September 28, 2004

Trying To Be A Good Ex-Boyfriend

Postings have been light around here & may continue to be so for a while. Normally I'll just post when I can & not attempt to forewarn or explain any absence from the keyboard. Partly this is because I'm hoping my co-bloggers take up the slack & partly because I'm a fairly private person (though I thought about being a general perosn once). Hey - I'm writing under a psuedonym that's at least 2000 years old: do you really think I'm gonna tell you what I buy at the supermarket?

But tonight I'll break with that tradition.

I have an ex-girlfriend. Recently ex: we ended the relationship about 6 weeks back. We lived together for a bit over two years & dated for about a year before we shacked up. The reasons for the break up were complex in origin though perhaps they could be summarized very simply. I won't go into the details except to say we still talk quite a bit & we're not mortal enemies.

Since then I've moved out & I'm trying to get a handle on the single life again. But things are never that easy.

The ex has two cats: one's a 14 year old boy & the other a 17 year old girl. I won't tell you I'm not attached to them. I've always been a cat person & the last 6 months or so I probably spent more time with the cats than anyone else including the ex. Ya see, cats don't doubt you when you say you have salmon even if your wearing jammies. They tend to accept the facts for themselves regardless of the manner in which they were delivered.

Here's where things get complex & my light to non existent posting is explained:

Last Monday the ex took the 17 year old to the vet. The cat hadn't been eating like she normally does so the ex figured it was a tooth problem. Sure enough the vet found some bad teeth. (hey - have you ever tried flossing a cat's teeth?) The vet prescribed some anti-biodics & scheduled tooth removal for the following week. Well, the cat started having problems breathing. She was visibly struggling to get her breath, so the ex took her back in to the vet. That's when they found a bit of fluid in her chest cavity. No solid idea of where it came from at that point, just a few educated guesses. The theories ranged from a real nasty infection to heart problems to cancer. We were told to watch her & if she had more trouble than she was to bring her back in & they'd drain some of the fluid.

Draining fluid involves poking a needle into the cats chest, so it's not without some risk & discomfort. It's not like doing a quadruple by-pass on a cat but it's not like doing a nail clip & breath check either.

Sure enough the cat's breathing became more labored, so we hauled ass to the emergency vet & had about 120 mililiters of fluid drained. The cat seemed to be more relaxed after that, though she wasn't thrilled with what she went through to obtain that relief. The next night we had to take her back again - this time they got about 80 mililiters of fluid.

Come Monday some more tests were done after the initial tests ( taken on Friday) came back inconclusive. An ultrasound to be specific. They found what appears to be a cancerous growth along the inside of her chest cavity. They're pretty sure that's what caused the fluid & they expect she'll live a week to a few months at most.

The ex called me when all this was going on. Partly because she & I are still pretty close & partly because she knows I care about her cats. Hell, the 17 year old curled up in my lap while I posted a good percentage of what you have read here. She watched C-Span 2 with me during the AWB renewal fight last March; sat (& napped) through countless audio streams I've listened to on firearms related stuff & whenever I needed a break from writing or working or practicing she was always willing to nap with me so I didn't feel like a sleep addict.

Anyway, I've spent the last week working & trying to take care of the ex & the cats. Tonight's the first night I've spent away from them since this all started.

Odds are things won't get any easier schedule wise. Ya see now we're out of the "try to make her well" mode & into the "try to make her comfy till the end" mode. It's not easy on the ex. She's had the cat for 17 years. To give you an idea of how difficult that is she still cries whenever she sees a Rhodesian Ridgeback, cause she had one for about 4 years & it passed away. So this is not something she is going to feel sad about for 5 minutes & then get on with her life.

It's not easy for me either. I'm a man. Not much of one but I try & feel I can at least lay claim to the bottom edge of the title. What I feel more comfortable doing is fighting & protecting the ones I care about - even if they're merely pets. Grizzly charging the cat? No problem. I know what to do. Burglar comes in & kicks at the cat? Again, I've got it covered. Cat breaks a leg? Hey, I can rig up a splint & try to make things alright. But cancer? I can't shoot it or punch it or stab it or incapacitate it. I'm lost. I'm frustrated. I'm incapable of acting.

So what we're left with are two tasks, neither of which are pleasant: make the cat as comfortable as possible & decide when to kill her. The ex would use a phrase like "put her down" but I won't. It's what we have to do. Most likely it's what a vet will have to do once the ex makes up her mind. Me personally? I'm with Mr. Ross on this. I think it's far crueler to have a pet scared to death in a strange room filled with strangers as they're about to die than to kill the pet yourself when it's comfortable & at ease.

