She Left Paw Prints on My Heart

If you’re wondering how to cope with losing your pet…

If you recently lost your pet…

If you are in the midst of making one of the most difficult decisions of your life to put your dear pet to sleep…

If you’re grieving your furry little friend more than you ever thought possible…

Read on.

What is it about our pets?

Die-hard pet lovers agree that our pets are our kids. They’re members of the family. I’m a mom, but not just to my human baby – to my fur babies too.

In the midst of my agony over the loss of my cat and as I struggled to tell my story and make sense of how excruciatingly difficult it has been for me to deal with this, a close friend of mine put it so beautifully…

She said the love we have for our cats is intuitive.

There are no words between us and yet we know each other intimately. We get one another. We share a deep love that doesn’t need words. Everything we want to say is communicated in other ways.

I thought that was so intelligent. And it’s true. Think about how we connect with other human beings. It’s usually through words. That’s how we build relationships and form strong bonds. But with our pets, there’s no need for that. Because we have so much more.

My girl’s story 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself trolling the internet trying to find someone else who went through something similar – or better yet, the same – as what I confronted with my precious little Boopsie. (Cute story about her name: we named our little brown tabby Betty but it wasn’t long before her name morphed into Betty Boop (I’m a HUGE fan), then Boops, Boopsie, Boopser, Boopsinator, Honey Boopser…need I go on?) Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was looking for. So, I’m gonna tell you our story on the off chance that you’re going through something similar, or the same, or different but hearing our story helps you find comfort in some way as you try to figure out how to cope with losing your pet…

Back it up 18 months

At the end of August 2014, when I was 36 weeks pregnant with Brody, all of a sudden, one Sunday in the late morning, Boopsie couldn’t lift her head. She was walking around with her head down and when I called her name, she kept trying to lift her head to interact with me, but couldn’t. My husband and I rushed her to the emergency vet clinic. At first, we all thought she just strained her neck. Maybe she and her brother had played a little too rough. Maybe she jumped off something and landed weird. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

The vet told us to take her home and monitor her. The next morning, she still couldn’t lift her head and my gut was telling me something else was going on here. We took her back. This time, they took her vitals and checked her blood.

Boom.

Her potassium was extremely low.

Huh?

Apparently, when a cat’s potassium pummels downward like that, it can present itself in a number of ways, one of which is this downward dropping of the neck. Her potassium was so low, the only way to treat her was to keep her overnight on IV fluids to bring it back up. A whole night without my Boopsie? Aaaahhhhhh! I cried, and hoped and prayed the IV would work and that she’d be okay, but we didn’t know… Sure enough, the next morning, they said her levels had come back up beautifully and she was well enough to go home. Thank Goddd!

boopsie-cat-belly

Now of course, there’s an elephant in the room. A question that hasn’t been answered. Why did this happen? And the answer is that it could have been a number of things – kidney issues (but they hesitated to focus in this direction because she was so young and on a great diet), dehydration (possible but unlikely), cancer or some other disease (but likelihood was low because everything else seemed good and she bounced back so beautifully) and total fluke (sometimes cats can be mysterious and finicky animals). We decided to take her home and monitor her, do a follow up blood work test a couple of weeks later and then keep a close eye. Her blood work weeks later showed no abnormalities. All good.

So we carried on.

But something always haunted me about what happened because we never got a definitive answer… I was constantly telling her to “stay healthy for me, Boopsie, I need you…”

Fast forward a year and a half back to present time

It was a Sunday in the late morning. Again. (Weird, eh?) She was just ahead of Brody and I going up the stairs and I noticed she hobbled up the last few and then instantly had to sit down.

My heart sank.

I called her name and prompted her to come over to me a few steps away. As always, she looked at me, responded and walked a couple of steps before she had to rest her hind legs again.

“Something’s wrong with Boopsie!” I exclaimed to my husband one room over.

He observed her behaviour and then asked me what the game plan was. “I hope it’s not her potassium again…” he said.

Bloody read my mind. We both knew it.

