Have you ever had the rotten experience of having to put a pet down?
Buffy had grown up with me. I was 7 or 8 when I heard him mewing from the wheel well of my mother’s car in the driveway and rescued him. We took him to the local vet to have him checked out. He was such a scrawny little thing, barely old enough to be away from his mother. He was in good health though, and the vet gave him his shots. I remember her writing that he was a “buff” color, and being the incredibly imaginative child I was, I decided we should name him Buffy.
Buffy had a series of maladies as a kitten, the worst was a cyst in his neck that became infected. I don’t remember the details of how he got it, but I remember the tiny hole in his neck that we had to constantly clean and disinfect because there was a maggot or a worm or something in it that needed coaxing out. We would joke that he was “Buffy the Vampire Victim” because of the hole. It eventually cleared up and he grew up to a healthy adult.
I had a habit of rescuing strays, and a couple years later I brought home another kitten. He looked like he could be Buffy’s son, and he was a feisty, tough little rascal, so naturally I named him Tuffy. Buffy helped teach Tuffy how to cat, once he stopped trying to nurse on Buffy’s nonexistent teats. They became good friends.
As they got older, Tuffy remained sleek and lean, while Buffy put on some fluff. Neither were strictly indoor cats, they went out whenever they pleased, but they did sleep and eat in the house. They had a shared gravity feeder. We didn’t realize they were competitive eaters, and Buffy would often inhale his food whenever he ate and throw it back up next to the dish. We were always cleaning up half-chewed clumps of dry food.
Buffy loved to curl up on the back of the loveseat in the front window and sleep there, all day. He would wake to rigorously clean his nethers or get something to eat, but the older he got the more he slept.
He still loved to go outside when the weather was nice. He was even known to lounge by the pool in the summer, no matter how many times my stepdad threw him in to “cool him off.” It never perturbed him. He would swim to the stairs and climb out and dash away to the shade of a tree on the other end of the yard, but he never yowled or cried about being soaked. Tuffy was wiser, he didn’t come near the pool if my stepdad was out there.
Eventually I graduated high school and went off to college. My junior year, I lived in an on campus apartment with some friends I had made the previous year. In October, an off campus friend of one of my roommate’s had some trouble arise with her living situation and she needed someone to foster her cat for a month. We weren’t technically allowed pets on campus, but what the RA’s didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And having a cat around was rather soothing.
That’s how I wound up with a third cat by semester’s end. Chance was an orange tabby and a serious snuggle bug. He slept with me when I was sick, and made me laugh when I was stressed. The other girl never came back for him, and when the Thanksgiving break came around, someone had to take Chance with them. I already had two cats at home, so I had the resources to care for him. My family fell in love with him immediately, and at the end of the semester it was clear he had a new home.
He got on just fine with Buffy and Tuffy. Neither of them were aggressive. Buffy was old and lazy, Tuffy was indifferent. Chance was young and curious, and looked up to the two older cats and started taking after them when he discovered they could come and go as they pleased. He had been an indoor cat up to that point but there was no keeping him inside when the other two got to go out whenever they wanted.
I moved off campus for my senior year but left the cats at home. Early into the fall semester my mother texted me to let me know that Chance hadn’t been home in a few days. It wasn’t unusual for him to disappear for a day or two at a time, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I figured he’d be home by the time I came home for the first break.
He wasn’t. And worse, Tuffy had gone missing about a week later. A neighbor’s cat, an orange and white female named Lily, had gone missing about the same time as Chance. The two often played together, so I decided they had run off to Kitty Vegas to elope and Tuffy had just gone off looking to bring the young delinquents home. It was easier than facing the truth that they had likely met a hungry predator in the woods. I’ve always held out the hope that they found other families and lived out their lives in peace and safety.
At least we still had fat, lazy, nether-licking Buffy. For another few months anyway. When I came home for the summer, in May, we were forced to say our goodbyes to him, too. He was old, and had a terrible diet, and in the end his heart gave up on him.
We had all been out to dinner as a family. The sun had been shining. It was a beautiful late spring evening. And we got home to see Buffy crawling across the lawn to see us. We knew immediately that something was wrong. His hind legs weren’t working and he was pulling himself along with his front. When we got to his side, he was panting. I had never seen a cat pant before.
We spent the next hour googling his symptoms and calling the vet, trying to see if we could get him in. Our vet wasn’t home, but his voicemail directed us to a 24 hour emergency clinic he used. We wrapped Buffy in a blanket and put him in a laundry basket and rushed down to the clinic. The whole time he was panting, he never looked distressed. He knew his time was coming and he wanted to be near us at the end.
The prognosis was not good. Definite heart failure. The humane thing would be to let him go. I wanted them to do something, anything, give him something to heal him, not take him away from me. I had found him when he was a baby. He had grown up with me. He couldn’t be going away already.
My mom and my stepdad and my sisters all went in to the room to say goodbye. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be in there to watch him go. I sat on the front steps of the clinic and cried as I waited for my family to emerge with the empty laundry basket. Mom said he looked peaceful, happy that his family was with him at the end.
Sometimes I wonder if I regret not going in, if I was being selfish by not being there. But I also know I didn’t want to remember him like that. I wanted to remember him lying on the back of the loveseat, soaking up the sun in his afternoon nap. I wanted to remember him rolling in the grass and chasing chipmunks. I wanted to remember him crying at the fridge for a slice of bologna. I wanted to remember him as he lived. And that, I can live with.
Notes: I had several story ideas for this prompt, but as they all drew on the emotions from this experience, I realized I didn’t have it in me to craft something out of this pain. Not tonight, anyway. So this was a much more personal tale. It would be a good place to come back to for inspiration though, I have no doubt of that.
I hope you all enjoyed my husband’s short story yesterday. He really enjoyed writing it and I enjoyed working on other things. Sometimes we need a break. Perhaps you will see more from him in the future.
Wednesday’s prompt: Have you ever lived in another country besides your country of birth? Would you want to?
Kinda sick of this one to be honest, would love to see what it’s like in other countries, expand my worldview and all that. Should be an interesting prompt to work with though. See you tomorrow!