Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Life’s hard lessons

Life’s Hard Lessons

Astute readers may have taken note that while I wrote a lot about my old cat Angus, especially his rather sudden illness and death five years ago, and I write a lot about Tyler, I don’t mention our other cat Kayla too much, except to occasional acknowledge her in a DITL segment. There is a bit of a reason behind that. Kayla was meant to be a cat for Husband, as he was very jealous of my relationship with Angus. While Angus was welcoming toward Husband when he moved in after we married, he always made it clear that I was his human. We added Kayla to our family when she was a four month old kitten, she bonded with Husband and would sit out his lap while he worked.

When we moved to our new house two years later, I noticed she was less friendly toward me. She would tend to run away if I approached her, but if Husband were away, she would come to me looking for affection. She was never a lap cat in the way that Angus and Tyler were, but she would enjoys some pets and cuddles and then move on when she was done. As I look back now, I think she became more standoffish near the time when Angus became sick, but eventually she would start to run away from everyone all the time and never seek any attention. I once joked with my vet that I thought she might be on the Kitty Autism Spectrum as she refused to make eye contact and my vet replied “Oh, I’m sure animals have all those disorders; we just don’t know how to identify and diagnosed them”

Perhaps, she was trying to signal to us that Angus was getting sick. I have no doubt that she knew long before we recognized his drastic weight loss. She started peeing on stuff. It could be the bath mat. Or out bed. She would pull towels off the drying rack so she could pee on them. Husband and I both made the mistake of leaving a jacket on a chair only to have her drag it to the floor and urinate on it. It was an effective tool as I often remarked how sometimes Husband could get as close as to hang his jacket on the knob of the closet door, but not go the distance to hang the jacket inside the door… I set up a special litter box of cheap towels for her in our guest bathroom. It was both awkward to shop for towels for your cat to pee on and then to explain to guests not to use those towels. However, it worked. For a while…

Then she started peeing on our couches. At first it wasn’t too often. We’d wash the couch pieces and spray with Feli.way spray, which is supposed to help cats feel more calm and less stressed. I brought dipsticks home to test her urine. Always negative. The vet ran bloodwork. Totally normal. We tried more Feli.way diffusers. Kitty anti-depressants and CBD oils. We’d be pee free for a few months at a time. During my parents visit this past Christmas there were some peeing episodes which prompted an urgent cleaning session as we were hosting my aunt and uncle on Christmas Day and our friends on New Years Day. Despite the team effort to clean every piece entirely, the horrible stench of cat urine still lingered. I lit multiple “Evergreen” scented candles to try to hide the scent,  which I explained was to compensate for our artificial Christmas tree. A clever rouse, but I’m not sure if anyone bought it.

My mother suggested that we try to rehouse Kayla and Husband was on board with that idea and suggested we pursue it after we returned from England and Ireland at the end of January. I knew it would be very difficult to place an older, unsocial cat with a behavior problem and knew we had to consider a different solution. We came back from our trip and continued to wash certain couch cushions and covers on a monthly basis. Like every prior occasion, we just hoped that she would magically stop. Then one week in June, while Husband was away, I thoroughly cleaned each piece of the couch. One week. Only one week later, Kate and I came home from the Farmer’s Market on a Sunday afternoon. When we pulled into the driveway, I discovered that Husband had taken apart the sofa cushions yet again. The smell of cat urine filled the garage. We couldn’t live this way any longer.
We never used our living room. The couch was draped with blankets and plastic scat mats to discourage the cats, but they only worked for so long. I was reluctant to have anyone over to our house because I was afraid our house might smell like cat pee. We asked ourselves if we were sure that it was only Kayla doing the peeing. I was and it was more than just my instincts to protect my Tyler kitty. There was never any pee in the other places of the house where Tyler spend his time. Not on our bed, not in the guest room or on the glider in Kate’s room. In fact, I took note that Kayla never spent any of her time outside of the living room. I began to question what quality she had to her life.

My vet had the same thought when I contacted her about putting Kayla down. If she was urinating outside her box that much, then she must be really stressed. I reckoned that she never really got over Angus’s death and was never quite the same after he passed. I began to think about them being together again as a way to make peace with our decision. “Are we doing the right thing” Husband must have asked at least a dozen times. As hard as it was going to be. My answer was always yes.

Not as hard as having to explain it to Kate. We briefly introduced the concept of death when explaining about the dangers of cars and why she must hold a hand in a parking lot and not slip her arms out of her car seat straps and my little Houdini is so good at doing. “If you get hit by a car or if we get in a car accident you might die, which means you wouldn’t ever see Mommy or Daddy again” Husband explained, perhaps with a bit of fear factor thrown in to get her to comply. Since the date we scheduled for the cat’s appointment was the day after Kate’s birthday party and I didn’t want it to be a sudden announcement or for her to look back and remember it was right after her birthday party. We started explaining that Kayla was very sick, and sometimes when you’re sick the doctors can’t make you better and you might die, which means you leave this earth.

“Just tell her that Kayla is going to live on a farm with other cats” Co-worker suggested while admitting that is what she told her soon to be six year old twins earlier this year when she put her ailing cat down. “The boys said goodbye to [their cat] but this way Kate won’t worry about you and Husband dying.” I just couldn’t do that. I feel we’ve whiffed a bit at explaining some big issues. Husband did the ‘Santa couldn’t fit this toy on his sleigh and gave it to us to give to you’ when she found an unwrapped present in my closet. When Kate asked about the few spots of blood she saw on my underwear? “Mommy has an owie.” “Yes, on my hoo-ha” For the record, she does know the proper word for vagina. It just is really cute when she says hoo-ha.

