This morning, I said goodbye to my cats for the last time. I knew this day would come, but it all transpired much more quickly than I imagined. Chris and I have been considering this many times over the last year, but this time, it was really happening. I went into the bathroom one last time, scratched my two sweet baby kitties under their chins, and left the house sobbing.
The moment of realization occurred over the weekend when I unsuccessfully attempted to give Baby Jaye a steroid pill. When I had entered the bathroom, the shower walls were splattered with blood reminiscent of a scene from Psycho. Jaye’s allergies were flaring up and she was scratching herself to pieces. She had always been pretty easy with pills, but this time she fought hard. She spit out the pill and on second attempt, she fought even harder. As I attempted to shove the pill in her mouth, Nikko ran over to rescue her kitty sister, and started biting my arm. I let go of Jaye, looked around, fell to my knees and started crying. “What are we even doing right now?” I yelled out loud to myself. In addition to the blood covering the walls, piles of vomit, hairballs, and scabs littered the floor next to an upside-down step stool filled with cat urine that was dripping onto the floor. The cats had been living in our 2nd floor bathroom almost exclusively for the last year, and this was the typical situation when I went in to take care of them.
The cat-pill-moment was the last of over a dozen moments of realization that we need to put our cats to sleep. We kept putting it off in hopes that a magic solution would appear. Maybe there was an idea we hadn’t considered. We had tried anti-stress collars, pheromone plug-ins, different litter substrates, antidepressants, and more. Could we build a pee-proof room for them in the basement? Perhaps there was a friend that might adopt them that we hadn’t considered? “Do you know anyone that would be interested in adopting two sweet 15-year-old cats? They can’t be around dogs, are scared of young kids, and regularly pee outside of the litter box. They are declawed in the front, so I’m not sure how they’d do outside.” This question was usually met with a blank stare. I get it. It’s a hard sell. But, surely, there had to be someone that was in a better situation to take them than us.
As I looked around what we jokingly referred to as “the cathroom”, I knew it was really time. I texted our nanny, Wendy, that the time had come for the cats. “Don’t worry,” she responded I’ll take care of everything”. And I knew she would because she’s Wendy, and when she is on something, it happens.
Looking back at what these cats have meant to me throughout the years has been heart wrenching. I adopted them from a genetics a lab in 2003. I had just found my first apartment without roommates, and had been desperate to adopt a feline companion. I had just completed first year of vet school and was overcome with stress and anxiety. I thought adopting a cat would help me get through it. And it did.
I had originally planned to only adopt one cat, but decided to take a second when we couldn’t find a home for Jaye. She wasn’t much to look at. She had allergies even back then and had large clumps of fur missing from her face. She had one canine tooth that sometimes stuck out (her snaggle tooth), and was completely black aside from two little white strands on her chest. I knew I wanted Nikko from the moment I saw her. She was a gorgeous: a Siamese point tabby with bright blue eyes. In the colony, she was called Clarice, but all I could think when I heard that name was Silence of the Lambs, so I decided on Nikko, which means ‘cat’ in Japanese. All of the kittens in Jaye’s litter were named after Men in Black characters, a movie I have still never seen. We kept the name Jaye, but somehow a Baby got added to the front, and it stuck.
Jaye was one of the most affectionate lap cats I had ever met. When she got nervous, it manifested as increased affection, so from the moment she was introduced into my apartment, she stuck to me like glue. She would purr so loudly that I had to turn up the volume on the TV. Nikko was skittish at first. For a long time, she would only let me pet her on the window sill in my bedroom. She did enjoy affection, but only in her “safe space”.
After I adopted these kitties, I experienced a few of the hardest years of my life. Emotionally, I was broken. Physically, I was hurting myself. My anxiety and depression peaked with the demands of veterinary school. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed at all, and during those days, my kitties stayed by my side. I was their kitty momma, and I was all they needed. That might have been the thing that kept me going when I had very little desire to be here at all. They saved me then, but I couldn’t save them now. That’s the hardest part.
Before we had kids, these were my only babies. Any little symptom, and they were whisked to the vet school to be checked out within the week. Baby Jaye had every allergy test offered for a cat. She had an ultrasound after a bout of diarrhea. I treated my cats then the way I treat my kids now. When moved back to Pittsburgh, life got complicated. We rescued a pit bull mix that had been abandoned in the next door yard. Dotti was the sweetest pup and loved people, but chased the cats like prey. “Surely, they will be friends in time”, we thought. Sadly, that was not the case. Despite doggie classes and work with a private trainer, every interaction between the cats and dog ended with barking, chasing, and terrified cats urinating on the floor. The trainer feared that due to her lack of socialization early in life, our rescue dog may never be trusted around cats. So, we kept them separated at all times. Not ideal, but we made it work.
Then came the human children, and all bets were off, as anyone with kids certainly knows. Baby Jaye was terrified of Miles. When he’d cry, she would jump 3 feet in the air and tear out of the room. Nikko had always been skittish and a bit to herself, but now Jaye, who had previously stuck to me like glue, would hide in the laundry room for days at a time. Things were never the same after Miles was born. And it was around this time that the inappropriate urination began. We tried everything you could imagine, but things in our house slowly began to be destroyed by cat urine: two sofas, two chairs, and the carpet in pretty much every room. Eventually, we decided to keep them in the bathroom to get them used to peeing in a litter box again, but even then, they preferred to pee on the floor tiles in every corner. There were so many moments of frustration. So many arguments with Chris. So many times that I just wanted them to be gone. Miles began succeeding at potty training, but since we needed to keep the cats in the bathroom during the day, we had to keep a toy potty in the living room for him. “How long are we going to keep doing this?” I would ask Chris. “Is he going to be peeing in a tiny singing potty out here for the next 5 years?”
When I reached my moment of realization in the cathroom, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be with them for the euthanasia. I wish I was stronger, but I just couldn’t emotionally take it. I didn’t know how I could look that vet in the eye. We took the same oath, a lifelong obligation to relieve animal suffering. I felt like I had failed my cats and my profession. I should have been able to figure something out.
Chris and I spent all of last night hanging out with the cats knowing it was the end of our time together. The boys were excited to see the cats out and stayed by their side until bedtime. After they went to sleep, Chris and I watched a tv show; Baby Jaye on our laps, Nikko in the corner (she is too large for the window sill in this house or else I’m sure that’s where she’d be). It felt like old times. We reminisced about the cats. They had been with us for most of our relationship, and saying goodbye felt like closing a chapter of our lives. We stayed up until 2am talking and bawling our eyes out, knowing that this was our last moment with them. I didn’t want to go to sleep. I knew that when I woke up, it would be their last day. The cats were so content when we went to sleep that we couldn’t bear to put them back in the bathroom overnight. If they ruined something with pee on their last night on earth, so be it. For the first time in months, we found that they only peed in the litter box last night.
Sometimes (many times) there is no right choice. Sometimes you need to say goodbye with regrets, when you know you could have done more. My cats saved my life, but I couldn’t save them. They loved me when I didn’t love myself. After years of frustration, being replaced by children, and being banished into the bathroom, those kitties showed us nothing but love on their last day.
I came home after work today to find the bathroom empty in addition to a huge piece of my heart. Baby Jaye and Nikko, thank you for saving me. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, and I’ll miss you forever.