Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bella’s journey ends

Bella c2006–2019
Today Bella’s journey ended. What at first seemed like an improbable life together turned out to be a joy, and she became a treasured member of the family. But everything ends, and today Bella’s journey did, too.

It wasn’t easy when Bella first chose to live with us back in 2010. She used to bite and scratch me without any real warning. She’d jump up into my lap, lie down to sleep, and then suddenly get a crazed look in her eyes and chomp! For a time it was so bad that I thought we might have to send her away—I had scratches up and down my hands and arms all the time. She attacked Nigel, too, but I seemed to bear the brunt of it, probably because I spent more time with her.

Some time later, possibly after Sunny arrived to live with us eight months after Bella, Nigel changed our routine. Instead of just giving the furbabies a treat when he got home, as we’ve always done, he fed Bella her treats out of his hand, one at a time. That was when everything changed. Almost overnight, or so it seemed, Bella stopped attacking me.

She gradually became a more or less normal-acting cat, though with a few toothy lapses every now and then, but that was all over by the time she became sick. Over the past two and a half years, she’s been like any other elderly cat, fine at first, then sometimes having brief setbacks, then rallying. But the decline continued steadily, if slowly.

In recent months she pretty much stopped grooming. She also sometimes had difficulty walking. She struggled to jump up onto anything, like our laps, and if she did try to jump up, she sometimes couldn’t hold on and fell back onto the floor. Every now and then she also seemed to have trouble merely standing. All of that became worse as time went on.

A few nights ago, I found her down in the rumpus room by the dog door, which is normally covered by a baby gate to keep the dogs inside. She didn’t often go down there by herself, and certainly not at night. She was lying facing it the door, looking at as if she wanted to go out. It crossed my mind that she might be wanting to go find somewhere to hide so she could close her eyes for the last time.

I carried her upstairs and put her in her cat box (which was in the bath to protect it from the dogs – a long story) because I thought maybe she realised she couldn’t jump into the bath and wanted to go outside to go to the toilet. In recent weeks, I’d increasingly often heard her struggle to jump into and back out of the bath. In any case, when she was done that night, she waited for me to lift her out again. Afterward, she ate a little bit, but not much.

Over the past few days she was eating less than normal, though still drinking about much as water as always. Last night, she didn’t eat at all, and this morning she ate only when we soaked her food in water, telling us her tooth was bothering her again. When she was done eating and drinking some water, she walked over to the walk-in wardrobe and peed (which, of course, I cleaned up immediately with the special pet wet-vac).

And this is how we came to realise she was struggling more than living. She had trouble eating with the bad tooth that can’t be fixed (because she wouldn’t have survived the anaesthetic), and even if that got better as it did last time, it’d obviously return, maybe worse. She had trouble walking, she couldn’t jump any more—in short, she just no longer seemed like she could enjoy life, apart from when she was sleeping out on the deck in the sun. She rarely purred anymore, either, or, at least, not loudly, like she used to.

Because of all that, late this morning, I made that phone call to the vet to schedule that visit. I fucking hate doing that.

Bella put up no struggle when I put her in the cage, though she looked a little confused. We let the dogs sniff her in the cage, and we left.

We arrived there right on time for our 4pm appointment. We had a very kind and caring vet who checked her and said her kidneys had atrophied to maybe less than a quarter of their normal size, and she could smell the toxins on Bella’s breath—not just the bad tooth. The vet made sure we wanted to proceed, we signed the paperwork, and while the vet went to get a nurse to help her with the prep work, Nigel went to pay so that we could just leave afterward, when we’d be distressed.

I stayed with Bella and waited with her, petting her fur, talking softly to her, until the vet returned and gave her a sedative. Looking at her, I realised how tired she looked, and weak. It almost seemed as if she was ready to give up the fight, if cats thought like that. By the time Nigel got back a moment later, she was just beginning to get a bit dopey. She was relaxed and a bit high.

The nurse joined us and they shaved Bella’s front leg to insert the line. The vet explained that sometimes the veins of cats with kidney disease “burst”, as she put it, due to weakness of the vein walls. Bella never fought them during this, because she was doped up. The vet administered the fatal overdose of sedative, Bella stopped breathing, and her tail stopped moving. The vet waited a moment or two, got the stethoscope, listened in several places, and confirmed that Bella had died. She was peaceful, quiet, and really did seem as if she’d just gone to sleep. It was maybe 4:30pm, I'd guess (i didn't look at my watch until were leaving).

