Farewell to Boudicca

Shortly before 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, my beloved Queen Boudicca Mata Hari Sophia passed from this life and found peace. It was dreadfully sad. Boudicca was terminally ill with multiple chronic, incurable, and progressing medical conditions, and she was suffering as a result. I had to to be her advocate and, out of love and duty, I had to act on her behalf and end that pain. The tears flowed and ebbed. Boudicca passed painlessly away, hopefully with the knowledge that her human family loved her fiercely.

I knew this day was coming and began to prepare myself mentally and emotionally weeks beforehand. I had to make a hard choice but in the end it was the right one, and I don’t regret that choice. Her human mother–me, the human she chose all those years ago at the ASPCA–loved her enough to let her go.

Afterward, everything seemed surreal and out of focus. Happysad feelings are difficult to articulate in coherent sentences. I felt a sinking feeling in my chest–sadness and loss. At some point, relief trickled over me. Comfort knowing that Boudicca was in good company with the rest of my family’s pets that have gone over the Rainbow Bridge. Gratitude for the 18 years of loving companionship and joy that she brought to my life.

It still feels mildly surreal to accept that my sweet baby girl no longer lives among us. Her pink beds lie empty, vacant thrones upon which Queen Boudicca lay in languid repose. In the evening, the boys aren’t interested in or know how to enjoy lap time yet. Charlie, for example, would probably enjoy it quite a bit but he’s rather wiggly. The boys certainly like to snuggle with one another but they’re not snugglebugs with humans yet. We’re working on that. I love Charlie and Garrus deeply (every pet in my house always winds up slightly over-loved) but they do not and will not replace Boudicca.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of little things I will miss about her. Without fail, Boudicca greeted me when I came home, yammering and dancing around my feet until I picked her up. She turned into a limp slinky accordion cat when held. Her purr rumbled, punctuated with trills, when she was filled with lazy contentment (or feline entitlement), especially when I kissed her in between the ears. I would sometimes wake up with her camped out on my chest in a smug cat loaf. I miss her quirks, like when she went through a kleptomaniac phase and repeatedly stole my grandmother’s light blue mohair scarf, complete with matching hat and gloves, and absconded with them to her tower. She became an early riser and pawed me awake. Her eyes turned lantern bright Maleficent-esque green, as though she was plotting nefarious deeds and how to take over the world…just as soon as she finished her nap. She sprawled across books and newspapers and refused to budge. She explored new boxes with relish or took her responsibilities seriously when testing a crocheted blanket for softness and nappability. When I spoke on the phone, Boudicca contributed her two cents to the conversation. Queen B was an excellent reading buddy, especially on quiet rainy days.

Rest in peace, Queen B. I love you.

P.S. I am very grateful for all my friends and family that reached out to me and offered me hugs, comfort, and condolences. Your kindness and thoughtfulness is truly touching. Thank you.

Knowing When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

The hardest part about being a responsible pet owner is when your pet passes away or, due to illness or pain, prompts you to make the excruciating decision to put your beloved pet down. I had to make that decision in January 2017 with Nala. Today, I have to make that same choice on behalf of my beloved Boudicca.

But how do you know when it’s time? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Daily joy. Think of five things that your pet loves to do. When your pet stops doing three of those things, the pet’s quality of life has been impacted enough that it’s probably time. My vet, Dr. R, told me about this and reminded me to keep this in mind with regard to Queen B.
  2. Good days vs bad days. Keeping track of your pet’s behavior and noticing if the condition is getting worse. For example, if your pet is experiencing nausea, obvious discomfort or pain, and having trouble eating or eliminating properly for three days out of the week, that’s no way to live. This concept came up in conversations that I had with Dr. R about Boudicca. It is unpleasant to think about but absolutely necessary.
  3. Debilitating pain or arthritis. These conditions can have significant impacts on other areas of life. In Nala’s case, her arthritis severely limited her mobility so she could not easily get to the food or water bowl or litter box. Boudicca had arthritis as well as neuropathy, and the latter not only affected her gait but led to her incontinence.
  4. Difficulty breathing. If your pet has issues breathing, this will leave your pet feeling exhausted, cannot get comfortable, and anxious.
  5. Not eating or drinking. Appetite changes and weight loss are indicators of suffering. In Boudicca’s case, her hyperthyroidism made her metabolism go into overdrive so she was always hungry but she kept losing weight. She dropped from nearly 8 lbs in January to 5.6 lbs in May.
  6. Vomiting and/or diarrhea. This can lead to dehydration and/or significant weight loss. We kept Boudicca’s nausea in check with an anti-nausea/anti-inflammatory, but we noticed that it became less effective over time. Because of her bowel disease, she had loose stool.
  7. Eliminating issues. If your pet find it increasingly difficult to urinate and/or defecate in the appropriate place, that can lead to a rapid decline in quality of life. Incontinence is a serious issue that must be addressed with a veterinarian. This was the case with Boudicca, who toward the end of her life had accidents outside of the Cat Genie every day. She also struggled when she did make it to the Cat Genie.
  8. Difficulty standing. If your pet has issues standing, hobbles when walking, or falls when trying to move around, that pet is suffering.
  9. Difficulty or no longer grooming. This may due to mobility issues, pain, lack of interest, laziness, or simply feeling unwell. We noticed that both Nala and Boudicca stopped grooming themselves as their illnesses progressed. We bathed them as necessary, usually after a mess was involved, and brushed them.
  10. Depression and weakness. A pet in chronic pain or dealing with serious illness may not have the energy, interest, or ability to do the things they want to do or used to do.
  11. Chronic pain. When pain cannot be controlled with medication, then it’s time. It’s not fair to your pet to live the rest of its life in severe pain.
  12. HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale. Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene, Mobility, and More. Dr. Alice Villalobos rates these on a scale of 1-10.

