Don’t Open The Brown Paper Bag Next To The Ice Cream

187f3776-4747-421f-b7b6-2ff156d465b2_400[1]“You’ll take care of the body?” she asked gently.

“It’s going next to the ice cream in the freezer,” I told her.

She chuckled.

I had thought about putting our cat Angel in the shed until the ground thawed out. But that seemed insensitive and physically too far away until she was put to rest in our backyard. Of course, I could have had him cremated. But I didn’t want to. Yes, cost was part of it though I didn’t even look up how much it was. More than that, it seemed weird to have one animal cremated and not the rest.

Yes, we have a few animals buried in our yard. I should ask for a discount from MN Pets – our go-to place for euthanizing an animal in our home. They do such a good job at it. Angel will make it one dog, four cats. MN Pets sends us a Christmas card each year.

With Angel’s departure we are now at our city’s limit for how many animals residents can legally have — five total. We have two four-legged cats, one three-legged cat and two dogs.

Though I did tell Buddy, our dog, that if he wasn’t careful, I’d make it a twofer. The vet wasn’t sure what to make of my joking.

She didn’t know that we had been waiting for Angel to die for a long, long time. He was the energizer cat that went and went and went for 18 years. I’ve never had a pet that lived that long.

Angel was my buddy. He’d meet me at the door when I came home from work and come sit with me every morning. He was MY cat.

R.I.P. Angel

R.I.P. Angel

He was also the reason we had so many cat brushes around. That was our time together. I told Angel, that I would know it was his time when the day came that he didn’t want me to brush him. And, sadly, that day did come.

I made an appointment with MN Pets for a Monday so all of us could have the weekend with Angel. I quickly changed it to Saturday when it became clear that waiting for Monday wasn’t the loving thing to do.

Angel isn’t the first animal I’ve kept in the freezer until the ground thawed. And, he may not be the last. What else do you do in Minnesota when a pet dies in the winter? Thankfully, we have small dogs. A German Shepard or full grown lab would take up too much room.

Having the cat in the freezer is working out okay. It just freaks out Antonio and Crystel’s friends when they tell them not to open up the paper bag next to the ice cream.

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3-legged Cat

Antonio talking with Silver

Antonio talking with Silver

“I think we should put him down,” Antonio said through sobs. “I don’t want him to be in pain.”

I never thought that I’d ever hear him say those words. This was his cat he was talking about. His Silver. I had recently written a blog post about Silver and his sister, Oreo.

A coyote had crushed Silver’s back leg. We were looking at amputation.

I put my arm around Antonio and rested my head on his. Through tears I told him how very brave he was. Jody echoed the same sentiment.

How brave it was for him to see past his own want, his own need, to the life of his beloved pet.

And, to his death.

Antonio had experienced the death of two cats and a dog. Instead of the experience being tragic he participated in a welcoming end to a precious animal’s life. All of us, Jody, Crystel, Antonio, and me cried through each of the deaths and loved our companions to their last breath. The two cats and dog were either in our arms or one or two of us were lying next to the animal. Then we buried our buddy. Each taking turns shoveling the dirt.

The Boys

The Boys

Thank you MNpets for coming to our home, always making it easy and giving us just the right amount of privacy. I believe Antonio’s experience with dying has made him able to see past his sorrow to the restfulness of a pet who will no longer have to suffer.

Jody, Antonio, and I sat on the couch reminiscing about each companion that had died. Tears rolled down our cheeks. We talked about why we made the decision we did with each animal. You knew it was time.

I told Antonio that I wasn’t sure that it was Silver’s time. Silver had continued to eat. An indication that he wanted to live. Antonio needed to talk to him. Spend time with him and see what Silver told him.

“He’ll tell you,” I said. “You guys can talk. “

We pulled out the computer and read about the quality of life for a three-legged animal. We watched YouTube videos of three-legged cats.

In preparation for amputation, Jody and I gave Silver pain and nerve medicine as well as antibiotics every 8 hours.

