Baby Kitty may seem like an odd name for a fifteen-year-old cat, but we inherited her by odd circumstances. She came from our previous cat Socks's final litter that Socks squeezed out just before we could get her fixed. Baby Kitty was wild, the only wild one of the six in the litter, and so was very shy around people. We gave away all of the kittens except for her only because we simply could not catch her. By the time we could catch her, we'd already had her for several months. She had long since passed the adorable kitten stage and so, well, I guess we were stuck with each other. But because we were ever hopeful in her early days that we would eventually find a home for her, we never officially picked out a name. She was simply The Baby Kitty by default, and the "The" fell off after a while.
I was the first to eventually earn her trust. By sitting in the garage for several hours a day over a few weeks' time, I waited for her to approach me. After a while I could pet her, and finally I could carry her with only mild complaints and a few scratches. But she never did totally lose her wildness; Baby Kitty would only let us pet her on her terms: we had to be sitting down, and once we started petting her, if we stopped, she would bite us.
Baby Kitty lived a good cat life, chasing tennis balls, birds, and squirrels, and she even bonded with our dog BooBoo when we trained him about a decade ago to do Cat Round-up at bedtime. Of all our cats, she was the most elusive, but BooBoo has a good nose and always managed to find her hiding spot.
Once, Baby Kitty pulled off a stunning feat when she jumped from a sitting position to about the five-foot mark as an escaped parakeet swooped across the room. As much as we mourned the unexpected and unfortunate passing of Sheila, we had to marvel at the super-cat-hero leap executed by the quiet and shy Baby Kitty.
She put up with us through five moves but finally let us know that enough was enough by refusing to come into our current house for the first four months. She spent the entire winter in the backyard. Within the past month, we noticed she had gotten quite thin, and in the past week had become mostly bones. Then she stopped eating completely, and her breathing worsened. As her health went downhill, we debated what to do.
I remember ten years ago when we lived in a lakeside neighborhood surrounded by trees and wildlife, the community took rabies very seriously, and once a year a local veterinarian would offer rabies shots at the community center. We took our pets down there along with Baby Kitty in a pet carrier. When I brought her up to the veterinarian, she refused to come out. We shook the carrier upside down but she managed to hang on. Both the vet and I tried to reach in to grab her, but she came at us swiping razor-claws and hissing and biting.
Finally, the veterinarian had me lock him in the car with the pet carrier. He bravely reached in, grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, pulled her out, shot her up, then thrust her back in the carrier, all in about ten seconds. I think he suffered a few scratches; the next year, his rabies clinic was noticeably absent on the community calendar.
So when we discussed our options as her health declined, the thought of putting her in a carrier and taking her to a place she feared and hated just didn't appeal to us. I could imagine her getting chased around the examination room until three or four of us cornered her so she could get her final shot. She would probably have narrowed her green eyes at us as if to say, “I knew it! I always knew you would do this to me in the end!”
When we came home the other night, her last night, she walked around shakily and somewhat delirious with ragged, heavy breathing. We tried to feed her bits of chicken by hand, give her water with a teaspoon, but she demurred. St. Pauli Girl held her in her lap for awhile before passing her over to me. I held her and thought her breathing was a little easier. She seemed almost normal for those few moments, albeit very skinny. She sat in my lap for an hour then stood up, ready to leave just like she always did. I tried to hold on to her, but she had other plans. I put her on the ground, and she made her way to a cool hiding place in the shed where she spent the night. She passed away the next morning not long after sunrise, as if she had purposely waited for us to wake up and come say goodbye.
I'm not going to say that she had a peaceful, painless death. But spending her last few minutes in terror at a place she hated wouldn't have necessarily been more peaceful. In the end, I think the three of us agreed it was the right way to go. We got to spend some quality time with her, and she got to go out on her own, in her own home.
So the death of a fifteen-year-old cat isn't really that sad; it's the stress, the agony of those final choices that you have to face. And really, that's mostly a just a harsh reminder of similar decisions we will someday have to make with our human loved ones.