Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Day of Mixed Feelings

Maisie came to us in January, 2009, part of a 'package deal' from the Pet Connection, a shelter for abandoned or otherwise homeless cats and dogs.
She had been brought in with her mate, Charlie [whom we suspect may also have been her brother or even her son] and three nearly-starved kittens.
These exotic cats had been noted by a kindly woman on the Wind River Indian Reservation--cats who had been abused and neglected by the owners, her neighbors.
The story goes that she simply collected the family of cats, brought them to the shelter and placed them--with a token $20 dollar bill--at the mercy of the volunteer care givers.
I was in the habit of donating to the shelter when I could--modest amounts of money or sacks of cat kibble and litter.
I tried not to go often into the room where the cats were housed--in the back of a local veterinary clinic.
I know my weakness for homeless cats!
Son-in-law M. was indignant that I hadn't visited to see the kittens, whose photos, now that they were clean and decently fed, adorned posters at the grocery store's bulletin board.
When he prodded a second time, I stopped at the shelter one afternoon after work.
To shorten the outcome of a too familiar tale, I came home with two kittens who became known as Jemima and Chester. The third kitten had some special medical needs that I felt I couldn't cope with financially.
He was later adopted by a couple from Colorado, pledged to care for the eye infection that was a legacy of mal-nutrition and deplorable conditions.
Charlie [called 'Otis' at the shelter] was impossible to ignore.  He too showed the benefits of a few weeks on a good diet, had been neutered and placed in a roomy two-story cage with Maisie who
had been spayed.
Charlie was/is a clown--a show-off, only too happy to interact with people.
Maisie, though gentle, had an air of great weariness, content to lie in the bottom of the cage.
I took the kittens home in November, and though I stopped at the shelter at Christmas time with a gift, I didn't inquire about the parent cats.
A month later I learned that they were still at the shelter--and running out of time to find homes.
I was by then on friendly terms with one of the head volunteers, who told me that they had stipulated  the two cats be adopted as a pair.
Several people had expressed interest in happy-go-lucky 'Otis' but didn't want 'Sassy'--as she was known.
I offered 'foster care' with the understanding that the two cats would still be featured on the shelter website for adoption.
After several more weeks when no prospective takers offered a home, Charlie and Maisie became mine by default, with the usual adoption fees waived.
Both cats settled in, seeming to recognize their offspring.  Charlie zoomed about the house, noisy and bombastic.  Maisie sought out quiet warm places during the day.
At night she often roamed the house wailing like the proverbial lost soul.
It was evident that neglect and near starvation through pregnancy had taken a harsh toll on her.
Her tail had been broken. Her strangely formed jaw suggested some genetic weaknesses.
Her teeth were poor and increasingly the odor that eminated from her mouth was unpleasant.
Our vet sent me home with a bottle of an oral cleanser to be swabbed in her mouth to ease her often swollen gums.  [Anyone who has tried to perform a dental maneuver several times per week on a cat knows how that went!]
Still--she was well fed, warm, clean.  Life for her was compromised, but not, I thought, unpleasant.
Not unpleasant til recently.
I've watched her become more and more lethargic.  I've noted that the oral treatment was having small effect.  Sores had developed at the base of her tail.
I delayed making a decision for several days, then phoned our vet on Wednesday.
There are those who would argue that I should have gone to greater effort--and greater expense-- for more agressive treatment. 
Still, I made the appointment for Maisie to be put down on Friday morning.
Our vet here in Kentucky had not seen Maisie before, but he had her records from Wyoming.
On examining Maisie he agreed that euthanasia was an appropriate and merciful choice.
I stayed with Maisie, stroking her head while a sedative was administered prior to the lethal injection.
Her discomfort and weariness were ended.
Maisie was a shadow cat, almost without personality, not inspiring affection, perhaps too diminished by her initial ill treatment and malnutrition to summon the energy for more than basic survival.
I felt no sadness at her passing, only relief at a decision finally made--relief and the residue of anger at those who ill-treat animals; I tell myself that I did what I could for her--and it wasn't enough.
I had prepared a bury-hole for Maisie on Thursday when I worked in the sunny dooryard.
We have always had an area to bury our pets.
I would have liked to create this under the maple at the corner of the upper garden, but found it impossible to dig there due to the tangle of tree roots.
I chose instead the area alongside the 'bamboo' hedge which separates the back lawn from the
path to the barns.
By the time I returned home from the vet clinic, the sky was black.  The temperature had dropped 10 degrees since early morning and the wind bit coldly.
I was glad I hadn't to struggle in the chill to prepare a final place for my cat.

Cats always notice when one of their number goes missing.
All of the cats were twitchy yesterday in response to the blustery weather.
They were also flustered by the appearance of the hated cat carrier.
Charlie has roamed the house, calling uneasily.
Maisie's kittens, now full grown, have stayed close to me.
There are signs already that they will have dental issues to deal with, a genetic legacy from indiscriminate breeding and lack of care.
I hope I have the means to provide better intervention for them than I was able to give their mother.

