Mrs. Joe & I had to put our dear, beloved Feline Joe (AKA "Cote," sounds like "Cody") to sleep on Friday. She was quite old, at least 17, though now the vet is telling us (based on her teeth and the condition of her skin & hair), that she could be as old as 20. Since she was a rescue from a shelter, mere days before she was to be "destroyed," we'll never really know.
She'd had a rough life on the street before the ASPCA got her -- she had one fang in her mouth and at least five BB's embedded in her skin. She was also the runt of her litter -- at her heaviest, she weighed no more than six and a half pounds. The fact that she was at least six or even eight years old by the time she made it to the shelter, despite her diminutive size, showed that she was a tenacious survivor, a rough and tumble, street-brawling alley cat capable of handling other cats and dogs six times her size and weight. Yet paradoxically, she had the sweet and magnanimous disposition of a creature so confident in her own strength and toughness that it would never occur to her that it was something in need of proving. She was loving and generous to human house-guests and other cats, alike. A friend of mine describes his long-time girlfriend, who is very pretty and from working-class Brooklyn, as "a switch-blade and a skirt." I liked to think of Cote that way, too: a beautiful girl who could handle herself in a street fight.
I don't remember meeting her, though. I was not yet in the picture when Mrs. Joe had rescued her a couple of years before we started dating, but by the time she and I were married, the three of us were definitely a family. For eight happy years, in two different apartments, her favorite "activity" was to sit on my chest (also her favorite sleeping spot, other than a sunny windowsill) and stare lovingly at Mrs. Joe. We called her our "grumpy old lady" because she would scold us when the food was late or the litter dirty and our "dog-cat" because she always greeted us at the door, no matter how long we'd been gone - minutes or days. When we scooped her up in our arms as our typical greeting, she always reached up to pull our faces to hers. She was the best kind of pet, a loving, wonderful companion.
However old she may have been -- 17 and perhaps older -- she suffered from the usual host of old-cat health problems, ranging from blood clots to kidney trouble, and in April she had a stroke that affected her hind legs. The vet was pessimistic, we thought it was all over then, but she wasn't ready to go. She bounced back after a week of steroids and fluids, again alert and spry, her eyes as bright and cheery as ever. But a week ago, she began to sleep more than usual and when she didn't greet us at the door Tuesday night or Wednesday night, and her formerly robust meow was reduced to a meager croak, we knew the time had come.
She had simply grown tired of living. Her nine lives were used up, it was her time. We all knew it. It turned out to be massive kidney failure, with numbers the vet described as being off the charts.
I sat with her Thursday morning in our living room (she'd slept on me all night) and I held her frail and failing body to my chest. She was reduced to a tiny wisp of a thing, barely three pounds now, a weakened, limp rag doll. I wept and said my goodbyes. Later that morning, I left the house to run an errand and Mrs. Joe had her time alone before taking Cote on her final trip to the vet's office.
It was 10:30 Friday morning, dreary and wet, at the vet's office on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She went quietly, nestled like an infant in the crook of Mrs. Joe's arm. As the sedative entered her bloodstream, her eyes widened and she looked up quisitively at her mommy. She let out one plaintive mew, barely-audible. Her eyes then clouded over and she relaxed against Mrs. Joe's bosom. Soon enough, the sodium pentobarbital finally did what an early life of abandonment to a marginal existence on the street, countless fights with cats and other animals, five BB's fired by some sociopathic miscreant, a stint in an ASPCA shelter under threat of extermination and a debilitating stroke had all failed to do: her tiny chest slowly ceased to rise and fall and our dear little kitty was gone.
Wine and tears flowed freely the rest of the day.