This time I knew we needed to step up to the plate and deliver. I went to the library and searched the card catalogue for books about losing a pet. I flipped through the first one and started bawling in the children‘ section of the library. The second one I found was by Fred Rodgers. I didn’t even open it in the Library. It just seemed so full circle. I grew up with Mister Rodgers and long after his death, his lessons and his love would help my child through one of the most difficult times of life.

So we plowed through the difficult conversations. Reassuring Kate that Tyler, Mommy and Daddy, Grami and Papi, Nan and even though my FIL was recently admitted to the hospital as he barely had a blood pressure, none of us are dying anytime soon. Talking to Kate about what happens after you die “No one knows, so we make up what we want to believe about it” was the answer from an atheist. Saying goodbye to Kayla that morning and explaining to her on the way to school that no, she could not come to the vet with us. “Kate, I don’t want to be there!” I expressed in a hopeful attempt to get her abandon her request.

As we were busy unpacking and cleaning up after Kate’s birthday party, it provided a bit of a distraction, but I couldn’t help feel waves of guilt every time I looked at Kayla. She doesn’t know this is her last night. Her last time eating… I had taken the afternoon off from work. Husband closed all the doors to the bedrooms to make it easier to capture her. As soon as I walked into the living room I saw her looking out the sliding glass door window. That’s her last time looking outside… Tears welled up in my eyes at that moment and as I’m typing , once again, they are rolling down my cheek.

It wasn’t too much of a chase before I was able to grab her and put her in her cat carrier. I held her on my lap while Husband drove. She meowed a bit and I stuck my hand in the carrier to pet her. It’s probably the most affection we’ve shared in years. Our vet had been really supportive of our decision, she acknowledged that we had tried so many things to stop this behavior and she she twice revealed that she probably would have done the same time. She is also nine months pregnant and the other factor that added urgency to our situation as I wanted her to be the one to do it, rather than an other vet in the office. She’s a fellow swimmer (taking a break during her pregnancy) and she was the one who gave us Angus diagnosis and grave prognosis.

I’m believing what I want to believe, but Kayla actually seemed at peace when we arrived at the vet, and that was before the vet administered the sedative (I was relieved she didn’t have to place an IV). We all pet her during her final moments and I told her that we loved her and let her know she was going to see Angus soon and I asked her to tell him about Kate. Husband and I both broke down in tears. When we went to pay and make arrangements for her cremation, the receptionist asked if I wanted her name etched on the box and if so to write it down on the form. It wrote “name etched on the box” on the line where it asked ‘Name:’ “No, the woman explained “You have to write the name as you want it to appear on the box” We finally had some laughter to cut a bit of the tension on a terrible sucky day.

Husband and I went furniture shopping after we left the vet. While it did feel that we were dancing on Kayla’s grave (even though she’s being cremated) it’s a rare event that we have some time to ourselves without Kate to do boring adult things like furniture shopping. Also, as Husband hates spending money, I kind of had a fear that it we didn’t get a new sofa now, we might be stuck with our pee stained ones, which might encourage Tyler to get through his grief by peeing on the sofa and we’d be in a whole new cycle.

Overall Kate handled the situation rather well. We let her Pre-school teachers know what was going on and the school director actually printed some pictures of cats for her to make a special art project on the day we put her down. I’m somewhat viewing it as a ‘dry run’ for the next time such a situation presents. Kate’s actually been dealing with another tough lesson in life; her best friend at her current school is moving on to a different school. I can relate to this as my friend from the gym just moved to SoCal this week. She’s accepted a 1-2 year teaching position and is hoping to be back (they haven’t sold their house, so I’m somewhat hopeful that they will return, especially as her husband really wants to come back, but my last friend in academia who left for a 3 year position in Scotland 8 years ago hasn’t returned…). I’ve been in denial about it for quite a while, but she moved this weekend so it’s finally real. It’s hard to be a mom in your 40s and find friends, who are your age, your kids are about the same age and play well together, and you have something in common outside of your kids. I just really wish I hadn’t taken so long to see her as a potential friend. That’s the lesson I’m really trying to share with Kate. You never know when people and pets will be in or out of your life, so appreciate all the time you have with them.


  1. Sorry for your loss. What a rough experience for you and Kate and everyone. It sounds like you handled it very well though.

    I also don't believe in lying or sugar coating to kids. We talk pretty honestly about what death is and that is reflected in the way AJ talks about it. Recently she talked about the life cycle of a raspberry: "When it's green its a baby raspberry, when it's pink it's a teenager, and when it's red it's an adult. When it dies....it's nothing because it's in your tummy." That was kind of hilarious but sometimes she does get unnervingly matter of fact in her musings. She will quite casually remind us that we are going to die and so is she and everyone else. She knows that my dad died, and my mom is alone and sad a lot of the time. Perhaps more disturbingly a former colleague's husband died at age 35, leaving a daughter about AJ's age. Se AJ knows that not only old people die. She has on a couple of occasions cried and said she doesn't want to die, she doesn't want us to die. But I think it is still healthy for kids to think about these matters, as long as they know they can discuss it safely. As with other scary and difficult things in life, I believe it's not my job to protect her (entirely) from it but to help her learn to understand and cope with it.

    Regarding awkward questions about Santa Claus or other improbabilities, I generally say "It works by MAGIC!" as long as she is content to believe in magic and wants to, I think that's satisfactory....but if she one day asks what magic is and if it's real I'll also be honest.

    I really like your final thought on not taking things for granted, in particular.

  2. Ugh, I'm so sorry Jane. When we had to put my 17 year old childhood dog down back in 2013, there were obviously no kids to comfort. Toby is 10 and has a lot of years left, but one day it's going to come. Sending you a hug.

  3. I'm sorry you had to put Kayla down. Any type of loss is hard, even if it's a friend moving away, or a cat you weren't that close with. Hopefully you've found a couch that you all love!

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