When I first started sailing in the Merchant Marine, some 20 years ago, I wondered how any of these guys stayed married? I thought, “Who would want to stay married to a man they only saw 6 months out of every year?” Then I spent the other 6 months with those husbands and I realized that the only reason they were still married was because they didn’t have to deal with each other half of the time.
I have a couple who remind me of this every time I see them together at the clinic. They have been married for a long time, and they have decided recently to work together. The husband is an amazing artist and his wife has recently retired from her career to help him build his art portfolio and assume the marketing duties needed to advertise his artwork to the world. They are now together full-time and it has caused a bit more friction between them. If they come in together there is always bickering, but apart they are calm, patient, devoted pet owners who are so easy to be around. They have designed their home for only two purposes, to take care of their cats ever evolving needs, and to provide the art studio of a brilliantly talented sculptor.
When I say "talented" I am understating. I think that his work is absolutely AMAZING! About 4 years ago he made me a metal sculpture for helping him take care of one of his cats. It is of a woman running with three dogs. He told me he made it to look like me and my dogs. It is by far the most beautiful touching gift I have ever received. I will treasure it always.
They were in just this week to euthanize their cat favorite companion Ebony. Ebony had come to them as a kitten. But very early on Dr. Wilson, my predecessor, noticed that Ebony had very “jerky” movements as he tried to walk, eat, and perform very simple normal cat tasks. This is not an uncommon condition in kittens, it is called cerebellar hypoplasia. The disease is caused by exposure to feline panleukopenia virus while these kittens are in their mom’s womb. A kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia has what we call “intention tremors.” These tremors are most noticeable when the kitten is eating, or “focused” on something, like playing with a toy. The kitten will walk up to their food bowl (or toy) and while they are focusing on the food in the bowl and just how to get that piece into their mouth heir head will start to bob, (like a chicken pecking for food). It is something you see once and never forget. Dr. Wilson quickly diagnosed Ebony with this. The good news about this disease is that these kittens grow up and sort of “learn” to manage their disease. It usually doesn’t worsen with age, but rather these kittens "learn" to function well inspite of the tremors. Over the years Ebony’s clinical signs were, just like we suspected, tolerated well. He lived 10 uneventful years. Then about 4 years ago he started becoming more ataxic (wobbly on his feet) and began having more and more difficulty with stairs. So naturally his devoted owners made modifications to their home so he wouldn’t endanger himself. He also started having spells of falling over and losing control of his bowels. His symptoms became increasingly more frequent and difficult for him. He had longer periods of disorientation which became more severe and more frequent. Some of these spells appeared as if he didn’t even have any mental awareness as to where he was or who he was, or even if he was. Ebony would be found sitting up but staring blankly. As if he was physically there but “no one was home.”
On the morning they brought Ebony in to put him down he had disappeared. They found him hiding under a chair, pupils completely dilated and his expression “blank.” Everything pointed to him having a stroke, or some kind of catastrophic brain event. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, but it was a very painful one for all of us. His parents loved him dearly, and in their time of having to make a difficult decision they banded together for the sake of their dear cat.
As we stood there crying over Ebony they reminded me of their favorite Ebony story.
They had come in last year, obviously embroiled in a domestic dispute over who had been the “stupid idiot that let Ebony out!” Apparently one of them had inadvertently let Ebony out and after searching the yard, (because he had never traveled far before), they started to expand their perimeter search. When they found him sometime later he looked awful. So awful in fact that the already very heated discussion/finger-pointing turned into profanities and mud-slinging. They immediately rushed him into us. Ebony came in the front door obviously very terribly ill by his two enraged parents.
Dr. L quickly took possession of Ebony. She carried him back to the surgical treatment area in part because Ebony appeared to be dying, but primarily because the mud-slinging was turning into mortal combat after Dr. L revealed just how bad Ebony’s condition was.
After Dr. L finished the rest of his examination in the treatment area, she returned to the exam room, which, thankfully, 30 minutes later had come to a quiet hush of tired quarrels. Dr. L explained that Ebony appeared to have been attacked by something and that the trauma from the attack had caused the skin to be torn away from his body. Because it was summer the flies had laid eggs in the damaged tissue which had now turned into his body being covered in maggots. Dr. L said it was one of the most severely infested maggot case she had ever seen. In severe cases the pets skin appears to be "crawling" as all of the bugs chew away the tissue under the skin. (Yuck, it is so gross, we all hate maggot picking).
After the arguing took its second wind, Dr. L refocused them on making a decision as to what to do for poor Ebony. They all decided that he was likely to die from the anesthesia and the surgery and the maggots, so Ebony was humanely euthanized.
Ebony’s parents left JVC in tears and still seething with anger over each other letting him out in the first place. As they approached their home the talking ceased and the car was parked. To their delight they saw Ebony sitting on their front porch bench waiting for them. To their horror they called us and confessed that they didn’t know who’s cat we had just euthanized.
To this day, we don’t know. Perhaps that Ebony’s body double was found so that it wouldn’t suffer any longer? Maybe that was one of many Ebony’s gifts?
I am certainly not trying to say that I think it is appropriate to be laughing over the passing of a pet, but I will admit many of our euthanasia’s are so emotional it is comforting to remember the funny times. It is my hope that the grieving parents will hold onto the joys their pet brought them as they let them go.
For me, I try to remember that every life has a meaning and every being has a purpose. Death is a celebration of life, and it is the part that reminds us to enjoy every single second.