Losing a Pet: The Graduation of Kitten Precious

November 1, 2017. Had my wife known we were going to lose Kitten Precious a week later, her pet would have come first. Graduation (translation, death, passing on, being “put to sleep” and don’t ever make the mistake of using the word “euthanization” around her if you happen to be her husband) is never an easy process for Pam.

“It’s a good thing you never told me you were watching her weight loss,” she told me today. “Had I known, I never would have gone to Arizona.” I believed her. Not seeing her own doctor in Sierra Vista would have meant going off her meds and that would likely have meant the end of Pam, but she wasn’t joking. She takes her connections to her animals as seriously as anyone I’ve ever known, putting their lives ahead of her own without the slightest hesitation.

Example: When we lived “on the mountain” near Craig, Montana (1999-2002), our orange and white Mokey Man kitten (who was with us until 2010) was batting curiously at a small, coiled rattlesnake that had crawled into his outdoor cage the night before. I’d just put Mokey into the cage without realizing the snake was there. The cage was heavy gauge wire, long and narrow, really a kitty run. From her hands and knees, Pam immediately dived headfirst into that cage, grabbing her kitten and dragging him away from the snake, never mind that her abrupt motion might easily have gotten her bitten by the frightened little viper.

Besides, Kitten had been with her since the little feline was a five week old feral kitten, runt of the litter, being nursed on a bottle. For twelve years these two Souls had been inseparable, excepting only the few months Pam spent living in a mother in law apartment at her daughter’s home in Utah. During those intervals, my redhead left Kitten Precious with me and Gato (boy cat, who is now seven years of age) with me at the Border Fort, our Arizona home for the eight years between April of 2009 and May of 2017.

Today, however, the decision had been made and we would be taking our eldest kitty for one final trip to the vet…as soon as a vet could be scheduled. Clark Fork Veterinary Clinic, right here in Deer Lodge, Montana, is owned and staffed by an all-women crew. It had been snowing all day, accumulating around six inches of the white stuff, a fitting sendoff for our baby girl. Pam was way over the edge and knew it, often crying, trying to hold herself together until we could get this done but knowing she could never make it to the “first available appointment” on Friday morning. We’d called on Tuesday, this was Wednesday, and the wait was killing her.

“I’ll be dead if we can’t get it done sooner,” she said, and she wasn’t joking. She freely admits letting go is hard for her, but waiting once she knows something has to be done is even harder.

Pam called the vet clinic first this afternoon, explaining the human crisis side of the equation to the sympathetic receptionist who did what she could and managed to move the appointment up to 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. Though we well understood the timing problem with a busy practice in ranching country, that was still not good enough. Finally I got on the phone and asked, “Could this be done this evening (Wednesday) if I pay the after hours surcharge?”

That would work, we were assured. We’d just have to wait until one of the veterinarians was headed back into town from her ranch calls.

So we waited, on tenterhooks as they say.

In the meantime, I got out the camera, took a few snapshots of Kitten’s last day with us (although Pam states unequivocally that she will always be with us, or at least with Pam).

Kitten Precious at twelve years of age, her last day, pondering the mysteries of the Universe.

We finally got the call: Dr. Shannon would be back at the clinic soon and could do the procedure if we could be there at 6:00 p.m. sharp. We were; the vet’s office is less than fifteen minutes away from our home. En route in the Subaru, Pam did have to ask the ultimate question: “Are we doing the right thing?”

“Yes,” I replied. “In fact, we’re not only doing the right thing, we’re doing the only thing.” The question was unavoidable, since Kitten still purred easily and often showed signs of enjoying life, but she’d been vomiting with unhealthy frequency for years. Recently, no specialized kitty food in the known world wanted to stay down, and we’d tried every Sensitive Stomach formula out there, not to mention the products designed for senior cats aged eleven plus. Today there had been blood in her vomit. A few pounds overweight for some years, she’d lost twenty percent of her body weight in the past month. She’s a loving Soul of the highest order and God’s love poured through her eyes…but there was also pain in those eyes, easily seen in the above photo.

We’re not believers in allowing an animal to suffer indefinitely for no good reason. Hard or not, yes, it was time.

On a side note, one of the photos shows clearly what we knew from the beginning: Kitten Precious was born part bobcat. When she was carrying the extra weight, it wasn’t as noticeable when she was carrying the extra weight, but as she gave a mighty yawn, watching the camera and love-rolling on her favorite U-Haul box, the genetics were obvious. Check it out.

The mighty paws and gaping yawn of the clearly part-bobcat Kitten Precious.

Pam rescued Kitten Precious from a bullying litter in southern Arizona. Since then, she’d accompanied her redheaded mistress to eastern Colorado, western Colorado, back to southern Arizona, and finally to Montana. At least she got to see a bit of the Big Sky Country, watching birds and various neighborhood cats roam around outside. Kitten has been an indoors cat from the time Pam found her, making her window on the outdoors world special to her–but also, until the last few years when she slowed down, leaving her rambunctious and looking for a chance to explore, occasionally slipping past Pam or me at the Border Fort in Arizona to circle the house until we caught her again.

Those times were always a bit scary. Gato cat has an instinctive wariness that stands him in good stead in dangerous surroundings; Kitten never did. It was like she knew mama was always going to be there to protect her, which of course she was.

Kitten Precious on her U-Haul box, studying the fascinating world of the driveway.

It was a true blessing, us having gotten to know the clinic personnel when Harvey Sunshine cat had to be hospitalized with a partial urinary blockage. The euthanization involves a two step process. First, with Pam holding her baby because she would have it no other way, Shannon gave Kitten a shot of anesthesia. This brings most cats down to a point of near-unconsciousness where they are not really aware of their surroundings.

Most cats, but not all. Kitten did relax, you could see it in her eyes, the pain was gone and the beautiful green around the pupils glowed beautifully. Ah-h-h, that’s good stuff! But she was still obviously awake and, as sometimes happens, required a second shot to go completely under.

Dr. Shannon warned us, “When they’re sick like this, sometimes the anesthesia shot will make them vomit.” Near the end, that second shot did just that; she upchucked a tiny bit.

But then she was out of it enough for the final step. The vet shaved a small patch of foreleg, then applied the lethal injection. A bit later, she donned her stethoscope, listened carefully, and soon pronounced gently, “She’s gone.”

Pam could not let Kitten’s body go just yet, though. Shannon and her assistant, Jaycee, understood. “We’ll leave the room and come back in five or ten minutes.”

All during this time, Pam had cried intermittently. But it’s an all-female vet clinic, remember? They get it. A box of tissues was ready on the exam table; Pam used up a good bit of it.

Perhaps three minutes into our alone time, Pam said, “I’m ready.” Her left arm was hurting from holding Kitten. I took over, and a few minutes later the clinic personnel returned. Kitten will be cremated at a highly respected facility in Manhattan, Montana, and her ashes returned to us. Had we still been at the Border Fort in Arizona on twenty off grid acres, I’d likely have built a vault and we’d have buried her in our own pet cemetery where Green Eyes, Mokey Man, and one stray little wild bird are buried…but an in-town back yard isn’t really suited for that.

Harvey Sunshine has been moved in from the enclosed porch to take Kitten Precious’s place at the foot of Pam’s bed at night. He’d rather sleep in his porch kitty condo, it seems to me, but there Pam draws the line: If she needs his presence at night, then he can just “cat up” and put up with a warm house and soft blankets for as long as the woman of the house sleeps, so there!

I’m pretty sure Kitten Precious wouldn’t mind.