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.

Tidy

Tidy

This is Scout at 5 months old in 2001, she had been with us for a few months at this point. She sat and slept in very tidy positions, a big change compared to our other cat Templeton.

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.

Scout 2001-2013

Our cat Scout in her heated bed

About twelve years ago, a feral cat had a litter of kittens underneath the house of a friend of ours. The mother disappeared not long after so our friend hand-raised the kittens. When they were old enough to be adopted out, we were offered an adorable little black-and-white kitten.

We named her Scout.

As we left their house my wife drove while I sat in the back seat beside Scout in her cat carrier, but she kept mewing and mewing so I let her out into my lap. She promptly started climbing up my shirt and I discovered that being little doesn’t mean kitten claws aren’t sharp. When we got home, at first we kept her in a bathroom so she and our cat Templeton could gradually get to know one another. Scout hated being isolated in there, so to comfort her I’d lay on the hard floor and she’d curl up under my chin and fall asleep.

Even after being released into the house at large, she’d curl up under my chin at night. She soon grew too large to sleep around my neck and moved to my chest, where she’s slept every night for the last twelve years, usually with her face pointing towards my legs and her tail wrapped around my face.

A special bond formed between us that lasted throughout her life.

Earlier this week she didn’t come up to sleep on me, and when it happened the second night in a row, I knew something was wrong. She kept trying to hide places, like she was looking for a place to die, so we took her into our local vet who started a bunch of tests and determined she had a severe case of anemia, but didn’t know why.

To try and find the cause, she was transferred to another vet with round-the-clock care and more equipment for testing. Most of the early tests were encouraging in that she looked healthy apart from the anemia, but discouraging in that they couldn’t find the cause. The oxygen levels in her blood crashed to dangerous levels so she was given an emergency blood transfusion and thankfully it was successful and she recovered nicely. So nicely in fact that after they did a test for cancer in the spleen she was allowed to come home and spend the night with us. We were to give her medicines for the treatable causes of anemia since we still didn’t know the cause, while we waited on the results from her spleen test.

We got her home early yesterday evening and set her up in our bedroom, where she and I spent the next day together. At first she was back to her old self courtesy of the transfusion, which was remarkable to me since she had nearly died that morning. She snuggled up with me throughout the evening and then took her normal place on my chest throughout the night.

By morning the effects of the transfusion seemed to be wearing off and she tired more easily so I decided to give her some quiet time so she could sleep. But she wouldn’t sleep unless I lay there with her, so I climbed into bed and she curled up on my chest and we napped for a couple of hours. I got more and more worried as the day went along, as she seemed to get weaker and weaker.

In mid-afternoon the vet called with test results: she almost certainly had cancer of the spleen. They would need a second opinion from another specialist to be absolutely certain, which was going to take a couple of days, but it explained why Scout had been fading so quickly after the transfusion and why she wasn’t responding to any of the medicines she was taking.

By this point she didn’t want to move around much, so I just lay on the bed and let her sleep on my chest. I could feel her fading as time passed, even her purrs were getting weaker, softer, and harder to come by, as I stroked her soft fur as she slept. Late in the afternoon, she turned and crawled up to my face, hers right next to mine, and just purred and purred and purred. It was such a sweet and charming moment that it almost gave me second thoughts about what needed to be done.

While Scout was still purring against my face, my wife called when she was about to get off work. I let her know how weak Scout was and that I thought it was time, so she called our local vet to see if we could come in. We could, so I packed Scout into her carrier, without so much as a protest on her part, and met my wife there. We were led into a quiet, private room where Scout was euthanized.

She passed peacefully in my arms.

It was almost exactly a day from the time I brought her home after her transfusion to the time she passed away. In a strange way, my last day with Scout was also one of my favorites. I got to see her so full of life at first, just like her old self, then see her fade until we both knew it was time to say goodbye. But it was also a day full of snuggling, just the two of us, where she purred and purred and let me know how much she loved me. And I scratched her head and stroked her back and let her know how much I loved her.

And there was that last beautiful moment where we were face to face and she purred so happily. It was a great comfort to me to know what I comfort I was to her, and that even as she knew she was dying, she was where she wanted to be.

Oh Scout, how I loved you, and how I will miss you.

A Night With Scout

A close-up view of the black and white fur of our cat Scout

Scout’s emergency transfusion was successful, it not only saved her life but left her strong enough that they let us bring her home for the night, as she’ll be under much less stress here. Since we still don’t know the cause of her anemia, we don’t know how long the good effects of the transfusion will last, but we’ll evaluate her tomorrow morning and afternoon and bring her back in if she regresses.

The x-rays came back looking good, there were no obvious signs of cancer or any metal objects that might have caused internal bleeding. They took a test from her spleen this afternoon as it’s swollen a bit, it isn’t unusual with her level of anemia but they want to rule out cancer in the spleen itself. We’ll get those results back tomorrow. Depending on those results, and how she’s doing tomorrow, they may run another test to evaluate the quality of the red blood cells her bone marrow is producing (thankfully we do know it is producing them, a condition known as regenerative anemia — she’s generating red blood cells but her body is destroying them).

In the meantime she is getting medicine for two potential causes of anemia, infection and an auto-immune disorder. I’m hoping the cause is one of these two, as they are treatable to at least some degree. The infection possibility is unlikely but the easiest to treat. The auto-immune disorder would require her to take steroids for the rest of her life, ruining her shot at playing ball in the big leagues, not to mention putting her more at risk of some other diseases, but I’ll take it.

We’ve got her isolated in our bedroom for the time being to minimize her stress, I’m staying with her while my wife is sleeping downstairs with the other pets. We kept her here when she first fell ill and it helped calm her down substantially. She’s been eating and moving around nicely since we brought her home, a far cry from where we were a couple of days ago, and especially this morning.

At the moment she’s curled up on my legs, purring, about to fall asleep, her black-and-white fur gently rising and falling as she breathes. I took this picture of her fur a few days ago, I didn’t take any tonight to avoid adding stress to what has already been an exhausting day for her (and us).

It sure is good to have her home, and in good spirits. Here’s hoping she feels the same in the morning.