I made the decision to take her in. Myself. Hubby offered to go, but I insisted. I wanted to take her. I needed to take her. It was like a part of me already knew. And if something was seriously wrong, I wanted to spend every moment I could with her.

I put Brody down for a nap and took her to the same emergency vet.

What the vet revealed

They say moms have a kind of instinct and intuition unmatched by others. When you’re a mom, sometimes you just know. While the technicians and doctors were hesitant and almost doubtful at first to say, yes, this does look like the same issue you dealt with before, I was adamant about telling them the entire story from a year and a half ago.

They ran blood work.

I’m so thankful that once we got in a private room with the vet, they let us stay in there while they ran tests and waited for results. My Booper is an outgoing cat in her own environment, but pull her out of her home, in that god awful crate and then into a vet’s office and it’s a whole different story. She was shaking like a leaf in the waiting room and even though I tried to snuggle her, she was too scared to be anywhere other than underneath the blanket inside her crate – but she managed to peer through just enough to keep an eye on me sitting beside her as I stroked her head and spoiled her with Greenies treats (her absolute fave!).

But in the small examination room just the two of us, it was a different story. After a few minutes she warmed up and we shared a few wonderful hours together. Close and cuddly. I’ll always treasure that time…

boopsie-on-my-shoulders

“You were right to bring her in,” the vet said when she came back with the results.

Potassium and phosphorus way, way down.

Once again, her levels were so low, the only course of action was to keep her overnight on IV. And this time we took it a step further and decided to do a few more tests on her the day after: an ultrasound to see if anything was going on internally as well as a blood sugar test to see if there was perhaps clotting somewhere, diabetes or prevention of blood flow to her legs.

It killed me to say bye to her. I knew how scared she was (me too) and the thought of going home without her was terrible.

You’re never really prepared…are you?

So I say I had a feeling. Sure. I did. But that still didn’t prepare me for what I was about to learn.

First off, things weren’t looking great because my checkup phone calls Sunday night and Monday morning didn’t reveal the superb results I was praying for. Unlike last time, her levels weren’t bouncing back up beautifully by any means. The doctors weren’t sure if we would be able to bring her home Monday night. She continued on IV all through Monday and was booked for the ultrasound Monday late afternoon.

4:00pm …
5:00pm …
6:00pm …

I was literally going CRAZY waiting for the phone call.

All I could do was plead with God and the universe that whatever it was they were going to find (because I knew it had to be something) that it would be manageable. Something she and we could handle and treat.

To no avail.

FINALLY, at 6:20, the call came through. Amidst a very needy and whiny 18-month-old clinging to me and getting extremely upset that I wouldn’t let him play with my cell phone, I struggled to give him attention and take in everything the vet was saying to me.

“Well, your little Betty is a very interesting case,” she started off. I hate that she said this because it sounded so light. It gave me false hope right from the get-go. But the words about to come out of her mouth were nothing but heavy.

My cat had a blocked ureter

The ultrasound revealed that Boopsie’s right ureter (which is the tract that runs from the kidney to the bladder) was almost completely blocked. This means almost no urine was able to pass through from the right kidney to the bladder. It was likely some kind of stone that she developed, the cause of which is unknown.

Treatment?

Surgery. Big. Invasive. Serious. Uncommon.

Objective?

Insert an implant tract (an implant ureter) that would act as her knew ureter to pass urine from the right kidney down to the bladder. The vet later described the level of intricacy and specialization in such a surgery saying that the surgeon would be dealing with the ureter and the implant that are so tiny they could be compared to a string of spaghetti.

Outcome?

Some cats get the surgery and go on to live great lives. Others need a second surgery.

Woah…

Cost?

I hate this part because it feels horribly wrong to talk about price when it comes to saving a life. Animal, human – it’s all the same. That’s just me. But I need to give you an idea of the level of seriousness, specialization and complicatedness of this diagnosis and associated treatment.

Before the surgery, she’d need to stay in the hospital on IV to get her levels up a little more. For the one night so far, we were in for $2100. The ultrasound we got was $500. Before the surgery, they require a cat scan in order to gain a really accurate view of the issue. $2000. The surgery itself is $5000. Boopsie would have needed at least 3 to 5 days in the hospital afterwards to recover. $800 per day. To evaluate her levels, subsequent blood tests would be needed before the surgery and after. $250.00 each time. All said and done? In the vicinity of $15,000.