I spent the rest of the day feeling unsettled by my unhappy morning errand, chilled by even the short time out in the searing wind; tired.
I laundered everything that had been on my bed where Maisie had spent the last two days.
I pinned sheets and quilts on the line, hair whipping into my eyes.
Within 20 minutes the heavy quilt had been tugged loose from the clothespins and was billowing wildly.
I retrieved it and felt icy drops of rain flung against my cheeks.
Bundling the linens into my arms I lugged them downstairs to the laundry area, glad for the
option of the dryer.
I made a pot of soup, told the cranky cats that I wasn't opening the door to the cat yard, told them they wouldn't want to be out there in the wind.
J. arrived home to clean floors and the smell of beef/vegetable soup.
He had stopped at a bakery for an assorment of yeast donuts which he produced with a flourish.
I took a mug of tea and a jam-filled sugary donut, retreated gratefully to my rocking chair.
It was a long day.


  1. As soon as I start reading a tale like this I know it's going to end in only one place. Of course there is a bit of sadness reading a story like this, but I'm glad of the unsentimental way you handled it. A shadow cat Maisie may have been but the relationship she had with those around the house was no doubt a bit more formed than that and her absence will be felt in small ways or others.

    Although I've never housed a shelter animal, we have taken cats from friends to stop them having to go down that route so we have 'rehoused' cats, one of whom - who was called 'Lady' - probably had a similar nature and back story to Maisie and was an observer of household life rather than a participant until her end.

    It seems that despite doing something you obviously would have preferred not to, the day ended in peace and some comfort which is good. One shouldn't be perplexed by doing the right thing and it seems you always did the right thing for Maisie.

    Have a good weekend MM.

  2. It's never an easy decision to make, but at least Maisie had a good life with you - the best of life with you - and you did what you could to make her as comfortable as possible.

    But how strange - I was only thinking last week that since we have known one another, I have lost several cats and yours had stayed hale and hearty. Perhaps I was picking up on your thoughts . . .

  3. This was so beautifully written, first I enjoyed learning about the cats and how they came to you, then as the story went on, I had a feeling there would be a sad ending.
    Sometimes we do all we can and it is still not enough. (HUG)

    Rest in peace sweet Maisie xx

  4. I am so sorry for your loss ... I know it was a hard decision to make. I have sometimes prolonged life with medication but really if there is no cure I have decided that we do it to save our pain not when the quality of life is very poor and pain is involved, there seems only one recourse. Remember the three fantastic years you gave her and the wonderful memories you will hold in your head.Hugs xx

  5. I'm involved with our local no-kill shelter (southwest Ohio) and have only admiration and love for people like you who take on the care of the homeless and hopeless. Maisie was so lucky to have known you and to have had a loving home for part of her sad life.

  6. I understand your mixed emotions. Watching the strays always makes me angry, but I'm not able to give them homes and the vet told me they would be put to sleep because there are too many cats in the shelters already. So we do what we can. Is it better to let them live in the wild or have them put to sleep? I'm certain you made Maisie's life better. Thank goodness for angels like you!

  7. My heart goes out to you MM. I have had to deal with medical and rainbow bridge issues this month. My last one, a kidney and bladder issue, was a decision I made without hesitation as it would of not had a good outcome. I loved Thomas, but to do the urinary surgery and then try to handle this very difficult and sometimes obnoxious temperment of his, and also financially, I knew I couldn't, so I made the decision.
    Our wonderful pets enter our lives, and we sometimes do not know the path we will walk with them, but I say that when we love them enough to make heart wrenching decision, we do love them, even though we're not sure at the time it is the right decision.
    Hugs to you my friend

  8. I knew the ending as soon as i began reading, but I don't feel sad for Maisie, you gave her a good life. It's always hard to bring an end to a pet but you did what had to be done. What happiness she may have had in her life you gave her.

  9. I too knew from the first sentence that this was a goodbye post Sharon. I believe you felt no sadness becuase you knew the time was right, and the decision was right. I hope Maisie finds peace in her next life, and i am glad she had you to care for her needs in this one. You have a kind heart sharon, and a good soul.

    Leanne x

  10. So sorry about Maisie, but you did all you could and she had a happy life with you. Certainly happier than a stray. When I worked at the shelter, cuddling cats, I just had to keep telling myself that tho' they didn't know it, they were better off than out on the streets or in the brush as prey for coyotes. And my cuddles gave them them ten minutes more happiness than they would have had if I hadn't been there.

  11. I am warmed by these thoughtful and kindly comments. Thank you all!
    I wondered about sharing this post--not a 'happy ending' story. I decided to write and publish it because so many of us face this decision of when to end the life of a pet, be it cat, dog or horse.
    Maisie was not one of the very dear ones, as noted, but she had been part of our home.
    When we have enjoyed a close companionship with an animal, the parting cuts deep.
    In spite of that inevitable loss, most of us bravely endure it [many times] rather than miss-out on the wonder of sharing our space with these interesting, maddening, lovable creatures.
    We can do so little about the big picture of animal abuse or neglect, making a difference only by easing the lives of a few.

  12. So sorry for your loss Sharon,but like everyone else has said you could not have done more for your pussy cat,she is resting knowing that she was loved while here with you in a lovely home.Sending you love and hugs Jill xx