Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lessons learned from a sweet kitty

R.I.P. Gracie
12/4/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Lessons learned from Gracie

I didn’t know that Gracie was dying. I knew something was wrong with my sweet, 11-year-old, gray kitty but I didn’t know what. And while I was busy observing her symptoms and analyzing the possible causes—something was killing her.

We pet parents try to take good care of our animals. But sometimes their sneaky symptoms are sneaky. Cats are especially good at hiding their illnesses. Lesson: their life spans are short and we should not be cavalier and ignore on-going problems. Let me tell you Gracie’s story and maybe we can all learn something from it.

Graceful Gracie didn’t walk—she danced. She didn’t jump—she leaped ballerina style landing on her toes. She didn’t MEOW—she softly mewed. Summer days would find her and George scampering through the vegetable garden, hiding under trees, playing chase and yes, squabbling. Sometimes he would bat her around and she would go looking for her favorite dog to protect her. 

Lesson: Tread lightly and have friends you can trust.

By nature, cats are hunters. In fact, during warm weather they get kind of wild. They constantly stalk and pounce on a variety of bugs, mice and flying creatures that invade their space. And it’s not because they’re hungry. During the day ours free-feed on a quality kibble with lots of clean, cool water available. Still, hunting is the nature of the feline personality.

All of our animals sleep inside at night. In the summer our cats rebelled against being corralled. They thrive on sunny days and balmy evenings. Getting them inside was an ordeal. Fortunately, they love to be groomed. Brush in hand we are able to coax them in to be groomed and then rewarded with a nice dish of tuna.

When the weather is cold, there are not too many arguments about coming in early. They spend the evening cuddled in front of the fireplace or on our laps and then head out to their comfy beds in the heated garage. Although there are four beds, the two dogs burrowed together in layered cushions and the two cats slept together in a bed off the floor. It’s a good life!

Unfortunately, cats are notorious for coughing up hairballs and it’s difficult to know which of them is having the problem when they sleep together. It’s even more difficult when one of them is bringing up an entire meal. Recently, we thought it was George.

Over the last couple of years Gracie had several serious spells of illness. Each time, we assumed she had gotten a bad bird. She spent some time at the hospital on fluids and at home on antibiotics. She bounced back. Sort of. She never really regained that happy spark that set her constantly in motion on little fairy feet. She spent much of her days sleeping outside on the wicker settee.

Sadie, her favorite Dachshund, died last month and all of the animals went into mourning. Sammy’s pain is still palpable. Every time someone drives in the driveway he practically jumps in the car looking for her. He turns over beds and cushions and checks out her favorite corners. He is bewildered. Where is she?

At the same time, the cats took to sleeping in separate beds. In hindsight, a sure sign that something else was wrong. George would sleep for several hours in the morning on Sadie’s favorite cushion. Gracie curled up in a ball in her bed, upchucked almost every meal and lost weight—a shell of her former self. What was wrong?

We thought it was grief but it was more. Last week, relaxed on my lap, Gracie cried, wretched and brought up her now bleached kibble dinner. The next morning she had a high fever and was breathing erratically. At the vet’s office this very sick kitty PURRED during the exam. The hope was that the root of the problem could be found, meds given and she could come home at the end of the day.

Instead, her condition worsened as specialists consulted. There was an obstruction. Cancer? Her options were few and expensive—an ultrasound, exploratory surgery, more pain. She never came home.

I have beaten myself up and cried copious tears wondering how I could have missed the severity of her condition. Lesson: I thought her illness would be easily solved. I should have stopped analyzing and listened to that intuitive voice that said, “Something is very wrong. Take her to the vet—again!”

We pet parents sometimes neglect getting professional care and “pet medicate” because of the cost. Why do we hope that the problem will magically go away? Why do we think that animals, are not suffering and will shrug off an illness? That may be thrifty, wishful thinking but it is not wise or humane.

So what have I learned with the death of two furry children in the space of a month? 

Lesson one: I need to act on my first instincts when I am aware that something is wrong. 

Lesson two: Sometimes, despite our best efforts there is not a positive outcome. Only God knows why things happen. 

Lesson three: Eventually we have to say goodbye.

R.I.P. Gracie. You were my sweet girl and I miss you.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart

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