When I was just 15, my parents surprised me with a kitten. I guess they were suffering from a combination of empty nest syndrome (I was away on a class trip to Quebec) and anticipatory loss, because our dog was dying of cancer.
I had wanted a cat for years, but my parents weren’t cat people. When I was 10, my friend’s cat had kittens and I fell in love with one of them but my parents resisted all my pleading, and he went to someone else (I recently saw a cat at my work who was a dead ringer for that kitten – I think part of me will always be looking for him). They had let me have mice, gerbils, birds, fish, and a dog, but they drew their line at cats.
So when I came home from Quebec and found this tiny ball of fluff waiting for me, it was a dream come true.
“She’s yours for the next 20 years,” my parents warned me. “When you go to university, THIS goes with you.”
“Of course!” I said reverently, fingering the wispy tail.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Miss Pepper, so named for her missish attitude and peppery temper, was a true tortoiseshell.
She had a playful nature and enjoyed affection on her own terms. She was a funny little cat – she thought my gerbils were her own personal pets, purring and rubbing against them while they nibbled her fur, and would come crying to alert me if they escaped from their cage. My parents found a field mouse in the house and all she did was follow it around and keep trying to pat it on the head.
But she hissed at all strangers and I was the only person who could really touch her.
She loved me. She followed me everywhere, let me pick her up, slept on my bed, and played tag with me at night. The day she was spayed and declawed, I came home from school to find her snuggled on a hot water bottle in a basket, where she had been lying sleepily since my mother picked her up.
The moment she saw me, though, she began crying and trying to crawl out of the basket. I was obliged to carry the basket around with me for the rest of the evening so that she wouldn’t exert herself.
My first year at University changed all that.
Obviously I couldn’t take her to residence with me, so she stayed behind.
Miss P was NOT impressed at being abandoned. She hardly spoke to me for over a year.
By the end of my second year in university, she had begun to adjust. She accepted that I came and went at unpredictable intervals and condescended to let me pat her in the sink occasionally. But the old camaraderie was gone. She had transferred her affections to my father.
When I moved out of residence, I informed my parents that my new apartment took cats and asked them if I should take Miss P with me.
Maybe I should have. Maybe the change of scene would have been good for her. But my parents and I both wondered how well our reclusive, temperamental Miss would take a strange place with strange people.
My mother also worried that one of my roommates would leave a door ajar and let Miss Pepper escape. I admit that I was worried about that too.
So she stayed with my parents.
The first thing I did when I got out of University was get a puppy, and when I moved to Halifax, there was little question of Miss P moving with me. My parents were used to her, and she didn’t like the puppy much.
Later, I picked up another cat at my vet tech school. Inexplicably Loved Cat was the opposite of Miss Pepper in every way. She didn’t take to him, either.
When I moved to Vancouver, she gave up on me entirely. I couldn’t even pat her on visits home, now, though she would still accept treats graciously enough.
In recent years, Miss Pepper began to lose weight. Never a big eater, she had become borderline anorexic, and she was switched to kitten food in order to keep her weight up.
But she still kept losing weight. This year her bloodwork showed raised blood sugar levels. The vet told my mother that her blood sugar was “slightly elevated” and that it might be controllable with diet. Her gave her some diabetic cat food.
I asked my mother to send me the bloodwork. The blood sugar looked plenty elevated to me. It was 30, and normal range is, like, 8. In fact, your average glucometer doesn’t even read above 30.
I told my mother I thought she should have a fructosamine test run – a standard test that checks the average blood sugar levels over the last couple of weeks, as opposed to a blood glucose which only measures blood sugars at one particular moment in time.
Mum promised to ask at her next checkup, when she went in to see if the special food was regulating her sugar.
Then my Mum told me that Miss P was urinating in the kitchen: totally unlike her. I asked if she could try to collect some of it for a urine test. Mum said that if it happened again before her check up, she would try.
Check up time came – and it turned out that Miss Pepper had gone into a diabetic crisis. The vet sent away the fructosamine test that I had requested and shock and surprise! It turns out she wasn’t a little diabetic. She was REALLY DIABETIC. Now her kidneys were shutting down. She was hospitalized, put on fluids, force-fed, and brought back from the brink of death, but now with damaged kidneys.
Now, my father is a good person, but he comes from the days when cats were drowned in bags, not put on IV fluids and treated with human quality medicine. He began to wonder if a 15 year old cat was worth all of this.
