Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Last look

In October 2004, my sister found two fur-ball kittens abandoned near her home in Chicago. Her landlord, who lived in the flat below, had a no-tolerance policy towards animals - and a tendency to enter the apartment whenever she felt like it. These were just about the cutest kittens my sister had ever seen and they seemed exceptionally bright and affectionate, so she hated to just drop them off at the shelter. She called and asked if she could bring them down. "They are so adorable," she said. "If you can't keep them, I know you'll find homes for them immediately."

The next Monday, I had the above picture as my computer's wallpaper - I knew someone would see them and fall in love. It was probably that afternoon that my coworker Andy came by and saw the photo. He had been thinking about getting his family a pet. I told him that cats really do better if adopted in pairs - they can terrorize each other rather than the humans around them. He loved the look of the black cat - and just didn't know if two was a good idea. Well, I said, the grey one has had diarrhea, so I needed to take her in to the vet anyway.

His family loved the kitten…and Andy's daily reports told of him eating lots, growing at an alarming rate, using his litter box right off the bat, and being one happy cat.

At first the vets thought Sophie was smaller than her brother just because of the gender difference - and that the diarrhea may have been caused by the kitten formula I put on her food to soften it. When I brought her in for her first shots, however, I explained that she still had diarrhea and didn't like using her litter box. Sometimes she would just sit hunched up and cry if I picked her up. This was Thanksgiving weekend and all of my family was at my house. That Friday, the vet called to say Sophie's x-rays showed some abnormalities in the intestines. The enthusiastic young vet who had just joined the clinic said he could open her up and take a look.

To explain my agreement with this plan, I have to say that I had already fallen in love with "Soph the Moph." She loved to be held - she never scratched - she had beautiful eyes that would look into mine intently. She found the dogs interesting. "Or, we could euthanize her," the vet said.

"No, let's see if we can help her," I told him.

It turned out she had a deformed intestinal tract. The vet called me from surgery and said he could try to cut out the deformed areas and stitch her back together. Intestinal surgery in cats, he warned, is often unsuccessful.

I got my whole family to think positive thoughts for Sophie's recovery. And, much to all the vets' surprise, she recovered beautifully. Well, maybe "beautifully" is too strong. She thrived. She ate well and she started to gain weight. She had very soft stools, however, and never did master the litter box. I can't count the number of times I would come home at lunch and find her hunched up, looking uncomfortable. The clinic showed me how to give her antinflammatory injections. We did find a miracle food for her. If I gave her a tablespoon of pumpkin every day, she kept fairly "regular."

One day this spring, I realized that I hadn't had to take Sophie in or give her a shot in several months. She seemed to have outgrown her problems. She loved being outside in the yard. She was a fearless mouser, always dumping her prey on the back porch for my approval. She remained the sweetest kitten ever - she loved to cuddle or have me hold her near my face and talk to her. I found her personality so charming that she could just make me smile by walking in the room.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that she was limping. Then, she developed horrible blackish-brown diarrhea. Once the vet clinic hooked her up to fluids, she perked right up, ate, and her leg felt better. When I brought her home, she wouldn't eat and her limp got worse. She lost weight dramatically and wouldn't eat anything but a little chicken broth. She became skin and bones and only wanted to lie under the bed.

Monday was one of the most horrible mornings of my life. I had been stung by wasps the day before and was having an allergy attack. I got up throughout the night to check on Sophie.

I called the vet clinic first thing Monday morning and told them I thought she needed to be euthanized. I thought when I took her in they would disagree with my assessment. Instead, the vet said "I think it is time."

I held my Sophie through the procedure, with tears streaming down my face. Our eyes were locked on each other's - until hers gave up.

Andy stopped by my office this afternoon and I shared with him again the photos of the kittens. He told me that Sophie's brother was now 17 pounds! I hope he lives a good, happy, long life and brings his family as much joy as Sophie brought me.

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