Prolonging the inevitable….saying goodbye to our pets.
No matter how we try to prepare ourselves it is never easy to lose a pet. It has been a very rough couple months for me & my family in regards to our pets. My new kitten Cleo fought a long hard battle to beat Parvo. I had to face the possibility she may not make it because there was only a 1% survival rate. My sister lost her 12 year old kitty Cassie to cancer in early March. Then 2 weeks later I lost my best friend of 14 years, my cat Kizmet (aka Kizzy) to lung cancer. It was a roller coaster of emotions and 7 years since our family had lost a pet.
After this period I felt it was necessary to try to write something about the loss of a pet and preparing for the loss of a pet. If anything is taken away from this article I want people to try to focus on their pet and the true level of their pet’s happiness & dignity – not their own. I’ve come to realize over the years just how selfish we can be as pet owners without even realizing it.
I witness pet owners I know lose their beloved pets more often than I would like. As a pet sitter I also get very attached to my client’s pets. Often I get to know the pets from the time they are young or middle aged until the time they are seniors and eventually leave us. But as a pet sitter I also get the outside or detached perspective of things. We’ve all seen it happen – we get them as puppies & kittens and then the next thing we know those early years have flown by and they aren’t babies anymore. It’s almost as if since we see them every day we don’t notice the subtle changes that take place. Before we know it they are seniors and the vet is starting to diagnose medical issues. Then we are trying to grasp & save every precious moment we have with them.
I’ll never forget the moment Kizzy was diagnosed with Kidney failure at the age of 10 in 2011. It was like somebody slapped me in the face. I was faced with the hard realization and truth that we were not going to be together forever. I was officially put on “every moment counts” time! I did everything I could as pet owner for her medically. But in the back of my mind I knew the day would come and prepared myself to look for the signs of her decline. We fought Kidney Failure for 4 years with medication, fluids & prescription diet. In the end, her last blood work done her kidneys were perfect. My vet told me “In terms of the kidney failure you did everything perfectly. Her blood work proves that. It’s the best it’s been since she was diagnosed 4 years ago. You couldn’t have done anything to prevent the lung cancer.” With my cat Karley who I had lost in 2008, I didn’t really get that opportunity. Karley had an undetected brain tumor and at only 8 years old declined rapidly after the initial signs. She had crossed the Rainbow Bridge within 48 hours of the first clinical signs.
We don’t want to say goodbye – I totally get & relate to that. But for the sake of our beloved pets we need to give them the love & respect they deserve and be willing to let them go. I almost finished that last sentence with “when the time is right” and deleted it. Another thing I have learned is that’s is the most loaded & inconsistent phrase when it comes to the loss of a pet. A lot of pet owners hold on to and prolong the life of a pet longer than they admittingly should have. The #1 thing I hear after the loss of a pet is “I miss my pet so much. “ #2 thing “I probably held on to him/her longer than I should have. “, along with all the other regrets people have following the loss.
We often put our own lives and its demands in front of what is honestly best for our pet’s wellbeing. Some people go the opposite direction and go what others would view as “overboard” in terms of looking out for the pet’s wellbeing and putting their needs before their own. The only way to truly explain this is by examples.
1) Kim had 4 cats she loved very much & had just moved to the area & needed a pet sitter. She was very pleased with the care she received while gone but we didn’t hear from her again for a very long time. She called about 2 years later and admitted she was afraid to travel because the cats had developed medical issues. She was too afraid to travel & leave them. Despite having a pet sitter with the medical qualifications she didn’t want the worry & stress of worrying about her furry babies while she was out of town.
2) Barbara had several cats and the oldest had medical issues. The cat had a heart condition, wasn’t on medication and technically shouldn’t have been alive. The cat was so stressed out and attached to her that every time she went out of town the cat had diarrhea. It often lasted a couple days after she returned from a trip and then cleared up. Barbara felt this was “Normal” and “Okay” there was nothing medically they could do about it & continued to travel. While out of town on a trip the cat developed pure bloody diarrhea which was brought to Barbara’s attention immediately as this was outside of what she had originally stated as “normal”. She discarded it again as “Normal”, “Okay”, that the cat was just stressed from her being gone, and refused for the cat to be taken to a vet. Upon her return the cat declined and almost passed away. Unexpectedly she rallied and pressed on surviving. Admitting to what had happened and almost losing the cat, the owner proceeded to book several shorter excursion trips. Despite knowing that her leaving stressed the cat out & put the cat’s health at risk.