My mother was more upset about the fact that she was now burdened with injecting my cat with insulin once a day. Since my father won’t touch a needle, my mother was thrown into a panic of “I can never leave the house ever ever again because no one else in the world would ever be willing to do this instead of me.”
I pointed out to her that I had a friend in town who would have been willing to give injections, but suggested that instead, she just bring Miss Pepper out to me.
The treatment that cost my parents hundreds of dollars would have cost me very little. I get veterinary supplies cost, free vet advice, and can do things like give fluids and injections myself. The single injection that seemed like such a burden to my mother was something that I do a zillion times a day anyway.
My mother’s first reaction was relief. “Really? You would do that?”
Of course. I just needed to talk it over with PH. While he was less than thrilled at the idea of obtaining a cat that has always hissed whenever he went near her, he would still rather Miss Pepper come live with us than be euthanized for no good reason.
After all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.
There were things we needed to work out, of course, considering that Miss Pepper was a reclusive misanthrope who hated both Beloved Dog and my Inexplicably Loved Cat and had never shown the slightest warm feeling towards our young son.
We decided that Miss Pepper could live in our room. She likes to sleep under beds, we usually keep that door closed against the pets during the day anyway, and it would be easy to find her in the morning to give her her insulin.
I told my mother to bring her when she came to see me in January.
Mum kept demurring. “Oh, I don’t know… it seems like such a burden to put on you.”
Not as much of a burden as worrying that my cat was going to be put to sleep for merely being an inconvenience.
Miss Pepper wasn’t helping matters – she was refusing to get well.
“So, my cat’s blood sugar is still high,” I told my boss, “but she doesn’t eat much and she’s still losing weight. Sometimes she gets wobbly in her back end.”
“Could be nerve damage from the diabetes. How’s her fructosamine?”
“As far as I know he hasn’t suggested running another one.”
“Get that cat out here.”
“She’s coming in January. IF I can convince my mother to get over her guilt and bring her.”
“The sooner the better, I think,” muttered my boss.
By Christmas, things had gotten really bad. My cat was on a whopping dose of insulin given her weight, and she urinated all over the presents on the tree. She has always loved to lie among the Christmas presents.
My parents had to confine her to the bathroom, though she didn’t seem to mind much. Mum said she was getting really thin.
I got a text this morning.
“Are you awake? Please call. We need to make a decision about Miss p.”
I called immediately.
My mother was in tears. “Her blood sugar is still high. She’s only 4 pounds. She’s severely dehydrated. Either we hospitalize her all over again or we euthanize her, and Carol, she’s not happy. She’s so thin, and she’s living in the bathroom… and we’d rather take the 100 dollars a month we’re spending on her and send it to you…”
“I don’t care about the money,” I said for what felt like the thousandth time. “I’d rather send YOU a hundred bucks a month than have you euthanize her for money reasons. The fact that she’s sick and she’s not getting better is the important thing here.”
So I gave permission for them to end the battle. I asked that they sedate her first, preferably with the torb/domitor mixture known to vets as Kitty Magic, because it makes cats so floppy and relaxed so quickly.
I got off the phone, and cried while feeding Owl oranges, and then snapped at him multiple times as we got ready to go to school.
“Sorry, Mommy,” he said, leaning on me, and I hugged him and almost cried again.
When I got home I called my mother and she confirmed that the deed was done, but wouldn’t go into details about how well she was sedated or how it went which makes me think that they wouldn’t use domitor and that it went badly. I hate to think that she was stressed in her last moments, but I’ve seen REALLY bad euthanasias, so it was probably better than those. I hope.
The vet clinic is holding her in their freezer until spring, when my parents will come and get her and bury her in the garden with Shadow.
Mum sounded down. I’m sure the decision was hard on her.
I hung up the phone and I sobbed into PH’s shoulder, while Owl plucked at my face, trying to mash it into a happier shape.
“Mommy sad. Mommy happy now?” Owl asked again and again.
“No, buddy, Mommy’s going to be sad for a while,” PH told my son, and took him up to bed.
I never dreamed, the last time I was home, that I was seeing Miss Pepper for the last time. I feel like I let her down. I wish I had done more for her. I wish I knew why her diabetes wasn’t responding to treatment. I wish it had. I wish I was still expecting her to come and live in my room.
I just wish.