Stewart, our 16-year-old tabby, died in my arms Friday morning.
It took a few seconds for the overdose administered by the veterinarian to do its job as she and my son David sat patiently with us in a cozy hospice-style room at the animal hospital.
About a year ago, he stopped eating more calories than he burned. Neither blood tests, an ultrasound, medicines nor a veritable buffet of canned food and home-cooked salmon identified the problem or reversed the loss of fat, then muscle. But for months his decline slowed, making his wasting away more deniable.
Then, about five weeks ago, Stewart quit meeting us at the door. Four weeks ago, he no longer loped up the stairs and onto our bed. Three weeks ago, no more jumping on the table to tear at the newspapers. Two weeks ago, he took to spending day and night sphynx-like under an end table except to lap at his water dish, sniff at his food and use the litter box (fairly accurately). One week ago, he didn’t want to sit in my lap, not even on the floor next to his end table.
He was bone and fur, but still I couldn’t put down this living thing I loved. Until Friday.
I broke down throughout my phone call the day before with the sweet young lady at the animal hospital, who explained the options, since I didn’t pay attention when the vet explained them on my last visit with Stewart a couple of weeks earlier. Thursday was another day without Stewart eating a thing. He was weak. His spot under the table wasn’t private enough; he curled up in the back of the closet.
I resolved that, if he made it through the night, I would put his pain ahead of mine.
Wow, I just devoted about 300 words to Stewart’s sad last days. I should tell you instead how my sister remembers coming to my house one New Year’s Eve when he was a kitten and he was “on the dining room table, enjoying the dip (straight from the bowl, no chips).” Our now-grown kids remember how Stewart would leap at them from the back stairs, eager to play – or attack, tiger-like. And for years he forced me to forego many a chore by refusing to leave my lap.
Stewart was a rescue cat who, despite being on house arrest his entire life, had a good run. He was a pet, not a person, but he was a part of the family. And, more than I realized, I loved him.