What was I thinking?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Saying goodbye

Six years ago, when Lisa moved into my home and my life, she brought her cat, Tigga with her. Tigga was a 10½ year old, overweight (20 lbs.) tabby who was afraid of her own shadow.

Lisa's former roommates had endlessly tormented her by chasing her with plastic bags, taking perverse pleasure in her terror.

When Tigga first came to our home, she hid under the covers on the bed in the spare bedroom for weeks on end, only coming out long enough to eat and then go back to the dark sanctuary she'd found under the covers.

After some time, I told Lisa that we needed to stop letting her hide out like that because it would become her way of life and I wanted her to have more of a life than that. Besides, I wasn't all that nuts about the fact that the spare bedroom was "occupied" in such a way and that bed was going to be so full of cat fur and god-knows-what-else that it would take enormous effort to clean it up if we ever had a guest. So, we started closing the doors to the three bedrooms upstairs so that she had noplace in there to hide.

She took to hanging out on the bench seat of the kitchen set. Still staying hidden, but beginning to come out a bit at night. I tried to make her comfortable and unafraid, but it was clearly going to be a monumental task.

As time went by, she began to come out more frequently in the evening and actually sit in/on the recliner with Lisa -- a familiar piece of furniture (Lisa brought it with her) from the "old days."

In six years, this cat morphed from that frightened feline who couldn't bear to come out into the light or where anyone else was to a prominent member of the household. As old as she is (and having no claws) somehow she became the "alpha" cat, commanding the respect (and a bit of leariness) from Cedar, a 7 year old fiesty female, complete with claws. Cedar steers wide berth around Tigga, which endlessly amused us because Tigga is so old and gentle and completely unable to defend herself.

We introduced Simba in 2001, a year after Tigga came to live with us. He was a piss-and-vinegar kitten who, most likely because Tigga had no claws to hurt him with, took a shine to Tigga and played with her constantly, to her endless irritation. Because Tigga is a "talker," her talk-growling at him always made me laugh because she sounded like something out of The Exorcist when she fussed at Simba. But, while she talked a mean game, she could be seen laying back-to-back or butt-to-butt with him during the cold weather. Simba just loves Tigga.

Simba "herds" Tigga to the food dish each morning. When he's ready to flop down for a nap, he seeks out Tigga and flops right up against her, sometimes causing her to get up and move, but often she'd just stay where she was, yapping at him most likely about the fact that she'd gotten there first and wasn't moving for him.

About three years ago, the vet told us that Tigga really needed to lose weight because, at her advanced age, there was always a concern about diabetes and other weight related problems. She was at 22½ lbs. We began a weight loss program for her, putting all the cat food dishes and the litter box downstairs, so she'd get that little bit of exercise each time she wanted to eat or toilet.

Over the course of the next few months, Tigga got down to a svelte 18 lbs., which is still overweight for a cat, but considerably healthier. She was more energetic and could get up on the furniture with ease.

Tigga also began going outside on the patio with Lisa in the mornings (while Lisa has her morning cigarette before driving to work -- she doesn't smoke in her vehicle). She'd lounge in the sun, or "graze" at the grass line that came up to the patio. She'd stopped hiding and had begun living, and she seemed to be really loving life.

I often commented to Lisa about how Tigga's personality mirrors Lisa's -- they were both very introverted and withdrawn when they moved in with us. I also often commented that, when Tigga's time came, I was glad to know that her life had been so much happier with us and that her last years were good, happy, loving years. Lisa always enthusiastically agreed.

Each morning when I put on my shoes, I sit at the top of the stairs that go down to the entryway and, as soon as Tigga sees those shoes in my hands, she meets me at the top of the stairs and, as I put on my shoes and socks, I put a lovin' on her. I'm not sure who trained who there.

A year ago May, I took up knitting. Because I'm off on Fridays during the summer, I'd spend my Fridays sitting on the couch working on my knitting. Tigga would get up on the couch beside me and sometimes bat at the knitting needles, sometimes doing "pushie-pushie" on the yarn or my leg, but always stayed right there next to me. She'd become my knitting buddy.

As the cold weather set in last year, she got a bit stiffer and had difficulty getting up onto the couch, so we got a stool for her to help her get up. If the knitting needles came out, Tigga magically appeared on the couch next to me. In the evenings, Lisa sits on one end of the couch, I sit on the other, and Tigga occupies the middle. We're three lumps on the couch each night, watching television or doing whatever.

About three months ago, we weighed Tigga and saw that she was down to 16 lbs. We were pleased with her weight loss. 6½ lbs. is a lot of weight for a cat -- and it represented a loss of almost 30% of her starting body weight. For me, today, a 30% loss of body weight would equate to more than 50 lbs.

We'd begun to give her glucosamine tablets for joint health, so that she wasn't as stiff and sore during the cold or damp weather. She seemed to slow down more last winter but, as the spring broke, she perked up and was more active.

In recent weeks, Lisa had commented a couple of times about how thin Tigga was looking, but we didn't really think much of it. But then we noticed that she didn't seem all that interested in eating very much and, when she turned down her treats, we became alarmed.

We weighed her and were astonished to see that she was down to 13½ lbs. Over the last weekend, she stopped eating completely and did nothing but lay on our bed (something we normally don't allow) and sleep the days away. But always she purred when we petted her or talked to her.

We took Tigga to the vet on Wednesday. By then, Tigga had lost another 1½ lbs, and was down to 12 lbs. That's too much weight too fast. On examination, the vet thought there might be an enlarged liver and possibly a mass in the abdomen. They kept her overnight so they could do an ultrasound. When they admitted her to the hospital, they found her to be dehydrated as well.

The ultrasound yesterday revealed masses in the abdomen and possible masses in the liver. The results of the ultrasound were emailed to a specialist and and the results were expected in late yesterday. They asked to keep Tigga overnight again to continue hydration therapy.

This morning, I spoke to the vet and was told that it is believed that Tigga has one of two forms of cancer that they suspect. One form (a lymphoma) responds well to steroids and, I was told, we can take her home and treat her with the steroids and see how she fares over the weekend. If she seems to improve, then we'd take her back in a week or so for another exam. It's possible we could have Tigga with us a bit longer if this is the form of cancer she has. And, the treatment isn't worse than the disease.

The other form, well, let's just say that euthanasia is the recommended course of action.

We don't want Tigga to suffer, whether it be physically or psychologically. Certainly I think it's important to bring Tigga home for the weekend so that Lisa has time to wrap her head around this, to process the potential loss of this beloved pet whom she's had her entire adult life. Through all of the trials and hardships that Lisa has undergone, Tigga has been her best friend. Tigga seems to have a sense for a troubled spirit -- she's always right up against me or Lisa if we're upset or sick.

I've missed her terribly the past two mornings -- the world is terribly unsettled when your routine is disturbed. I sat at the top of the steps to put my shoes on, but there was no Tigga. I started to put a shoe on before I put a sock on -- nothing seems right. Simba came over to me, nudging against me. He knew what was missing and I think tried to give me what I needed.

So, I'll pick Tigga up this afternoon and take her home and get out the knitting needles so she can stay with me and have "normal" back, until Lisa gets home. Then we can spend the weekend with her -- we've canceled plans to go to a festival with my aunt. We'll spend the weekend at home with Tigga, and work on saying goodbye.

It's hard enough to lose a pet that you love so much, but the part that sucks the most is playing God -- putting them to sleep.

But I keep reminding myself that it's an act of love.


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