Thursday, April 4, 2019

Improvisation at Last

This is the time of a pet’s life that a pet-owner dreads. My foster-cat, Parker, is terminally ill. There are times when he is obviously uncomfortable. There are times when he cannot find a position in which to lie that will ease his cancerous body. There are times when he becomes violently sick, when he vomits so fiercely and for such a long period that he breathes hard afterward, as if he had run swiftly down a lengthy path for twenty minutes.

But there are times when he lies peacefully for hours, when he butts his head against me and invites me to pet and stroke his still-soft fur. There are times when he eats half a large tin of food and sits back purring.

And these contrasting times often come on the same days now.

Last night he had a terrible episode of vomiting. I spent two hours cleaning up afterward, as it had spilled under the freezer in the store-room and against the walls. (Being a cat, he chose the moment immediately before I went to bed.) Yet this morning, he was hungry and, though he did not eat a great deal, he tucked away a quarter-tin of soft-food and was pleased about it.

Last night, I thought that Parker’s time was at hand, and I worried about keeping him alive and in pain over the weekend. This morning, he was still dying, but it was as if his body had decided that it would not be today, not this week.

How are such decisions to be made? Will I wait until Parker doesn’t eat for several days? He has done that previously, and rallied. In fact, I note from my blog that almost exactly a month ago, the orange-boy refused all food for a whole day. Since then, there have been stretches of days when he ate very well, and almost every day, he has eaten something. Clearly, appetite alone cannot determine his final moments.

I suppose, like many things in a pet-owner’s life, the actual decision will come down to improvisation. We can plan and anticipate, but at the last instants, our cats won’t like the food we have prepared for them, and we must dish out something else; they will get sick just before bedtime; they will want to play - after you’ve begged them to play all day - as you are leaving for the evening. It makes sense that the final actions in which they can involve us will be makeshift, as well.

Improvisation is not how I would like to make such a terrible decision, but it is fitting that, while the decision may be mine, when I make it will be entirely up to my cat.


  1. Unfortunately, life is nothing but improvisation, isn't it?

    Not long ago, one of my mother's cats developed cancer. Like Parker, he had his good moments, alternated with very bad moments, leaving her in a complete quandary about what to do. Just when she had steeled herself to have his suffering humanely ended, he'd rally and seem something close to his old self, so she felt she couldn't do it. Finally, after one of his better days, he passed away quite peacefully in his sleep, as he was lying next to her in bed.

    What I suppose I'm trying to say is, you just have to trust that Parker will let you know what needs to be done--or not done.

  2. Poor sweetie, but I agree totally, he'll let you know when he decides.

  3. It comes down to your definition of Parker's quality of life. You live with him, know him, and are the world's top authority on everything Parker. This is such a tough time, and my heart goes out to you and Parker.

  4. My heart goes out to you too, John. I agree that it depends on one's definition of quality of life, in this case, Parker's.

    Looking back, I can see that I waited at least a few days too long to let Annie go, but my head and heart were at war. In my heart, or perhaps my gut, I knew I had to give her peace, but my head kept thinking what if, what if, what if.

    It's a decision only you can make, perhaps when it seems that there will be no good days, or parts of days, ahead.

    If only they could speak to us about their preferences in such a way that we could understand.

    Peace and Light to you both.

  5. It is a nightmare to me. I suffered horribly making that decision for Admiral. And she suffered waiting for me to. She would rally every so little and in my need to keep my little one, I allowed myself to wait another day...until I just could not. It came all at once. I cried non stop for several weeks after she went to the Bridge. Loving blog and Twitter friends held my hand and comforted me 24 hrs a day. when needed.

  6. Oh John. I don't know either how to make such a decision. I agree with Eastside cats - you know Parker and will know when to say good-bye. When it came to saying good-bye to my Jessie - the decision happened so quickly and the vets were very clear . She did eat a tiny bit of a meal. I kept crying and telling her that I was so sorry and not to leave me. I am sure Parker too will help you make the decision.

    Eileen and Holly (not sure why it is only showing our email address)

  7. I think you will know. He will lead you to the knowledge if when the time is right. When you look in his eyes he will let know that he is ready.

    hugs to you both.

    julie and Poppyq

  8. This decision is always difficult, and it's one that no one ever wants to make. I guess it comes down to a quality of life and when the bad days outnumber the good. But you are so attuned to your cats, John, I know you will be receptive to Parker's needs. Meanwhile my thoughts and prayers are with both you and Parker.