The vet left us alone for a few minutes. We shed our tears, petted Bella for the last time, and talked to her a bit. Then, when we were ready, we left. Nigel opened the door to the inner part of the clinic to let them know we were leaving, and we left through the the exam room’s other door, which led out of the clinic. I was last to leave, and I turned around, gave Bella one last pet, and as I was about to close the door behind me, I said “we love you, Bella”, which is what I always said to her when we were leaving the house and she was there watching. It seemed appropriate. We were very sad.

By this time, traffic was kind of heavy, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things. We thought it would be a good idea to do something ordinary, and it was. While we were subdued and, obviously, still sad, it was a good distraction—or, it was until we turned into another aisle and were faced with all the cat food and treats (something we hadn’t been able to buy for two and a half years). Without saying a word, be both looked away. We passed that, literally and figuratively.

Once home, Nigel brought the empty cage back into the house and let the dogs sniff it again. They would have smelled Bella, seen that she wasn’t there, and they may have wondered about that. But I doubt they understood any more than that. We knew; that was enough.

Nigel picked up Bella’s food plate and the container we kept her food in so we wouldn’t have to look at it. I’ll take her cat box outside tomorrow and bury the contents (it’d be quite heavy for the rubbish). And then the house will be catless (she never liked cat toys, so we didn’t have any). I can’t imagine how that will feel, but I think there will be tears.

Today I wore a dark polo shirt. I felt I needed a dark colour because I was already sad, but I chose that one in particular because when Bella was somewhat younger and healthier she’d climb onto my lap and her claws got caught in the fabric and pulled threads out. In recent years, I’ve only worn the shirt around the house (because of those pulls), and every time I’ve put the shirt on, I’ve thought of Bella and those better times. Today, I wanted that, and even now, I still do. It’s kind of like a hug.

Bella lived long enough to live in this house and explore the lawns (something our former house didn't have), lie on the cement driveway, and also lie out on the second storey deck. As she grew sicker, that deck was one of her favourite spots, especially in summer. In the colder months, she slept in the sun against the sliding doors leading out to the deck.

Last night, Bella slept next to me all night long, which was unusual for her to do (she usually moved at some point during the night). I slept very poorly last night, partly because I was worried about her. When I got up this morning, I sat in my chair and Bella jumped up—or, rather, had me lift her up—into my lap. She slept there for quite awhile as I dozed off and on. Bella spent the rest of the day sleeping out on the deck, much of it in the sun. I’m so happy that she spent her last day doing things she loved doing.

Bella was different in so many ways from other cats we've both had over the years. A real lap cat, uninterested in hunting anything, playful with the dogs (up to a point…), totally unconcerned about a houseful of visitors, and she always seemed to be paying attention to me when I talked to her. She also talked to me. Until all that started to slowly fade.

She was very small and thin by the end, and we saw less of her than we had when she was healthy. And yet she filled the house so much that we definitely feel her absence, and no doubt will for quite awhile. But the dogs are still asking for attention, and giving it, and they deserve to have us carry on as before. But we’ll carry Bella in our hearts.

Despite the improbability that our life together would turn out to be a joy, it did. She became a treasured member of the family, and we will miss her so very much.

Bella’s journey
Bella’s condition
Bella’s new normal
Better Bella
Is this it?
Bella’s own plans
All posts about Bella are tagged “Bella”

I took the photo of Bella up top last July, the week of the second anniversary of her diagnosis. It’s one of my favourite of the most recent photos of her. Over the past six months, she started to look worse as time wore on. I prefer to remember her when she was still at her best. The photo montage of Bella at the bottom of this port is from January 2015. It’s always been one of my favourites of her.


Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

It's never easy, but it's inevitably necessary. I did keep thinking, though, about how if I was ever in Bella's position it would be a crime for anyone to help me similarly depart easily and gently, and that just seems wrong to me. But, at least it was possible to ease Bella's suffering. At that moment, that was what mattered, painful though it was.

rogerogreen said...

Very sorry, Arthur. Yes, it must have been dreadful to decide, even though it was clearly the correct decision.