Euthanizing Sally

She helped me write it. Perhaps she still is.

Cat illustration (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Cat illustration
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
We euthanized The Sally Cat. She had cancer.
So do I, and thereby hangs the tale.
However, I should mention: Those who enjoy the standard “inspirational, heart-warming” animal stories might not find that here. Neither will they be offered what the Germans sometimes call “winged words.” Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms that the patriotic vocabulary of war quickly turns obscene. What matters are the names: of battles and places, and of those who were there.
This is about a battle I shared with The Sally Cat.
The Sally Cat (as we named her to distinguish her from Samantha The Cat, our permanent puss) came to us last August. She had a home around the corner from us, but had taken up following my wife. Erin, an inveterate animal person, spoke with her owner, who clearly wanted her gone. Sally made it clear that she wanted the same. We took her in. She never even tried to go back.
Sally was in dreadful shape – 15 years old, toothless, malformed, half-starved, with failing eyesight, with a meow that resembled a “low battery” alert on a smoke detector and a face that occasionally reminded me of Homer Simpson. But when she came, the only thing on her face was desperation.
We determined to give her some decent final days.
It ran six months.
Sally spent her first two weeks hiding under a table.
Erin fixed her up a little bed and I fed her, periodically moving the dish a bit farther from her lair. Samantha, who was 10 years younger and 10 pounds heavier, could have killed her easily. Instead, she deferred.
Gradually, Sally began to explore the house. One day she fixed me with a steady gaze and it was as though she had somehow sent me a message.
I can trust you.
The next day, for the first time, she came into my study, a cramped little room with a bed, a chair and two computer desks. A few days later, with the same steady stare, she told me:
This room is where I will spend whatever time is left to me.
Odd. I’d been feeling the same way about it myself.
So Sally took up residence on the bed. She left rarely, mostly for meals. Specifically, she took her cat food in the kitchen, but we brought her people food, which she loved, on a plate (except for yogurt, which she licked off my fingers). She ate voraciously, yet gained no weight. We de-wormed her. It made no difference. I began to suspect cancer.
Sally slowly deteriorated throughout the fall. So did I. My cancer had returned and spread; there was internal bleeding. One day she looked at me and I heard her clearly.
We understand each other.
That was her final message. Sally was growing senile.
When not sleeping, she would sit and stare, as though trying to remember where she was. She started losing bowel control.
She was waiting.
Sally was not affectionate. Still, whenever I lay down on the bed, she would come lie atop me or beside me. She didn’t want to be petted, just human contact.
In January, we both declined faster. I developed a constant convulsive cough and dropped 20 pounds in three weeks. Sally diminished to a swollen abdomen and not much else. Then she began the quiet mewling by which cats indicate they’re in pain.
Erin and I decided we had no choice. She called our vet, the kindly old Dr. Weiss, and requested euthanasia.
Dr. Weiss said to bring her in. We did. He took one look and agreed.
Erin, a professional dog trainer in her youth and a lifelong horsewoman, knew the protocol. We stayed with her. It took a few minutes. Then Erin wrapped her in a lovely piece of embroidered silk she’d purchased against this day, for Sally to wear on her trip to the crematorium.
I don’t really miss her. I don’t feel her presence, or expect to see some apparition sitting on the bed. At first, I wondered what I really thought about it all. After all, we gave her six months of safety, comfort, affection. And when she died, it wasn’t alone in some icy puddle at 3 a.m.
We’d done right.
I immediately gave myself a dose of moral nausea for indulging in such self-congratulation. No, that wasn’t it.
My doctor, a brilliant healer who has kept me alive for seven years, put me on a new cancer treatment that’s working very well. I thought once or twice that, in some mystical way, Sally had taken some of my illness upon herself.
No, that’s not right, either.
So what was it all about? I don’t know. But I think I’ll dedicate my book-in-progress to her.
In Memoriam. TSC.
She helped me write it. Perhaps she still is.