Treasures

Our cat Templeton giving our cat Scout a bath

We weren’t sure how Templeton would react to having another cat in the house when we brought Scout home in May of 2001, but thankfully he accepted her quickly. She idolized him and snuggled with him every chance she got, and he’d often lick her head and sometimes give her an entire bath. The two friends have been reunited again. As we did with Templeton, we had Scout cremated and my wife picked up her remains on Saturday. Scout’s ashes now join Templeton’s up on the mantle.

I took this picture of Templeton and Scout snuggling in the window seat of our old house in November of 2001. Nearly everything in the picture has changed since then. Both Templeton and Scout have since passed away. We moved half a year after the picture was taken and I no longer have that wonderful window seat where the cats and I so often snuggled. The pad that lined the seat, just visible in the lower left corner, was made by my mother-in-law who passed away a few years ago.

The blanket though, made by my wife for me years ago, remains. Time has taken its toll and there are tears in the fabric, but it remains the blanket I use every day in my office. It links all the pets together, as all past and present spent many hours sleeping and snuggling on it. I took it into the bedroom when Scout and I stayed there at the end of her life, she spent her last day on it as she slept on my chest.

There are more valuable blankets, but none more treasured.

Ending As It Began

Our cat Scout as a kitten

This picture is from the first batch I took of Scout after we brought her home as a kitten in May of 2001. I don’t think I’ve put it online before, I suppose because she looks upset, but as I was looking at it I was struck by how her life with us began and ended in a similar fashion. We kept her isolated from Templeton when we first brought her home but she hated being on her own and was only comforted if one of us went in with her. I’d lie at times on the hard linoleum floor and let her sleep under my chin.

Not unlike her last day when she was isolated from the others to avoid any stress as her life ebbed away, and she was only comforted when I went in with her and let her sleep on my chest. I learned from those early days with her and this time isolated her in our bedroom where I could lie down in comfort.

I can’t look at the picture without thinking of the day we brought her home, so full of hope, and of how far this little one exceeded those hopes. What a blessing she was!

Respect for the Queen

A close-up view of our dog Ellie resting on a pillow

Part of my morning ritual after I made my breakfast was to give the pets a little something to eat. Sam and Emma got a bit of wet food, Scout got some freeze-dried salmon or chicken, and Ellie got a bone-shaped treat. They got fed in that order so that peace would prevail, Sam and Emma first so that Scout could eat without Sam stealing her food, with Ellie waiting patiently on the far side of the room for her treat after the cats had been fed.

Occasionally Scout wouldn’t eat a few small morsels of her food, perhaps there was something in the taste or texture she didn’t care for, so I’d motion for Ellie to come over and clean up. Ellie is zealous about food and normally would have bounded over at full speed, but to avoid spooking Scout she would slink in slowly and quietly and then lick up the remaining tidbits.

Sometimes I’d hope Scout would leave a little bit just so I could see Ellie sneak over, it always made me smile to see her approach so respectfully, she’s never done it with any of the other pets (or us). I don’t know why Ellie decided that Scout was worthy of such respect, but it was always touching to see.

Before the Warm Beds, There Was a Pillow

Our cat Scout at 5 months old sleeping on a pillow

Another picture of Scout at five months old in 2001. Even as a kitten Scout often wanted to nap near me, which in general I found adorable, but when I was working at the computer she would sit directly on my right hand and try to sleep, meaning I couldn’t so much as move my hand without waking her. We hadn’t yet discovered the wonder of heated cat beds, but I came up with a compromise that she accepted: I kept a pillow beside my keyboard that she could sleep on.

Templeton started using it as well, but once the cats got hooked on the heated beds, there was no more need for the pillow. I did keep the beds right beside me though, right up through today, and part of remodeling my office meant making sure there was space for three heated beds near my desk and couch.

The Last Picture

My last picture with Scout

This is the last picture I took of Scout, about five or six hours before she died. I realized I didn’t have a picture of the two of us, so I took a quick series of pictures. I didn’t set the camera up all that well, I was too upset to focus on photography, but nevertheless I’m thankful for the pictures. I need to learn how to fix a few things in post-processing, like the excessive yellow in parts of my face that came from the room lighting instead of the flash.

I didn’t take many pictures since as you can see from her expression she was already on the decline and I didn’t want to stress her, so I soon put the camera away and snuggled with her instead. Although even when healthy I would see this face when she thought I had taken enough pictures, she wasn’t that fond of the camera. But in this case she was more ill than annoyed.

It’s easy after her death to feel guilty that I didn’t photograph her more in the last years of her life. And especially that I didn’t photograph the two of us together. To regret all the shots I didn’t take but should have. Or that over the years I didn’t upgrade cameras often enough so that many of my early pictures are at a low resolution, even on today’s monitors, and many from her middle years will be low in the era of retina displays. Or that I never learned to shoot video and don’t have good video — and especially audio — of her purring while curled up in her warm bed.