There is nothing worse as a pet owner than going away on a trip to have your pet pass away or get sick while you are away. The enormous amount of grief and guilt is a burden I wouldn’t want to place on anybody. It’s a matter of personal judgment on the health and well-being of our pets if we decide to travel. But sadly I have seen and heard many pet owners teetering on leaving or not, on a trip while their pet’s life is hanging on by a thread. Leaving in hopes that the pet will hang on until they get home. So they put the burden on a pet sitter to keep their beloved pet alive until they return. Often pet sitters will have owners sign a waiver if they feel the pet is a medical risk and could pass while the owners are away.
Another popular phrase is “They will let me know when the time comes”. It’s said to look at the “quality of life”. Generally this means they are eating, drinking, and eliminating in the proper spot without accidents. But it is often misconstrued by seeing things we want to see as signs of our pet wanting to continue on. An animal’s survival instinct is to not show it’s sick or injured. A Pet getting up to greet us at the door when we arrive home is a popular one. But what if that one action is their sole action that took all their strength to muster up for the day? Pets live to please us & many are fighters. They fight for us! They want to be with us, there for us & not let us down. But it is our job as pet parents to tell them its okay, they don’t have to fight anymore & we will be okay without them. It is so hard to watch pets decline and fight the good fight. All the while knowing the inevitable and watching them get pills & medications shoved down their throats to keep them going. I guess it’s easier to say looking in from the outside.
A week after losing her cat Cassie my sister went to visit a friend of hers. Her friend had an 18 year old cat inherited from a friend of hers who had passed years earlier. My sister said “It was the saddest thing. He was skin & bones – weighing about 8 pounds and he used to be like 20 pounds. He’s getting 4 medications – 4 times a day. He gets laxatives to help him go to the bathroom. He’s a mess covered in food and medicine. I felt bad for the cat. Who wants to live life like that & walking around looking like that? I’m so glad I didn’t let Cassie get to that point & let her go.”
I have to admit it was an all too familiar scenario to me as a pet sitter. Pets fragile and clinging on for dear life while getting dozens of medications several times a day to keep them alive. All I can think is “How would you like to be in their shoes?” & “What kind of life is that for them?” but it’s not my pets & not my place to say anything.
I have learned over the years, it doesn’t matter if you have a million or even a billion dollars – money can’t always save a pets life. In the case of my Karley & Kizmet – they each had cancer. With Karley, I tried to fight, emptied my bank accounts and lost within 48 hours. Kizzy was diagnosed on a Wednesday and I decided to let her go on that following Saturday. People asked why I prolonged it that 3 days. I admit I was selfish and couldn’t say good bye the minute she was diagnosed. I still wanted some special time to say goodbye to my baby. I was asked if Kizzy was suffering. I don’t think she was in pain but I know she felt like crap. You could tell just by looking at her. She wasn’t happy & she didn’t feel good. She hadn’t been living much of a life just sleeping on the couch the past couple months or recently hiding under the bed. What kind of life was that for her? I saw the tumors in her lungs. No amount of money was going to save Kizzy or Karley by the time it was discovered. Having lost family and friends to cancer. I’ve seen first-hand what cancer treatments such as chemo does to a person physically. The fact is – there is no cure for cancer in pets. Chemo for pets is expensive and only prolongs the inevitable. I wanted to remember Kizzy as the cat who was 16# at her top weight & put Garfield to shame eating everything in sight. LOL Not a shell of a cat, skin & bones at 8# fighting the cancer demon day in & day out to live. To live for what? For me? To keep me happy? That wasn’t fair to her.
Prolonging the inevitable……..sounds selfish doesn’t it? Our pets do so much for us unconditionally. Don’t we as pet owners, owe them the respect of letting them pass on with dignity and without suffering? Rather than holding on and spending tons of money to prolong their lives for our own personal reasons. We want our pets happy and need to keep their happiness as the focus point of their lives from the beginning to the end.
As I write this I have tears welling up in my eyes with thoughts of how much I miss both Kizzy & Karley. But I do not have one ounce of guilt because I know my fur babies are at peace and with me in spirit. I made the right decision to let them cross the Rainbow Bridge and I will see them again someday. That makes me smile & appreciate even more the time I have now with my other fur babies Kaize, Sheena & Cleo. Each of them hold a special place in my heart. I need to focus on the time I have with them now and making their lives as happy as they make mine.