I Don’t Know Much…But I Know I Love You

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Shaggy was put to sleep last week.

He developed a fast-growing cancer under his tongue, and the veterinarian pulled no punches in saying he shouldn’t be allowed to suffer with that type of cancer. Even when treated it’s a miserable treatment process, and the location of the tumor, which was already open and festering, makes it cruel for the animal to endure. And even with treatment, the vet said it’s the kind that recurs. There was no question about what to do, but no end to the heartbreak of having to agree to it, especially not being there to hold him in the end.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Favorite sitting position. Photo courtesy of Amy Shannonhouse (c) 2013

He was a rescue from an animal shelter in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. We got him in 1998. In his fifteen years, we were told at least fifteen times that Shaggy was part Maine Coon cat. I don’t know about that, but I know he was the most unique cat I’ve ever known.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Shaggy’s favorite sleeping spot on the back of the armchair

You would think as a writer I could have come up with a better name than “Shaggy.” But he was just a mop of hair as a kitten, and I never called him Shaggy much anyway.  It started when I would call him Shaggy-boom and then I just started calling him “Booms” or “Boomie.”

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

I taught Shaggy to come to whistling. Every time I fed him I would whistle a song I made up. I whistled it softly when I held him, too. I always make up a song for each pet I have, but most of them have words. Shaggy’s was the first that was only a tune I whistled. As he grew older, anytime I was whistling – whether it was that tune or not, he would come purring against me, wanting to be held.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Shaggy loved watching people upside down. Photo courtesy of Amy Shannonhouse (c) 2013

He was one of the only cats I’ve ever had who liked to be held upside down, like a baby. He even mewed like a kitten instead of meowing like an adult cat…all his life.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

My writing buddy waiting to interrupt me.

When I was writing in my journal or on the laptop, he would sneak up and quickly sit or lie down on top of my hand so I couldn’t use my pen or keyboard. I would then wrap him up under my arm so he knew he was a priority, but so I could also use my hand to keep writing!

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

He was strangely obsessed with water. When I would get a bath he would come jump on the ledge of the tub and sit and watch me, occasionally dipping a paw in the water. He also preferred to drink water dripping in the tub, even when I bought him a fresh water fountain. I would frequently walk in the bathroom to find him in the tub. Sometimes he was drinking, other times just sitting and watching the faucet hopefully. My cousin, Amy, who he lived with when we moved to South Africa, sent me photos showing he had developed the same routine there.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Discovering my cousin’s tub. Photo courtesy of Amy Shannonhouse (c) 2013

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Busted! Photo courtesy of Amy Shannonhouse (c) 2013

Shaggy loved other animals. I was grateful that he developed a friendship with my cousin’s cat, Max, where he lived in his last months of life. He was spoiled and coddled and got to have a buddy again, and when it was time for him to go, my cousin and her daughter went in with him to shower him with love and affection.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Shaggy and his new best friend, Max. Photo courtesy of Amy Shannonhouse (c) 2013

He needed that feline buddy, because he had a hard time after we lost Cueball, our other cat who died at home a few years ago. He also had cancer, but I wasn’t ready to let him go , and I avoided any discussion of euthanasia.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Watching birds from his cat bed on the windowsill at home.

Both our previous dogs had to be put to sleep in 2006, the year my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pippin was sixteen and had progressive cancer all through her mouth. Alex was twelve and had a stroke, leaving him paralyzed and listless. It was a rough period of time, and after Mom died in 2008, I couldn’t handle the thought of another death, human or animal.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

Shaggy loved when we made a fire. We occasionally had to put out an ember in his mass of fur, when an ash popped out, but it never made him afraid.

My inability to suffer one more death caused Cueball to suffer, and he died miserably, during a day we were away.  We found him under the basement steps, and it looked like he had been crawling across the floor for some time. I’m not telling you this to be shocking. I’m telling you this because I want to share a lesson I learned about myself and what I now believe about animal stewardship. If I take the responsibility of caring for an animal, I also take on the awful, terrifying and heartbreaking responsibility of trying to understand my charge well enough to know when they are ready to go, and not prolonging out of my own fear or need for comfort.

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

The day that Shaggy was put down, every moment of my day felt surreal. I knew the hour he was to go, and it felt like watching myself go through the motions of my day. After taking care of a lot of errands, I was driving back to the house, to sit and just think about Shaggy during the time he would be put down. I stopped for one last errand: to fill up my car at the petrol station.

The attendant sang to me as he washed the windows and fueled the car. He stopped and held his rag to his mouth like a microphone and spun around, staring at me. He wouldn’t stop singing and smiling at me, and as I drove away, he started singing as loud as he could and I saw him still watching me drive away. I don’t think he was being creepy or hitting on me. I think sometimes people just recognize sadness, no matter how much you try to hide it.

The song was stuck in my head as I drove home, as I sat and thought about Shaggy and looked at his photos, and whistled the tune I had made up for him when he was a kitten. I wondered if he was gone yet, and how my cousin and her daughter were doing. And my whistling changed to humming as I finished the petrol attendant’s serenade, “I don’t know much. But I know I love you. And that may be… all there is to know.”

I love you, Booms. And I miss you.

Love, Marla

animal euthanasia cancer treatment in cats when to put your pet to sleep

10 Comments on “I Don’t Know Much…But I Know I Love You

  1. I’m so sorry, Marla! I’m just now catching up on your past week or so of blogs. Poor Shaggy… he was a sweetheart and so cuddly. I know it’s upsetting you weren’t with him for his final days, but at least you’re able to take solace in looking back at all these old, really terrific photos and reminisce about what a loveable and unique friend he was. I love you!

  2. I am so sorry, having been owned by many cats during my lifetime I know what wonderful companions they can be. Please know, you have done the best thing for your friend. Shaggy looks like a delightful furball, thank you for sharing your memories.

  3. Oh Marla. How painful it is to lose animals. Booms looks like a riot, and definitely like he’s part Maine Coon – they’re good, smart, big, weird cats. Moose and Clio and I send our love.

  4. Cried all the way through this Marla, I am so sorry that you have lost your much loved friend but in the end you did the only thing you could for him. Rest assured he’ll be paddling down at rainbow bridge now with all his buddies x

  5. Thinking of you Marla, with tears in my eyes. Having just gone through that with our dog Jack recently, the pain is still fresh. We are comforted by all the funny stories and pics we have, though, and we remember him often. Thanks for sharing your story. I loved seeing all your pictures. Shaggy had a great life with you.

  6. I’m so sorry, Marla. My husband was a farm kid and sooo NOT a cat person – and although he always liked our pets, when something happened to any of them he never really seemed to miss them. I, on the other hand, became attached to them all, immediately. May the memories you have comfort you right now and always. ((((Hugs)))

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