When Monday came, Jody and I discussed how we needed to leave work and meet at home for Silver’s noon medicine. Antonio offered to get out of school. That was a possibility. We live next door to Richfield Middle School.

Silver our 3-legged cat

Silver our 3-legged cat

Looking ahead to Silver’s recovery after amputation, we talked about complications. Medicine might be needed on a regular basis and I was scheduled to be out of town.

“I can do it,” Antonio said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “One person has to keep Silver’s mouth open and the other has to squirt the syringe or put the pill in his mouth.”

“I can do whatever it takes,” he said with certainty.

And, you know what, I believe him.

 

 

 

 

 

Cat on a Walk

Silver, getting suited up for his walk.

Silver

Antonio stood at the door, a clipboard in his hand. “Would you like to buy a wreath from Boy Scouts?”

The man holding the door abruptly stepped outside and side-stepped around Antonio.

“Ssssh. Quiet. Stay still.” He crouched into a linebacker pose.

I watched from where I stood a few feet away.

The man was advancing slowly forward. He looked as if he was going to make a move.

I glanced to the side of his house. Suddenly, I understood. “That’s our cat,” I said.

“Really?” His body taut, still ready to pounce. He clearly didn’t believe me.

“Yes. He’s on a walk with us.”

“Really?” He wasn’t yet ready to give up snaring the cat.

“Yes. We live a few blocks over.”

Resigned, he stood up straight. “Someone said they were missing a cat that looks just like that.”

Rosie, Silver, and Oreo

Rosie, Silver, and Oreo in Donaldson Park

“No, that’s our cat,” I repeated.

Antonio came down the steps and turned to walk towards the next house. “Here, Silver. Here, boy.”

I caught up to him.

“Did you see that?” Antonio whispered. “He was going to take our cat.”

“Yeah, I did.” I looked at Silver a few respectful paces away. I studied him. “He looks homeless,” I said. “He doesn’t have a collar.”

Jody, Antonio, Crystel, and I are responsible cat owners. We take our cats in for their checkups. They have all their shots. They are also outdoor cats. We put collars on them when they were kittens. That didn’t go so well.

Oreo waiting for us.

Oreo waiting for us.

For the past six months Silver and/or Oreo have gone on walks with us. I first noticed it on a May morning when I was walking the dogs. Silver followed us up Morgan Avenue, down 73rd, all around Donaldson Park and back down 73rd and then Morgan Avenue to our home.

What to do? I gave him a treat just like I gave the dogs.

One of Antonio and Crystel’s chores this summer was to walk the dogs each day. More often than not, Silver and Oreo – his sister, accompanied them.

Sometimes, cars will stop and ask us if that’s our cat(s) following us. “Yes, we’re on a walk,” we’ll reply.

Adults with children will stop to pet the cats and/or dogs.

But, until now, we weren’t worried about the cats appearing to be homeless.

Orea and Buddy in-between walks

Oreo and Buddy in-between walks

Antonio and I continued knocking on doors. The further we went from our street the more Silver meowed. I understood. We were going further and further from his territory. His territory was east of Morgan not west where we were.This was confirmed when a woman said, “I haven’t seen that cat around here before.”

“No, that’s our cat. He’s on a walk with us,” I replied.

“That explains it,” she said.

I can’t say that we sold more wreaths by having Silver with us.

The next day all three outdoor cats had collars on whether they wanted them or not.

They’re our cats. They have a home.

 

 

On Loving (and Losing) Pets

Cat and dog lovers give our hearts to our pets without reservations.

When we begin a new relationship with a person, experience has taught us to take care with our hearts. But with a new dog or cat, we don’t worry if they’ll like us back, if they are willing to commit, if they will ever cheat on us, or if we’ll outgrow each other. We know they’ll love us wholeheartedly.

My Tasha

My Tasha

We allow ourselves to be caught up—they’re so cute, sweet, and funny—that we can easily lose all sense of perspective. But we’re enjoying them too much to care if the anecdotes we tell about them have become tedious.

We overlook how annoying our pets are—the messes, the whining, the way they eat stuff they shouldn’t, wreck our things, chew/scratch/claw—it’s all OK, because we’re besotted.