Some of that self-criticism is fair, and something I need to learn from. But some of it springs from the grief of losing her, when the sorrow subsides it will be easier to remember she benefitted more from me spending time with her than always trying for the perfect picture.

I certainly took a lot of pictures of her. It just hurts that I can’t take any more.

Scout at the End

Our cat Scout on our bed

Our cat Scout on our bed

These are some of the last pictures I took of Scout, taken around noon on the day she died. At this point she had already regressed quite a bit from the energetic cat I brought home after her blood transfusion, but we were still a couple of hours away from getting the news that she most likely had cancer of the spleen and would not recover. At times she seemed fine, just quiet, but I knew her so well that even then I knew she was slowly fading. Other times, as in the second picture, she even looked miserable and was only comforted when I set her on top of me.

For the rest of the afternoon, I put my camera and laptop away and just lay on my back and let her sleep on my chest, listening to her breathing and purring to try to determine when it was time to say goodbye. Whenever I got up to go the bathroom or check on the other pets, I lost my composure and broke down in tears. But when I was back in the room with her, a complete calm came over me, which kept my breathing nice and gentle as she relaxed on my chest, rising and falling with each breath I took.

If I could have been guaranteed she would die peacefully, I would have kept her there to the end. But I was afraid she’d die a painful death, or worse that she would suffer a painful seizure or organ failure and still be alive and in pain. I wanted the pain to be mine, not hers, and wanted her to be euthanized.

The only question was when.

When the specialist vet called with the news that Scout likely wouldn’t recover, she said that she shouldn’t have lost that much energy that quickly after her transfusion if it had been any of the treatable causes of anemia. Scout was still eating which she thought was a good sign, she thought she’d stop as she got weaker and agreed that would be a good sign it was time to euthanize her.

But Scout, bless her heart, kept eating right up until the end. She couldn’t eat much at once, I suppose the effort must have tired her, so I kept the bowl beside me and fed her a piece at a time as she relaxed on me. She wasn’t as eager to drink which worried me more, but then I remembered that throughout her life she had tried to drink out of my water glass even when there was water in her bowl, so I brought up a full glass and she drank from that.

I thought Scout would let me know it was time by finding a place to hide, much like she had when she first fell ill, and like our cat Templeton did when it was his time. Since we were isolated in the bedroom I thought she’d hide under the bed, or at least under the covers, but as the afternoon wore on I realized she wanted to stay with me until the end. If I had to get up she went to the spot she had chosen as her spot, the place where I lay my head when I sleep every night.

So close was our bond.

Late in the afternoon when she snuggled up to my face and began purring, she was so close I couldn’t see anything but her face, hear nothing but her purrs, and wanted that moment to last forever. But I could see how pale her nose was getting, a sign the oxygen levels in her blood were dropping low. My wife soon called when she got off work and we agreed to meet at our local vet which was not only close by but also where we were most comfortable and knew the staff, and they knew Scout.

It was time.

It broke my heart to break up that moment, Scout purring so happily in my face, as I knew it would be our last happy moment together. But I didn’t want to risk waiting too long, so I gently eased her off my chest and set her on the bed. Her cat carrier was stashed just outside the bedroom and in the time it took me to take a few steps to the door and turn around again, she had eaten a few bites and was back in her spot at my pillow.

She looked so miserable, I knew it was time.

When she didn’t fight me going in the carrier, I knew it then too. After the short ride to the vet, she perked up a bit at first when we were in the private room, but she stayed quiet, and soon just tried to bury her head in my chest. Our vet came in and gave her a shot with both a painkiller and sedative and Scout soon fell asleep awkwardly on my lap. I couldn’t see her face but we knew she was asleep because she was snoring. Scout was a quiet and small cat, and when she snored sometimes as she slept, her snore was quiet and small too. It always brought a smile to my face, and there she was, about to die, making me smile through my tears.

The vet took her away to insert a catheter, saying it usually took about five minutes, but it took a little longer with Scout because her blood pressure was so low from her anemia. I didn’t have any doubts that we were doing the right thing, but I was thankful we hadn’t waited any longer.

She brought Scout back in sound asleep and curled up in a padded wicker basket, a lovely gesture as I could set her in my lap and still have her look as peaceful as if she had been curled up in her beloved heated bed. The vet gave her two quick injections through the catheter and almost immediately Scout breathed her last.

They were willing to let us stay as long as we wanted, and I would have thought I’d want to stay for a little while. But when I saw her stop breathing, I just stroked her lovely soft fur a few times — she kept herself groomed right up to the end — and I was ready for them to take her. Scout had prepared me to say goodbye all day long and now that she was gone, I let her go.

It was time.