still covered in horrible ulcers, and she was constantly losing weight because eating was so painful and difficult. Yet despite her horrible discomfort, she was a sweet, loving cat who always had a purr going on. She loved being brushed and she was an excellent Bridgerton viewing companion! I am still working on clearing out the room we kept Scarlett in (calicivirus is highly contagious) because I can only do so much before I start to cry. We all wanted so much for her to live. She was just a young cat of around two years of age, and so beautiful.


I have a lot of admiration for vets and vet techs, who must routinely euthanize animals. They are giving a precious gift to those creatures, a gift of compassion and love. And I have seen more than one of my vets cry at a euthanasia, particularly with an animal they have worked with over a long period  of time. I am just in awe of their ability to release animals from their suffering in such a compassionate way. It is deeply moving to share tears with someone who has worked so hard with you to save a cat in need, only to have to put them to sleep. 



 Me and my Kwazii. He was an FIV+ street cat with a heart of gold. We brought him a long way, and we enjoyed some wonderful times together, but he developed intestinal lymphoma that eventually necessitated euthanasia. No one who met this amazing boy can forget him. Just a precious little bent-eared being with all the love in the world to give.

All to say, I don't know how I do it! (I don't know why I still have Valentine's chocolate left at Easter, either! LOL) I hate having to make the decision to end an animal's life. Even telling myself it is easing their suffering doesn't really help. I worry about doing it too soon, and I worry about doing it too late. It's just something that will always be hard to do. But I think the difficulty of it is made up for by the amazing fun I have caring for and being with these furry beings. They give so much love. Whatever I can give back to them, I will.


11 comments:

  1. Knatolee, this was beautifully written and said so much. And I can sympathize with all of it since we have taken cats into our home all our married lives (not to the extent that you have, but still). They become part of the family and losing them is always difficult. And I especially understand the dilemma of trying to figure out when it is time to let them go. Our last 3 were older, but they went unexpectedly so close together and one with a difficult cancer that I can't bear the thought of sharing that pain again. It's my weakness at this age to not want to watch another suffer like that... and I own it. So we will concentrate on seeing that the outside ferals are well taken care of and that will have to be our project for our remaining years. I so appreciate what you do and know very well why you do it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Superbly written. I would be devastated every time (and I am whenever I learn of one you had to save from suffering). HOWEVER, I also -- every time -- think to myself how lucky those cats were to have you and your friends to love them... and oh the love they give you. As far as I'm concerned, you've saved every single cat you've taken in.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've had far fewer cats than you, but can attest that having to say goodbye is the hardest thing to do, even when I knew it was the right thing to do. You provide love and the best life possible for them as long as they are with you. It is, as you say, a privilege and they are fortunate to have found their way to you.

    Take care.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had a calico who looked like your Scarlett. Mine was named Xena, Warrior Princess. She came to me as a tiny kitten abandoned in Cleveland near a factory. Some third shift workers found her and tried to put her into a stamping machine. My friend was working late in the office and heard terrible screaming in the factory. She ran out. The screaming was from a man terribly clawed and savaged by the kitten, fighting for her life. Ann took her and brought her to me. The factory workers who handed her off already named her Xena. She had a long life, and was the especial friend of NoToe, when he sank into depression at the death of his twin brother, ToeToe.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Я просто обожаю своих 4 котят! Специально про них веду блог, рассказываю о них, публикую фотографии.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The way in which you care, truly care ............ [i.e., even up to their very ~l.a.s.t.~ and very beloved/loving minutes of Life] ............ about all of your wonderful rescue animals, Natalie, gives me such great hope!! As a retired 35-year Career R.N., [who's been @ the bedside when many of my patients and my Dad have unfortunately passed away], sometimes, in my opinion, it's paradoxically almost HARDER ............ to "let go of" a beloved companion animal, [i.e., 'also been there/'done that, too.]
    They always say that when one of our beloved animals dies, that "a piece of" that beloved animal then replaces a small portion of our hearts, which means that your & Gordon's cardiac muscles (i.e., hearts), are probably almost both ............ more "animal" ~than~ "human," by now!! I genuinely miss each-and-every-one-of your cats in this lovely post!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. You gave each of these critters more than a moment of love. That makes you a superhero in my books

    ReplyDelete
  8. Bom dia, Fiquei apaixonados pelos gatos.

    ReplyDelete
  9. A very moving, albeit sad post. Our dear Buster dog had to be put to sleep just after Christmas, like you I stayed with him right to the end, stroking and talking to him. The love you give is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for loving your animals. I'm crying with you. Hugs, Elaine

    ReplyDelete
  11. so cute cat!

    Would you like to follow each other? If the answer is yes, please follow me on my blog & I'll follow you back. thank you.

    http://www.rosetinz.com

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!