Good-bye, Arfur or “Knowing when to let go”

ArfurWriting is therapeutic for the writer, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

We put Arfur to sleep early this morning. He was a really big kitty that at one time in his life weighed 24 pounds. That was several years ago and since then he had been on a stricter diet that regulated his weight, but he was always big-boned and big-personalitied.

After a month with painful urination and blood in his urine, Dean came home to find him in constant pain, which we suspect was caused by cancer. We met at the vet’s office where we discussed using ultrasound to try and find the problem. X-rays and various tests had really revealed nothing and so we were hoping this might at least confirm our suspicions. The earliest, we could get an appointment was Saturday morning–three days away–and so our course of action was to try pain medications.

However, by late yesterday night Arfur wasn’t moving and was literally howling every 20-30 minutes with pain. I’ve never heard an animal scream so loud and so mournful. Our hearts were breaking.

We’re fortunate to have a very good 24-hour emergency vet clinic within driving distance. One of our other cats, Monty, has been treated there and the quality of service has been great, although expensive. We took Arfur in around 2:00 a.m.

The vet weighed him and he was three pounds lighter than just a month ago. Just moving him caused him to howl in pain. She carried him to the back room for further examination and suggested an IV.

After a little while she returned with her prognosis and told us our options.

First, he was “critically ill”. We had suspected that but needed to hear it. Second, he was very anemic. Possibly, he’d lost half his blood in his urine. Third, she suggested a specialist, possibly someone at the University of Minnesota.

Then, matter-of-factly, she started telling us our costs for an ultrasound, hospitalization for 24 hours or just until 8:00 a.m. until we could get him to our vet, costs for a blood transfusion and costs for specialized medical treatment. I appreciated her honesty and straight-forwardness. We’d all like to think money is no object but without any sort of pet insurance it had to figure into our decision.

However, what clinched our decision was this: less than a couple of years ago Arfur’s sister from the same litter, Jen, quickly began losing weight. The vet couldn’t determine a cause but in the meantime suggested a feeding tube because she wasn’t eating. Those were a miserable couple of weeks of our lives. She was listless and apathetic and didn’t move even to go to the litter box. She had ceased being herself even before the tube. We had to feed her four to five times per day, which meant coming home over lunch hours and late night feedings.

Her last day we went to give her her morning feeding and she was having difficulty breathing. She was slowly, exaggeratedly gasping. Dean, who had been with his best friend while her mother passed away just weeks before, said, “This is exactly what happened to Mary just before the end. Her organs were shutting down.”

Jen’s last month alive was no life. She was miserable and so were we. Her last days of existence were so very undignified. We didn’t want this for Arfur.

I remember for Arfur and Jen that I said the same thing to the vet, each time choking on my words, “Can we just let him/her go?” For Jen and this morning for Arfur, just saying that was a feeling of immediate relief. The decision was made and relief was in sight.

The vet at the clinic seemed relieved too and reassured us that she thought this was a good decision. Then she immediately began telling us what to expect:

“The procedure is simply an overdose of pentobarbital injected directly into a vein. It’s quick and painless and just like going to sleep. During the procedure, he may urinate as he loses bladder control. You may see him take a last breath, which is really a muscle reaction. By that time he’s already passed away. You may also see twitching but this too occurs after the pet has passed away and is just a nerve reaction. Finally, animals don’t close their eyes when they go.”

This is almost exactly what we saw with Jen a year and a half ago. No twitching and no last gasp but the rest happened.

Dean and I both had our hands on Arfur, petting him, and I recall my lip quivering as tears were streaming down my face. The vet had the syringe in her pocket and when we gave the word she quickly injected the catheter that they had put in his paw for the IV. In seconds Arfur was still. He was out of his pain. We both leaned over and kissed him.

As strange as this may seem I didn’t cry much longer after that. My emotions seem to be the result of seeing suffering and I feel it was as minimal as possible for Arfur. Also, after we let Jen go we began thinking of her every time we saw our other cats. We spent more time with them, let them sit in our laps more often and pushed them away less often when they became a little too needy. Arfur and I had a routine where he’d greet me at the door when I cam home and I’d give him a good couple minutes of kitty massages and belly rubs.

Hug your pets like there’s no tomorrow. Both Jen and Arfur had dramatic turns in health in just a couple of days. I learned this from Jen and remembered it for Arfur. I’m so glad I did. Knowing that I had my special times with him made letting him go so much more easy and recognizing when to let him go made me feel he suffered as little as possible.

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