  9. Life is full of improvisations and knowing when to make the decision. The last days/weeks are so hard with the ups and downs. So many times we thought Flynn's time had come, but he would make a miraculous recovery. Towards the end though his recoveries were not as good and his bad times getting more frequent. We took him to our wonderful vet who suggested trying something. We should have made the decision then but brought him home with fresh hope in our hearts. The recovery only lasted a few days, but in that time he caught a mouse and was so overjoyed with it that we were glad he had that memory to take with him. The day we made the decision we could see in his eyes that he was letting us know that he was tired of fighting to stay and he was ready. Oh memories, now I can't stop crying!

    1. We have our memories and are crying with you
      Dad Pete

  10. there is just no easy answer - so you follow your heart and do the best you can

  11. For the past 3 Decembers Our Buddy Budd has stopped eating or as in 2017 had vestibular disease and was unable to walk for a week. This year he was diagnosed with kidney disease and turned 18 on Jan 31. He eats very little and has decided to eat his kidney kibble only at night. Luckily treat time is before I read in bed so there is no problem and I never sleep through the night due to my own medical so waking a few times to add a little is no bother. I feel what you are going through but am glad Buddy does not get ill. Our Buttons passed last year suddenly being diagnosed with kidney disease in December. I gave him a Large Filet of Fish treat and he wolfed it down and I feel guilty that that protein tipped him over. We had Lap of Love come to the house and the vet was very nice and he passed in my lap. This is the toughest decision we make with our dear furs. We give them our all and due to our long lifespan we must also, many times, help them pass. The vet told me most people feel they waited too long by a week or few and I felt the same way. My little man no longer ate and was very weak but would still purr and come to bed to sleep with me. Our Purrs and Prayers of support are with you at this difficult time. Thanks for coming to Rumpy Bumps Birthday. It means a lot
    Dad Pete, Timmy and Family

    1. I think Buttons probably thought that fish a wonderful gift, and it was undoubtedly a delicious memory to take with him and to savour while he plays in the fields under the rainbow.

      I would like to find a veterinary to come to the house to help Parker, but our part of the country is not advanced that way. He will just have to trust that I will be with him until his last moment - and forever after.

  12. It is always so hard to make that decision. I can’t remember if I told you my new mantra: I’d rather be a week too early than a day too late.

    When I decided to put Sweet Pea down last September, I brought him in and was holding him with his face smooshed against my chest and he was purring to beat the band. My vet came in and couldn’t believe how loud Sweet Pea was purring. This was on a Saturday. My vet said “well, he’s still eating and clearly enjoys snuggling with you—do you want to take him home to spend a few more days with him and bring him in next Tuesday?” I started to feel guilty but I stuck to my guns. I told him I felt Sweet Pea could go into a crisis situation at any moment and with Monday being a holiday here in the US (Labor Day). I didn’t want to risk having to take him to an emergency vet to put him down. I know my vet well and love him and I know he was just trying to help as he knew Sweet Pea meant the world to me, but geez, it was hard enough to make the decision and to actually bring him in, I didn’t need my vet second guessing me. I still feel that I made the right decision—and you will too when the time comes.

  13. It's hard John, I truly understand. With Silas and his cancer, I made the decision when his weight was a third of what had been at his heaviest (7 lbs versus 22 lbs). I felt I was starving him to death even though he was eating...the cancer was taking it all. I don't know if he was ready, as he fought a bit, but in the end I think I did what was best for him.

    I certainly hope that when Parker's time comes it is easy and calm and he's encircled with your love and caring.


  14. I completely understand how you feel, and the uncertainty that gnaws at one over doing enough VS doing too much. One lesson for me with going through all the ups and downs with Abby was being able to see the signs with Gracie. Although they had two separate diseases I gave myself permission to seek clarity with Gracie and not put her through every last bit of medical ingenuity to prolong her life. Her chest kept filling up with fluids and I had it drained twice, that was so hard on her as she was so skittish of anyone but me. When the second drain only helped her breathing out for a few days I knew I had run out of time. I helped her to the Bridge and it was the best thing for her and the worst for me because I felt like her life had been cut short by too many years, but lymphoma (suspected never totally confirmed) had other plans.

    I know you will know when it is right for you and for Parker.