If you’re interested, here’s the account of how Geordie met his end. There are some bits in here that are probably not for the squeamish, the cat-lover, or those who worry about their own pets dying. On the other hand, maybe this information or experience may be valuable. Feel free to skip or not, as you please.
About 10:20 am, I loaded Geordie into his cat carrier. He protested a little, but he wasn’t strong enough to put up any fight. Two short meows, that was about it. He settled down on the yellow towel in his blue carrier, and we drove across the river, past the mill pond where Mom and I kayaked the other day, to the animal hospital.
The woman behind the desk pulled out my parents’ file, from when they had a cat. Domino first visited Dr. Bear in 1981. I was 11 years old then. Dr. Bear did a thorough examination, using the test results faxed down from my home vet, and took Geordie’s temperature rectally, as well as examining his gums, his ears and his eyes. The physical exam revealed highly shrunken internal organs, particularly the kidneys, which were almost too small to locate. There were no tumors, but there was a fair amount of liquid in the abdominal cavity, where it doesn’t belong. There was a small amount of stool waiting to be passed, but Dr. Bear found that to be consistent with a cat who hadn’t eaten in several days.
Dr. Bear then laid out three options. The first option he didn’t actually suggest. He said something like, “I don’t usually offer this first; we’re pretty gung-ho about treatment here. But this is a pretty advanced case. Well, we could take him into the hospital here, might take a week – we’d give him an IV of fluids under the skin, behind the shoulder blades, and give him a bunch of appetite stimulants, and vitamins. But it’s not really likely to succeed, and he’s suffering now. I don’t usually like to give numbers, but there’s maybe a 95% chance of failure here. There’s only a very small chance that he’s going to recover even with extraordinary measures. If he were two years old… well, I’d go for it. But it’s clear he’s had his time, very successful life. The second option is that we could give you some of the appetite stimulants to give to him, and an IV shot under the skin, and you could take him home for a couple more days. So I guess there’s three options – the, the… and then there’s the hospital treatment, and then taking him home.”
I started crying. Not a few tears. Lots and lots of tears. The vet nodded at me, though I don’t remember saying anything. I take that back. I said something, but I don’t remember what I said. He nodded, and got the paperwork.
I signed the death warrant.
I had to fill in Geordie’s name at the top; the nurse/assistant forgot. It said something like: I hereby authorize Dr. Bear or his assistants or associates to perform euthanasia upon the animal, _______________, after due consideration of all the implications and consequences of this procedure.
There was more, but I remember the check-boxes at the bottom the most:
[ ] General Cremation, no ashes returned;
[ ] private cremation, ashes returned;
[ ] Cemetery pick-up;
[ ] Immediate departure from animal hospital.
I picked private cremation. I might have chosen something else, if I had known then what I learned when I paid the bill – I won’t get the ashes for sixteen weeks or so. October, approximately. Which means I’ll be thinking about this whole thing again in October, gods help me.
They gave me a little time alone with Geordie while they got set-up. Dr. Bear asked me again if I really wanted to stay while they did this. I said yes.
Geordie didn’t really recognize me at all. Dr. Bear said he was nearly comatose from dehydration, and his pupils weren’t dilating. He wasn’t seeing anything. While Dr. Bear and his assistant got ready, I needed something to do, because petting Geordie wasn’t very comforting to me or to him. He was just lying there as though he was already dead.
So I grabbed a brush from the side, and I brushed him. Huge amounts of his hair came loose. I also cleaned his teeth and chin and gums, and cleaned his paws, and cleaned his ears. He never sat so still for these things before, and they hadn’t even given him the sedative yet.
The assistant came in and explained the procedure: the animal hospital did it in two stages – a sedative first, then a shot of something else, ten or fifteen minutes later when the sedative took effect. The assistant gave Geordie the sedative. About ten minutes later, the doctor came in, listened to his heart, and said that he wasn’t quite ready.
I wish Geordie had rolled his eyes at me or done something to indicate that this is what he wanted. I suppose he did that over most of the last few days, didn’t he?
Dr. Bear came back in, checked his heart, and pronounced him ready. The assistant shaved one of Geordie’s back legs, and Dr. Bear inserted the needle with a little butterfly-shaped green plastic thing attached, and a long hose. The hose was connected to a water solution in a plastic syringe. Dr. Bear tried three places in the leg, but the vein kept bleeding out, and collapsing, which meant the drug would be ineffective. Geordie didn’t really react to this, but the blood on his leg was disturbing.
At Dr. Bear’s direction, the assistant shaved part of Geordie’s foreleg on his left side, exposing a blue line of vein along the top of his leg. Dr. Bear inserted the needle into this blue line, and used the water solution to test whether the vein would bleed out. When the vein remained stable, the assistant removed the water syringe and replaced it with a syringe of pink solution. This pink solution slowly traveled up the tube, through the green plastic butterfly, and then into Geordie’s limb.
A minute or so later, I couldn’t feel Geordie’s heartbeat. Maybe it was more time than that, maybe it was less. One way or another, though, it was done. The assistant wrapped Geordie up in the yellow towel, and he left. Dr. Bear invited me to stay a little bit longer, and warned me that the limbs might jerk around a bit in a final death throe. I was suddenly eager to get out of there. I was all cried out.
I went to the front desk, learned about the October pick-up of ashes (maybe August, she said, but not likely), and paid the bill. Seventy-five dollars for the consultation… another eighty-six dollars for the euthanasia. A hundred dollars for private cremation and a tin to put the ashes in. The woman behind the desk said, you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t pick up their ashes in an imagine-that tone of voice that suggested she expected the same of me. She talked about her own cat, looked just like Geordie, she said, same boat, same age…. She’s expecting to come home to find him dead somewhere in the house.
There was a poster in the examination room, with words by a poet named Henry Benton, I think. It’s typical of my distress that I didn’t have a pen or paper with me in the room. The text was rather long, on a beautiful poster, that ran something like this:
“We need a new view of animals, more mystical and spiritual. When man, living by the artifice of civilization, looks at animals through the lens of his knowledge, he sees a feather magnified, and much distorted. Animals seem poorer and incomplete, less real, and somehow less puissant and less able. But they are complete, and they move in a world far older and more mysterious than the realms of man and his civilized ways. We ought not to think of animals as servants, or pets, or even companions. Rather, they are whole nations, cultures apart and alien to man, yet likewise caught in the glory and travail that is life on the earth.”
Good-bye, Geordie. May you sleep by the teat of Bastet tonight, and chase mice and birds in the gardens of the cat-gods at dawn.
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