Here’s the real kicker

So all that I explained above isn’t everything.

There’s more.

A big additional factor.

Boopsie had a heart murmur. Stage 2/3. Apparently stage 3 is the brink. It’s right around this threshold where heart murmurs start to cause real problems in the animal’s life.

PLUS!

An animal with a heart murmur is at a higher risk to be put under with general anesthetic.

The questions you MUST ask yourself as a pet owner

There were just too many things. Boopsie’s was a highly complicated case. They said it to us over and over. There was nothing common or routine about it.

So we had to ask ourselves…

  1. Is this cat even well enough to go through the surgery?
  2. Would she ever be the same?
  3. Would her heart have failed her right on the table?
  4. Or worse, would she come out of the surgery perfectly only to have her heart fail her 6 months later?
  5. How would she cope with surgery and hospitalization for at least a week?
  6. How much stress and suffering would she experience?
  7. How much pain?
  8. What if she was one of the cats that needed a second surgery? Then what?
  9. Is it worth it to put her through all of this?
  10. Am I doing this for her or for me?
  11. Do we need to consider the other oh-so-dreaded option?

Making the decision to put a pet to sleep

It pains me even to type that.

It’s scary.
It’s horrifying.
It’s agonizing.
It’s ridden with guilt.
It’s impossible…

How? How can we make such a decision to end a poor, helpless animal’s life? Physician assisted suicide is illegal nearly everywhere in the world.

“It’s an animal. It’s different.”

I ask these people, have you done it? Have you had to go through it? Have you wholeheartedly experienced it?

But for those of us who love our dear pets so deeply, there’s something we need to know.

Animals don’t understand. (This is probably why it breaks our hearts to see them suffer because we know they don’t get why.) We can’t reason with them and explain to them… “Okay, so you need to stay in the hospital for a little while, then you’ll have surgery, but after that we’re hoping everything will be fine, you’ll be healthy and you’ll be running around the house again…”

Everything they do – everything they know – is instinctual.

I’m a dog. I like to lick people’s faces, chase after balls, run around the backyard, gnaw on bones and snuggle on the coach.

I’m a cat. I like to have free reign of the house, scratch the furniture, play with toy mice and feathers attached to springs, jump up on the table and chase after my owner’s feet.

Back to my Boopsie. The generalized weakness she had in her hind legs must have been so scary for her. She must have been confused and bewildered. She must have been in some kind of pain not being able to pee properly. She must have felt so frustrated wanting to follow me and come sniff my fingers when I called to her, but couldn’t because her legs failed her.

I feel insanely guilty for putting her to sleep. It still eats me up inside. BUT, the more I think about it, the more I analyze her situation and the more I really and truly consider what the alternative would have been, the more I believe that I may very well have been suffering a different – albeit WORSE – kind of guilt if we’d made the decision to do the surgery. Because then, I may have been forced to watch her suffer in a way I never could have imagined. And for what? The mere hope that we made the right decision? Meanwhile we were left with no source of confidence, no guarantee, no big likelihood of a flawless recovery without complications down the road.

How to find comfort

I know you’re struggling right now, trying to figure out how to cope with losing your pet. There are a number of friends and experts I’ve spoken to along the way who have helped me deal with everything I’ve gone through and am still going through over the loss of my girl. These people have provided me with tremendous insights that I now want to share with you. I hope they help you find comfort too.

  1. The decision to have a pet is a very brave one. Why? Because we know with almost absolute certainty that we’ll outlive them.
  2. Some are here for a long time, some are here for a short time. That’s just life.
  3. Pets don’t understand suffering and pain. So then, should we put them through it?
  4. You have given your pet a wonderful, loving home that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. If yours was a rescue, just think of where they’d be without you.
  5. The decision to put a pet to sleep is a selfless act of caring. Nothing less. When you make the very difficult decision to send your pet to the Rainbow Bridge, you spare them their suffering and you assume it upon yourself.
  6. Being there with them in their final moments and seconds is the last amazing thing you can do for them. Your pet can die in comfort, without fear and without loneliness because they’re close to you. 