There are many factors to consider. You can reflect on important questions to determine the best course to proceed. Speak with your vet about the procedure and what to expect. Know that grieving a pet is a process, it will hurt, and it will take time. Ultimately, as a responsible pet owner, you must do what is best for your pet because you love them and they love you.

Garrus’ Procedures

Yesterday Garrus was abducted by aliens! Of course I’m kidding but I’m sure he felt like that happened. He went to the vet, where he had an echocardiogram and extensive dental surgery. Good news: he does not have primary heart disease but has a slight enlargement in his left atrium. We will continue monitoring his heart, and if necessary, put him on heart medication.

I caught a snuggle in progress the day before Garrus’ surgery.

In order to treat his severe stomatitis and dental disease, Garrus had 17 teeth removed. Don’t worry–he kept his canines so he can still make his vampy smile. Dr R called to ask to keep him overnight since he was super groggy and a quiet place to recuperate on a heating pad. (Let’s be honest, Charlie would be all up in his business the moment he got home.) I was content to leave my dear Gentleman Cat in quite capable hands, where he could be closely monitored for any swelling and his pain managed by professionals. Since Dr R is amazing and super-helpful, she agreed to give him extra love on my behalf. (It’s hard to resist petting him since his fur is so plushy. The techs remarked that his fur is as soft as a rabbit’s, so naturally his new nickname is Bunny Cat.)

We picked him up this morning. He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, even in the carrier, but apparently forgave us for taking him to the vet. When we let him out of the carrier, Charlie rejoiced and trotted merrily over to greet him, then proceeded to escort Garrus as he toured the house to ensure everything was right where he left it. We noticed that Garrus moved with an extra jaunty bounce in his step and–surprise, surprise!–he started talking like a squeaky chimpanzee and asking for food less than five minutes after he got home! He hasn’t had any issues eating so far.

“Hi Mom and Dad! I’m happy to be home! May I have scritches please?”

Dr R said that, while his mouth heals, he needs to eat only wet food (no problem there) and after his sutures heal, we can transition him to kibble again, if he’ll take it, though he may prefer the texture of wet food. Since he lost weight over the last couple of months and remains underweight, Dr R recommended that we increase his caloric intake to two cans of wet food a day. Another option would be to give him kitten wet food. I expect we’ll have a very happy boy.

“Om nom nom” ~Garrus (in the most polite fashion, of course)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Eight: Adopted!

After we had the boys for two weeks, the animal shelter called us to let us know that someone had submitted an application for Tink (Charlie). However, as foster parents, we had first dibs. I did not want to break up Garrus and Charlie’s adorable bromance and I was fully aware that the latter had been adopted and returned three times before he came to us. I did not want that to happen again or for him to regress back into himself.

I immediately spoke to Aaron about it to verify that he was on board with adopting these two cats. He responded with an affirmative “Let’s do it.” So I told the shelter we wanted to keep both. Since we took them home as fosters during the Clear the Shelter event, the adoption fee was waived. Yay free cats!

This is the last post in this series describing how we went from a single-cat household to a three-cat household. Now we have a little clowder! If you haven’t already read the previous posts, be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven!

Want to know more about fostering and the boys’ progress? Stay tuned to Purry Home Companion!

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Seven: Building Trust

Now that the immediate medical needs had been dealt with and Garrus was set on a progress to health, we turned our attention to our other goals: building their trust, coaxing them out of their shells, and socializing them. It’s a tall order to work with incredibly shy cats but I was confident that with patience, love, and time, we could help the boys.

The boys explored our foster area (Aaron’s office) thoroughly. Garrus in particular liked the chair (a refurbished car seat).

Evidence that the boys started to feel a bit more comfortable after a couple of days.

If you have not already read the previous posts in this series, be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six!

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Six: Trip to the Vet

I also wanted both cats to be checked out by a vet just to be on the safe side. When I brought them home, I had two immediate concerns:

  1. I wanted to get Garrus on the road to health. While we provided Garrus with wet food, as the shelter had suggested, we noticed that he did not eat much. I wanted to know if he had an underlying medical problem explaining his lack of appetite and resulting bony physique.
  2. Charlie’s left eye weeped occasionally, and I worried that he had an eye infection. If that was the case, I did not want (a) the infection to get worse or (b) to be spread to Garrus.

