May 31st, 2006

lookin' good

What happened to Tugger

Tugger has been having a number of problems, all piling up. He had kidney disease. He had (undiagnosed) Feline Leukemia (FIV), despite vaccination. He developed lymphoma. He began chemotherapy, but then became too anemic to continue without blood transfusions.

He's been heading downhill, but then over the weekend he seemed to surge back. He was eating, drinking, walking with very little of the limp from the lymphoma tumor on his foreleg. He no longer needed to be let out--he started climbing his "cat tree" to get out his cat door again. Then, to everyone's surprise, he began hunting again, triumphantly "bagging" a chipmunk. Knowing Tugger, actually, he probably never stopped hunting--but catching, not so much.

All that changed yesterday. I got a call from the mother of the young man who was feeding Tugger and walking and feeding the dogs. Tugger was in such good spirits that he was successfully fighting off their attempts to give him his steroid pill. The mom asked if I could come and pill him. Tugger's never liked being pilled--but he'd put up with it from his family. [He was also always very good for me when I took him to the vet].

I got to the house and couldn't find him. I figured he was out hunting, and called him. That usually brought him back. No joy. I searched the basement, and couldn't find him. Frustrated, I went upstairs to let the dogs out, hoping Tugger would come back. Through the basement door, I heard him meow for me from downstairs...but where?!

I went back downstairs, and he talked again--he was collapsed on the floor of the darkened utility room, his rear legs dragging uselessly. Thinking perhaps the anemia had made him weak, and foolishly hoping that he just needed some food or water, I brought his bowls over. He wasn't interested. I ran upstairs to get the vet's number--he dragged himself through the food bowl to follow me. I felt so defeated. He had obviously crawled in to the utility room in order to die. I felt like my arrival had given him some false hope that I could save him.

The vet told me that he had likely suffered a clot in the arteries that supply the legs with blood. Aggressive "clot-busters" might--possibly--help an otherwise healthy cat, but Tugger's chances were slim and his condition was already terminal from the lymphoma. She continued on, obviously trying to reconcile me to what was now all too painfully obvious. I cut her off mid-sentence, as gently as I could, and told her that I already knew what we needed to do. I had been holding it together up to this point, but as I put that sentence together, I finally lost it. As I write about it now, I'm losing it again.

She promised to wait for me.

Tugger had such limited mobility, I just sat him in the car with me, at first in the passenger seat cradled between the seat back and my gym bag, where I could pet him and keep an eye on him. He wanted to be in my lap, so I took him there and rode gingerly the rest of the way, stopping to call for directions--I was so out of it, I'd forgotten which side of Vienna the vet was on. It was just as well, as Tugger was starting to act car sick, and I didn't want his last few minutes to be spent nauseated. I kept the car stopped and petted him until the "hiccups" subsided and drove the last few blocks--I had been headed the right direction, and lost confidence that I was going the right way.

The staff at the clinic were very compassionate. I kept Tugger looking at me, and petted him the whole time. He purred and didn't fuss, at all. They had to use his one good leg--the circulation in the rear legs was compeletely gone and the leg with the lymphoma was suspect. Tugger seemed to pass away completely peacefully and almost instantly with the injection of the euthanasia agent, despite all the scary possibilities of movement and vocalizations, etc. against which the vet had prepared me.

As deaths go, I believe there's no such thing as a good one. This was as good as it could be under the circumstances. I'm glad that I, his "first person" after he came to me and Scotti as a street-rescue, could be with him at the last.

Tugger, 2003

When I get a chance, I'll write more about the rest of the day. Telling Q was hard: "It's okay to cry, son; your daddy is crying, too."