Rainbow-Bridge-Pet-Poem

I can still feel Boopsie’s body relax and give way into my arms. I had no idea I’d be able to hold her through it all. I kissed her a million times, pet her, spoke to her softly and gave her all the love I had to give in those last few minutes. I’ll never forget the feeling. Although it’s something that haunts me and that I still replay over and over again in my mind, I can’t explain how good I feel about doing it.

I knew it would be hard.
I knew it would be painful.
I knew it would be unforgettable.
I knew I had to do it.

Although it was ridden with heartbreak and sadness, there was something beautiful about it. The fact that I got to hold her so close was comforting in some strange way. Her and I shared our special bond right until the very end.

How to cope with losing your pet – the takeaway

I’m not over Boopsie yet. Not sure if I ever really will be. But one month later, I am better. If you’re in the first few days, you’ve probably been trolling the internet in desperate need of something – anything – to help you cope with losing your pet. So, here are the steps I took to get me where I am today. Use none, use one, use some…

  1. Let yourself be upset.
  2. Cry as much as you need to.
  3. Ignore the people who don’t get it.
  4. Surround yourself with the people who do.
  5. Talk it to death.
  6. Get all the information you can about your pet’s condition.
  7. Research, research, research so you find the support you’re looking for about your decision.
  8. It’s okay to search for ways to feel better but at the end of the day, know in your heart that nothing will.
  9. Except time.
  10. Give it time, go through the grieving process – it sucks but it’s healthy and you have no other option but to do it.
  11. Remember all the good times.
  12. Re-focus your anguish on the things in your life you’re grateful for.
  13. If you have another pet at home, show them tons of love.
  14. When you’re ready, consider giving a new pet a beautiful home.

Celebrate your pet’s life

Sure, I am hoping this post helps at least one other person find the comfort they’re looking for but I’m really writing this for myself. This is my tribute to Boopsie. It’s my way of getting it all out…of saying goodbye.

I vividly remember the day we went to meet and bring home our little girl. She was in a foster home with a woman who had about 15 other cats living with her – some resident cats, some rescues. Little Betty Boop was in a washroom with her littermates. As we slowly opened the door, she scooted out between our legs. My mischievous little Boopsie. I loved her right from the moment I laid eyes on her. I held her in my arms and she instantly began to purr. Yup, this was her. Home bound!

boopsie-kitten

Our other little guy at home was so eager to meet her that we likely rushed that introduction. In any case, it wasn’t long before she settled in to her new home and crazy brother (all the male cats in her life have always treated her like one of the guys – I like to think this feisty female creature asked for it rough).

betty-and-monty

We didn’t get long.

Boopsie’s life was only three and a half years long. Not nearly long enough. But like I said above, I find comfort in the fact that her life, in its entirety, was the best it could have possibly been. When she was found on the street by the rescue agency, she was eating dirt! I gave her all my love, the best diet money could buy, Greenies treats (her true obsession), a big house to run around in, tons of toys, never ending cuddles, attention and conversation.

Yes, I’m serious.

Boopsie and I had conversations with one another. A lot.

I think the most special quality about Boopsie was her need to chat. All day. Every day. She was the most vocal cat I have ever come in contact with. I’m a Chatty Kathy myself, hence the instant connection.

I miss her yapping.
I miss her presence.
I miss her big beautiful eyes.
I miss her loud, soothing purr.

I miss her.

We love having two cats in our house and our Hanky Panky definitely needs a buddy. So I know we’ll adopt another cat soon. But it won’t be to replace her. It will be to give another cat a special home. It will be to honour Boopsie’s life by giving my love to a fellow feline companion.

Life won’t be the same without my Boopsie and she’ll always have an exclusively reserved place in my heart.

Can’t wait to cross the Rainbow Bridge with you, Boopsie. Until then, be happy sweet girl, just that side of Heaven.

boopsie-farewell

 

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