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Norwich Bulletin - 10/15/2006

When To Say Goodbye

My husband and I never adopt kittens because they are easy to find homes for. That's why I was so surprised by how much I wanted to keep our little gray foster kitty, Gravel, and not adopt him out. In fact, it took a month of "never finding the right home" for him before my husband realized he was not going anywhere. For some reason his eyes just told me he needed to stay with us.

When we made the decision to adopt Gravel ourselves, he was a ball of energy, zooming around our house and courtyard as if he was one of our Abyssinians. He followed me everywhere no matter if I was just going to get a drink of water; if I left the room, Gravel was right behind me. Right up close to us at night on the bed, Gravel proved to be the perfect, healthy kitten.

When Gravel was about four months old, he stopped gaining weight. He looked gangly and teenager like and we didn't think too much about it. Then one night about a month later, as I was watching him zoom around from couch to the top of the cat tree, I noticed as he landed his hind legs were giving out from under him and he teetered a little.

Even though he quickly righted himself and continued on his way, I started to become concerned about his lack of weight gain and what appeared to be muscle loss. In the last two weeks, Gravel has deteriorated so that he does not run and play anymore. His sides are sunken in and his hips are jutting out. He falls to one side or another when he walks or jumps on the couch or bed. Of course we have had him tested for everything under the sun and there is nothing conclusive. We just know that Gravel is dying and we can't stop it.

When do I say goodbye and let Gravel go? Right now he still follows me around, although he is a lot slower. He still jumps on the bed and the couch to be with me, but if he stays too close to the edge, his hindlegs will collapse and he will lose his balance and fall off the bed. I still take him out to the courtyard and he tentatively walks through the yard and plays with the blades of grass and then sits and looks around, confused.

In fact Gravel looks confused most of the time. He knows he can no longer do what he once did and doesn't understand why. When he sits on my lap, the tears fall from my eyes because I feel so sad when I look at what has happened to our precious kitten.

Gravel weighs 2.4 pounds but he eats a lot and we give him wet food four times a day. His eyes are bright, he uses his litter and he gets around. He is only six months old. But my time is limited with him and I am starting to face the inevitable. Gravel has a type of degenerate disease that will continue to get worse and never get better. At some point, not too far in the future, Gravel will not be able to walk.

He will lose his appetite and I will have to be the brave one and start him on his journey. I have to understand that any heroics would be for my benefit and not his. And for all the times I have been through loss, whether a foster kitty or one of my own, it never gets easier and, in fact, I accept it less and less. So how much harder must it be for someone who only has one or two cats or dogs and faces losing them?

The first thing that we all have to do is realize that it is not our fault. That no matter how much love or care we give, we cannot control the fates. They say we are only given as much pain as we can handle, but doesn't it seem unfair that we appear to have more than others? Doesn't it seem unfair that a six month old kitten is going to die and we are powerless to stop it from happening? Yes, it is absolutely unfair, but it is also our responsibility to make sure the animal we love does not suffer. Death with dignity does not only apply to humans.

I wrote this column in mid September. Shortly afterwards I came home and Gravel tried to get up and come to me. He couldn't, but his will to be with me when I walked through the door, gave him the strength to get to me. He looked at me with such love and trust I knew he was asking me to take him so he could begin his final journey. It is the hardest thing that we ever have to do for our pets. I am angry and sad but I know I have done what is right for Gravel. I will also cherish every minute that I was allowed to love this very dear and special kitten.

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