It feels as if Johnny has died about thirty times in the last week. Lying on his side with his eyes half open, I lift up the covers to see that he’s still breathing. And he is, so he’s still here. Johnny’s our cat, and he’s dying from renal failure. Tomorrow morning, he’ll be gone for sure, because our vet will drive over here to our home to put him down. It’s a decision that makes me sick and grateful at the same time.
But for now, Johnny’s alive. His process of dying has been a gradual lowering of location, from the high perch of the table to the middle of the armchair and now on the floor, with towels and heating pads to keep him warm.
Today is a good day, because last night, we watched Super Bowl 2011. Instead of seeing it downstairs in the living room like my wife and I normally would, we cheered on the Cheese Heads upstairs so we could be nearer our cat. This involved a bunch of high-tech trickery, converting the unencrypted cable signal through Ethernet and streaming the feed wirelessly to my netbook and out to my widescreen computer monitor. Johnny wouldn’t have been completely alone had we decided to stay downstairs, as we have another cat, one who is not exactly healthy, either, but at least one who isn’t dying. Her name is Kyra, and they’re both Siamese, if you please.
I don’t think the football game, as exciting as it was, is the reason why Johnny’s looking better today. It’s because for the first time in a long time, he slept in our bed, and for a good hour last night, we slept together. He hasn’t been able to walk for about a week, and all of his movements are limited, and yet last night, he found a way to crawl up next to me and stretch his uncertain limbs over my chest.
Johnny is my first cat, my first pet, one I didn’t live with until well into my twenties. (This is actually a fairly serious secret I just revealed, because now you could probably break into my online bank with the answer to one of my security questions.) When I met Johnny, he was two years old, and he’d been a stud cat for a cattery, meaning he was smooth and sweet with the ladies. He has one of the most relaxed personalities of any cat I know, of any creatures I know, animal or human. This is probably why he and I get along so well, because no matter how crappy things are going, Johnny is always just hanging out. If he were human, he’d be the guy buying the extra rounds at the bar, the one who may have plenty of problems of his own but is blissfully oblivious to every one of them.
For a while, our household had numerical gender equality: my wife Dawn, her daughter Jessica, and Kyra versus myself, Johnny, and Larry, our German shepherd dog. Jessica left for England in 2004, Larry passed away in 2005, and we got a new girl dog, Ginny, in 2006. So tomorrow, I’ll literally be the last man standing in a household of three females. Outnumbered! I wish Johnny weren’t going, but it is time. He’s done more than enough at this point, having survived two weeks of our absence in January, when we traveled to the Middle East and Europe, and when I left two weekends ago to see my college friend before he becomes a father (his wife is due in a week or so). An impending birth, an impending death. Never have I been more aware of the cyclical nature of life.
Seeing Johnny’s decline, I can’t help but to think of my own. What’s going to happen to me? Will I also lose the use of my legs, will my bladder empty without fair warning, will I become a living skeleton who watches his life slowly but surely ebb away? We all hope that our end will be painless and swift, but we can’t all be so lucky.
I’ve been checking on Johnny on the hour throughout the day, replacing the piece of tissue underneath his lips because he’s been drooling more heavily. At 3pm, he seemed tired but fine. At 4pm, his breathing became more shallow, but he still recognized me and seemed like he might pull through to see tomorrow. At 5pm, he was gone. He took himself out. We told ourselves, convinced ourselves, that putting him down would be our final act of kindness toward our boy cat, but it turns out that he’s the one who gifted us by giving up his life all on his own.
I wish I had been there with him as he exhaled his last breath, but I wasn’t there, because I had to be at work, in front of the computer, as my cat lie dying. Not that it would’ve made any difference, because he was going whether or not I was present. Still, it hurts that I missed his passing, and I know I’ll always regret it.
Dawn came back from work at seven, and we flooded the house with our collective tears. My eyes actually hurt from all the crying. Johnny’s where we left him, and I can almost make myself believe that he’s sleeping, that he’ll wake and tip his head up and look at me with those blue eyes of his. But he’s gone. As someone who has a tough time believing in the afterlife, I can’t say that he’s up there or slipped into another dimension or what have you, but I do know what this cat has meant to me for the fifteen years I knew him. He was a good boy. He was my friend. He was my first bromance. And I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.
There’s someone on the Internet that I must thank, and that’s Tanya (http://www.felinecrf.org/). We relied on her extensive website of feline chronic renal failure information, and because of her hard work, Johnny was able to get the best possible care. On her site, Tanya has the following quote that I think aptly closes out this post.
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
- an essay I wrote about Johnny in KoreAm Magazine a few years back.
What a wonderful tribute to Johnny. What a wonderful cat. What a little guy. You were lucky to have him…and he, you. Sending you positive thoughts.
Thank you, Christine. Blue Monday becomes Blue Tuesday, but such is life when there is death. It’s just awful.
I’m so sorry man.
Thanks, Marco. It sucks. Can’t say anything else but that.
Sung, I’ve been through it many times, and it’s never easy. Having witnessed two of my beloved cats exhale their last breaths, let me tell you, I actually saw them “let go”. I believe their little souls exited their bodies and became a part of the universe around us. I continued to see them for months…and I’m sure Johnny will visit you when you least expect, when perhaps you most need some comforting.
He was well loved, and you gave him a piece of your soul…
Thanks, Di. He’ll always be with me, that’s for sure. The best cat a man can have! I was lucky and he was, too, I know this…
It’s very rare that I can read a post about a dying pet, but yours is perfect. There is no melodrama, hysterics or anything out of the ordinary. You love Johnny and that shines through with every letter. That’s the way life and its end should be. Simple, loving and according to its own terms, not ours.
I know 19 months has passed, yet, please accept my heartfelt condolences. They are quite sincere.
Thank you, LMB, for your kind words. And I’d like to return your condolences to my cat for yours, Sasha. It’s just a terrible pity that these creatures whom we love so much live for such a short amount of time. That’s wonderful that you gave Sasha such a great home after what she went through — you gave the greatest gift a human being can give to a pet: a home.