Having received permission from the shelter to take them to the vet, I made an appointment with the veterinary clinic the shelter used. They had a cat specialist (Dr. R), and my good friends Tracey and Sam brought their clowder of five cats there. Both of these were boded well. Of course, getting cats into carriers and to the vet is rarely a simple or stress-free experience.

Cue complete feline panic. Charlie was so utterly terrified of being taken to the vet that he had a near meltdown while we put him in the carrier, let alone when he was brought into the actual exam room. He was so stressed that he needed to be sedated for his and the staff’s safety. I was a bit mortified since I had just met this vet (Dr. R) and her staff but assured me that they were accustomed to dealing with scaredy cats. I was also a bit thrown since I had never needed to sedate a cat at the vet’s office. Charlie was a sorry sight, though, since he was not at all aggressive but clearly scared witless, highly stressed out from his time in the shelter, and in need of lots of TLC. Thankfully, Dr R deemed Charlie healthy and determined that he did not have an eye infection. A clogged duct was the cause of his weepy eye; it occasionally weeps now but does not hurt him.

After we brought Charlie home from the vet, he regressed back into his extreme hidey self for a day or so. We gave him time and space, offered him treats and toys, and provided him with plenty of safe spots to hide in if he was so inclined. Garrus immediately came over to give him a comforting lick and snuggle, so that helped Charlie calm down. He started to emerge from hiding once he felt safe again. Fortunately, he did not seem to hold a grudge against us for taking him to the vet.

Looking down at Garrus from above, you can see how gaunt he used to be.

Garrus, by contrast, was relatively docile at the vet’s office. Dr. R immediately discovered the cause during the exam: his teeth were in terrible shape and his gums were quite inflamed. He probably had been living with chronic dental pain for some time. No wonder why he wasn’t eating! By nature, cats are pretty stoic and tend to hide pain or medical issues as much as possible but we could not ignore this problem. I immediately informed the shelter and the generous Friends of the Shelter arranged necessary funds to cover his medical expenses since he was in foster care. Garrus underwent emergency dental surgery the next day. Five teeth were resected, four of them on one side of his mouth. Fortunately, the surgery went without a hitch and, after a period of observation, I took my drowsy foster kitty home.

Understandably, he was a bit out of it so I have him space and let him snooze. After he had a well-deserved nap, I came to check on him and sat on the floor. Garrus stretched, walked over to me, and gave my hand a gentle head bunt. My heart melted. Just by watching his more relaxed body language, I could tell that he clearly felt better. I took cues from him. Was he hungry? Thirsty? Did want to go back to sleep? Did he feel up to playing? I did not want him to overexert himself only hours after he had surgery.

He let me know that he was hungry by sitting tall beside the food bowl with his tail wrapped primly around his paws. He gazed levelly at me with those enormous, sad, yellow moon eyes. That was also the first time that he really looked up directly at me instead of with a lowered, shy, indirect gaze. He seemed to say, “Beg pardon but I trust that you can arrange sustenance for me? I would most appreciate it. I am a wee bit peckish.” Even after surgery, which must have felt something akin to an alien abduction to him, he was nevertheless unfailingly polite.

Following Dr. R’s advice, we gave him wet food for kittens (which has higher fat and protein content than adult cat food) for a few more days as his mouth healed. To our relief, he had no complications and his appetite slowly increased. After his recheck appointment, we were encouraged to transition him to kitten kibble so that he could get back to a healthy weight. Dr. R said he needed to gain about 2 lbs (he had lost muscle mass as well) and estimated that it would take him at least a year to gain that amount. She also suspected that he had food anxiety, given that he had been bullied by his food-guarding previous housemates, and that contributed to his scant appetite. Getting him calm and comfortable in an established safe environment would be our immediate task.

The boys would only eat together, not by themselves. They were also seemingly perplexed the first time we offered them treats. It took them both a little while to get the idea that treats were edible. Once they grasped this concept, they were soon on board.

Stay tuned for Part Seven! (If you have not already read them, check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.)

Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Five: Slowly Opening Up

The boys needed time to realize that they were in a safe, quiet, and less-stressful space and were not going to be roughly handled. All of us needed to get to know one another and establish trust. In order to do so, Aaron and I spent time sitting on the floor in order to hang out with them; if we stood up, the boys scattered and hid. (Understandably, humans loom over cats when they stand up. We needed to work slowly with these guys.) We spoke in low, quiet voices to the boys as another way for them to get used to us.

Garrus was the first to come out of hiding and tentatively approached us. We moved very slowly around the boys as to not inadvertently startle them. We let Garrus sniff us and choose on his own terms how to engage with us. If he wanted to come toward us for pets, he could do that but if he chose to back off and hide, we did not reach in after him. A few hours later, Charlie emerged from his hiding spot and timidly checked us out. We noticed that he first watched what Garrus did and followed his lead. We were both quite pleased when we were able to give the boys gentle pets and strokes. They jerked away if we put our hands on either of their bodies, even to give scritches, so we worked very slowly, read their body language closely, and took our cues from the cats.

Garrus slowly started to explore his surroundings. He was the first to explore the chair and desk.

Charlie came out from his hiding spot!

Stay tuned for Part Six! (If you haven’t already read them, check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four.)