I lost my pet friend of nine years last week. I'd actually known her about 12 years, as my best friend had her for nearly three before I could take her. She had been a stray who wandered into my best friend's house one summer and stayed, joining three other cats. But from the start, she grafted on to me. I always considered her mine, and I think, vice versa.
I don't know how old she was then. My best friend said she was an adult, but she could have been anywhere from a year to five years. She was a small, short-hair American tabby, with a stout round body and mostly gray and white markings. Greenish-gold eyes.
She had a heart murmur. It's what the vet then said probably caused her three kittens to pass, as she got pregnant before we could get her fixed. When she first arrived, she also showed signs of having recently nursed another litter of kittens, though they were nowhere in sight. The vet thought the murmur could have been a hereditary condition. Scout also showed signs of abuse. Her tail had been cut (and healed some time earlier). Her ears looked chewed up. She was small but feisty. In particular, she did not care for dogs, even the very friendly Shepherd/Akita mix that tolerated her aggressive but always harmless attacks. She was wary of people.
Kidney and heart failure finally got her. I had not taken her to a vet in years because she seemed well. She also became very frightened, perhaps even traumatized, when I put her in the cat carrier. When my best friend visited, even though Scout knew she was a friend, Scout kept her distance, as though afraid my best friend would take her. Because she was happy and seemed healthy, I left it alone. (She had a cyst on her side that I left alone, too, for the same reasons and because she showed no signs of pain or irritation; the vets more recently said it was benign and had nothing to do with her passing. I was always more fearful stress, anesthesia, and medication might hurt her more than anything else, especially if she'd been abused.)
Over the past year, I saw her slowing down and thinning a bit, no worse than any other cat I've seen as they get older but are not fat. She seemed playful and herself, though. I didn't notice any telltale signs. But two weekends ago, I saw she wasn't eating and that she was drinking lots of water. She didn't seem to be in any pain or distress, but when I got her to the vet early that week, she had lost a lot of weight, even though I'd followed their instructions to feed her some baby food.
They immediately gave her fluids, took blood, and other things. She ate some food there. At first, she seemed to respond, but when I got her home, she began to sit and stare at her paws strangely, as though in a daze. She wobbled when she walked, and when she got to the litter box, stepped inside only to urinate on the floor. I called the vet back, who had me do some quick physical tests to make sure she wasn't having a stroke, and then I went immediately to the animal hospital.
They checked her vitals, and again, she seemed better. They scheduled her for ultrasounds and other diagnostics. Then they began rehydrating her and treating her with medications. At first, she responded well. But her heart murmur, as the vet feared, ended up affecting things. She essentially went into heart failure. As the vet explained, to fix one thing meant exacerbating the other. Still, there was the possibility that she could have an infection that was hurting the kidneys, as one blood test suggested an infection. If we could treat that, there was a small possibility we might save her life by taking stress off the kidneys. Her other vital signs were quite strong.
We did this for several days, and she got a little better, but then she went into decline. The vet told me the prognosis was poor, but I could see Scout wanted to fight. I came close to putting her to sleep, but I gave her more time. In the meantime, the vet called around to see if she could get dialysis or even a kidney transplant. I was fully prepared to do that. But she was too small, the vet was told, and her heart condition and a partially collapsed lung (discovered in the examination and likely a condition undiagnosed for years) precluded her participation.
The vet called me early one morning and said she was in rapid decline. The vet thought Scout would last no more than 24 hours but at least a few more hours, as she had stabilized. I had hardly eaten or slept in days (spending hours and hours on the Internet scouring for whatever I could about kidney failure and ways to help her, no matter how outlandish). I asked the vet if I could be there within the hour to put Scout to sleep, and she said that should be no problem. I took a very quick shower and dressed -- maybe 10-15 minutes maximum -- so I could be clear-headed, as I was weak and mentally fuzzy. I was in shock, too, and in no rush to send her on her way.
When I got to the hospital, they had me wait in a private room. The vet arrived in what seemed 15 minutes later and told me Scout had stopped breathing and gone into cardiac arrest. They were performing CPR on her and asked me what to do. As she was unconscious, I said to stop. I wasn't going to revive her just to put her to sleep again. The vet was deeply apologetic, but she said it wasn't unusual for pets to pass when their owners arrive. Somehow, knowing they are in the building (or even on the phone) in these situations made them feel okay to let go.
I realized later, too, that Scout constantly turned away from me when I visited her in the hospital, sometimes for hours if they would let me. She would let me pick her up and purr while I pet her, but she seemed to constantly be trying to avoid looking at me. At home, she enjoyed making eye contact and winking at me. She loved me, I know, and she knew I loved her, but her instincts in the hospital were to get away. As my best friend said, she'd never buried a cat because they all went away in the end. Scout did not behave this way with the medical staff or anyone else I brought with me.
Now, I feel very, very guilty. I've spoken about it with both vets who saw Scout, as well as friends who have raised and cared for cats all their lives. I'll post what I feel in bold and what they say about it:
I should have taken Scout to the vet more often. Both vets say it likely would have made no difference. Cats hide their illnesses, and several of the vet techs and even one of the vets said that they have cats now who are sick and they missed it early. Finding an illness is as much luck as science. Even if they'd caught it six months or a year ago, they said the way Scout's heart responded to fluid treatment, she likely would have not done well. The first vet said that she was surprised Scout had lasted this long with her murmur since she went into congestive heart failure so quickly, and the second vet said she didn't think we would have done more than extend Scout's life a few months at best, and that would be with lots of medication and treatment.
I should have kept a cleaner house and litterbox. As a bachelor, I'm just wasn't as up on such things. I'd also never had a cat before. Neither Scout nor I, though, seemed to have any health issues. Both vets don't think that had anything to do with it. Scout also didn't make messes anywhere or protest, so my best friend thinks conditions were not as bad as I think. But I feel like maybe I helped make her sick.
I should have done more to ease her misery The vet thinks that she was not in pain (but was in discomfort, as though with the flu). I had asked several times if we could give her light painkillers, but given Scout's condition, the vet had said she didn't want to risk it. She was very caring and compassionate, both for Scout and me. I want to believe her because I think she has been both honest and caring with me. But I couldn't do anything and still give Scout the best chance in a grim situation that she might have to survive.
I should have been there when she passed. People tell me now that cats want to stay away from their loved ones when they are sick or dying, so maybe it was her wish for me not to be present. But I feel very bad that she was basically among strangers. I had essentially told her how much I loved her the night before, so it wasn't the idea of not saying goodbye. It was the idea of her being alone.
As I said, I'd never had a cat before. I didn't really know what I was doing. But even as people keep telling me I did the best I could or that it was simply Scout's time, I feel like I let her down. I'm not just sad that she's gone -- I cried every day she was in the hospital and in the days after her passing -- but I kick myself for not having been more responsible. She needed me to look out for her, and I failed.
In the meantime, I keep seeing stories or hearing from people who were lucky enough to catch things like this in time. And so many people want to preface such stories with how their cats lived into their 20s that it tears me up that, at most, Scout probably only made it to 16 or 17 (but probably was younger). I'm happy their pets lived longer, but it's like a stab in the heart every time I'm reminded of what could have been. With each such story, it makes me feel worse. That makes me feel guilty, too, because my sadness or Scout's plight doesn't have anything to do with their fortune, or vice versa.
So, I don't know exactly why I posted here. I know I feel the need to tell the story and to just express my grief. I know I'm making this about me, too, and I don't want it to be. Scout was the best cat a person could want. She never did anything wrong or was violent, destructive, or unfriendly. She was loving and sweet. I miss her terribly. But I hurt so bad right now. I wish I had been a better man.