We worry about their health, pay hundreds of dollars in vet bills, fuss over special foods, and adapt our schedules so we can take care of ailing pets.

Ultimately, we agonize over end-of-life decisions: Do we have the right to keep them going even when they’re sick and in pain, because we aren’t ready to lose them? How will we know when they’ve had enough? How can we bear to part with them?

Despite knowing we will likely outlive our pets, we willingly take on the cycle of loving/caretaking/loss, because our pets give us so much joy. Unreservedly.

For anyone who has lost a beloved pet recently—especially Beth, Pam, Margo, Becky, and me.

SHE LOST HER PURR

Spirit

Spirit

After Kor Am Tae Kwon Do class, Antonio, Jody, and Crystel bustle inside. Soon I hear, plop, plop, boom as workout bag after workout bag bounces off the basement steps and lands on the bottom.  Antonio walks over to where I’m sitting, my hand lying on Spirit.

“Did you brush Spirit?” Antonio asks.

“Yeah, I forgot she was dead.”

He laughs. It helps to have a sense of humor when your pet has just died.

This is the first time Antonio and Crystel been old enough to understand the death of a pet.

JoJo and Angel

Angel and JoJo

JoJo died on Crystel’s 4th birthday, but this was after Jody and I visited the vet for the sick cat. While burying JoJo in the backyard, I told the children that animals and people don’t die completely, but their spirit lives on, so you could pet their energy. I thought all was going well for the 4-year olds, and I was especially touched when they asked permission to pet JoJo. I said, yes, and had an image of them floating their small hands in the air, caressing him above his grave. Fortunately, I looked out the window before they had shoveled JoJo back up. My spiritual talk flew right up to heaven past their little heads.

Now that they are 11, they could participate in Spirit’s death. Two hours earlier, all of us including our two dogs and other cat, were surrounding Spirit as Dr. Rebecca from MN Pets talked about the process. Earlier in the day I had asked for referrals. MN Pets as well as Animal House Call Service were recommended.I didn’t want Spirit to go one more day in pain.

My morning routine with Spirit was for her to sit on my lap. She’d crane her neck to give me a head butt. I’d brush under her chin where she liked it the most while listening to her purr. Jody had an evening routine that involved Spirit curling between her legs as she brushed her teeth. Between morning and night, Antonio and Crystel visited Spirit in one of her many hiding places.

Dr. Rebecca made us feel good about our decision to let Spirit go. She pointed out the signs as Crystel lay nose to nose with Spirit. She told us about the sleepy drug that she would give Spirit and then the final injection that would stop her heart.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

I noticed that I was trying not to cry, but then I realized that wouldn’t help the children at all if I didn’t show that it was okay to cry. So I got a box of Kleenex and let my feelings eek out.  

Crystel lifted her head. “Can I have one of Spirit’s whiskers?”

“Let’s talk about that later, Crystel.” I said. I didn’t really have a problem with this but the cat wasn’t even dead yet. Seemed like we were getting a little ahead of ourselves.

“Yes, let’s wait on that one, Crystel,” Jody said.

Spirit’s heart had stopped beating before Jody, Antonio, and Crystel left for Tae Kwon Do but I assured them that she wouldn’t be buried until they got back.

While they are gone, I continue to pet and brush Spirit until the warmth leaves her body.

Spirit's brother Angel

Spirit’s brother Angel

When they return, I ask, “Antonio and Crystel, are you going to carry Spirit outside?”

They negotiate how they are going to manipulate the cat bed out the patio door without dropping Spirit.

Spirit still looks like herself. She isn’t cold. She isn’t stiff. She doesn’t look like a ghost or a cat skeleton.

After placing Spirit in the hole, I ask, “Who wants to be first to shovel dirt on her?”

“I do,” Crystel says.

Tears and soil fall on Spirit.

Because we didn’t rush Spirit into the ground, death was not scary for the children—especially, since they came home to find Mama Beth brushing a dead cat.   It wasn’t even necessary to give them a talk about how our spirits still lives after we die. They were living it.