Cats are not very dependent creatures; at least not compared to other domesticated animals. If they could open cans of cat food & change their own litter they wouldn't need humans. We only exist in their world because we have opposable thumbs. So to me a cat being held down on a stretcher while a shot is given to take them out of this world seems inappropriate.

If the cat were mine what I would do is something similar to what Mr. Ross did: take the little thing out in the woods, set out her favorite food & watch her explore a new place for a while. Then when she's comfy & preferably resting her eyes take a .22 & kill her as painlessly as possible. Let her die happy & quickly, with her last thoughts that of being soveriegn of all she sees.

It's not the easiest road to travel, especially if you're attached to the animal as I am. But that individualist part of me which you see so much of here can't square with the idea of abrogating the responsibility of providing a merciful death to your pet, even if it's a vet who does this routinely. While I know I'd feel bad about the whole episode, the guilt would not be over whether or not I did the right thing, or whether the cat went out as is befitting a feline. It'd be an emotional response hinged on missing the creature more than anything, & some residual guilt at its demise at my own hand.

But this is acedemic at this point. The cat may be alright for a few months. Even if she isn't I can see the ex uttering the word "barbarian", along with a few others (most not in english but all profane rationalizations of my lineage) when I bring up this possibility of giving the cat one last day in the woods.

I'll try to explain to her that it's quite different than someone who takes kittens & drowns them or a person who enjoys being cruel to animals, but I doubt she'll be able to make the distinction.

It's her cat & ultimately her decision. All I can do is make the offer I outlined above as well as any others I can think of to make things easier on the cat & her.

But that's what's been keeping me from posting & for at least a few more days that's what will make posting light. At times it's very difficult being a man. It can be even more difficult to be a good ex-boyfriend. & even more difficult still is trying to be both while taking care of a creature that you can't take care of. & this. lest you think I'm into "bitching about manhood" mode, is nothing to what my ex is going through. I'll be losing a cat I've known for a few years. She'll be losing a friend she's had for damn near 20. Many people are going through things far worse right now & I can understand people who think "hey, it's only a pet" but relativism works best for those emotionally detached.

Hopefully soon I'll be back to ranting about the anti-gun lobby & raving about what the pro-gunners are doing wrong or need to be doing. But for the next few days I ask you to pardon me while I try to take care of what family I have.

Posted by Publicola at September 28, 2004 05:42 AM

Deciding to put the family pet down is pretty tough. I'd hate to have to make the decision. Best wishes.

Posted by: SayUncle at September 28, 2004 06:54 AM

Compassion is not weakness.

My lab Belle died at about 18 with her head in my lap...quick, of Parvo, when the vet was overwhelmed and out of serum. I buried her in the woods where she liked to run. I've had two dogs since (and 5 cats) including my present nutcase Border Collie. The Mooch is only 5, but I dread burying him too. Oh, and we were able to talk the Vet into a house call, to make one of the cats finish up in normal surroundings.

I still miss Belle.

All pets go to heaven...if they don't, I don't want to live there.

Posted by: bjbarron at September 28, 2004 11:08 AM

I'm terribly sorry.

If it comes down to that last day in the woods, then remember that it's the best thing for the cat.

That's a cold comfort, but it's the only one available.


Posted by: James R. Rummel at September 28, 2004 09:15 PM

I feel for you, man. We have a couple of cats ourselves, including one that's around 11 years old. Someday, probably five years or more from now, we're going to have to make a fateful decision like that. And I KNOW we'll miss her terribly after that happens (my wife will probably be inconsolable). At least we'll have the comfort of knowing that we probably saved her from being euthanized when we first got her (three and a half years ago), and gave her many years of happy life with us...and she always returned the love we gave her.

Your ex is right; the cat is NOT "just a pet," she's a family member, almost like a child. And losing children is NEVER easy.

Once your ex's cat is gone, I'll make sure to say a prayer to Bubastis, feline Goddess of the Nile, for her.

Posted by: Erbo at September 29, 2004 01:09 PM

You're doing all the right things in a difficult situation. Enjoy the time you've got left, and remember that you'll always have the memories of the time you had together.

Posted by: Ted at October 1, 2004 09:36 AM

I'm more of a dog person personally, as is the wife. But pack or pride, animals are family, and furry "children" that never grow up.

We lost a dog to epilepsy in Nov 93 at the age of 8. She diagnosed my wife's cancer and probably saved her life. This "shusky" had had epilepsy for 3+ years and the meds stopped working - she died at the vets, alone.....

Lost her "sister" to hemangiosarcoma in Dec 2002 at the age of 13+, by then we has shifted vets, though at the same practice. "Dr Sally" works with equine rescue and understands pets as "people." She took care of Sheba for 8 years, from the time we got her from the shelter. When it was time, she came to the house and injected Sheba with phenobarbitol. She died in my wife's arms and it was a mercy to let her go.

We had, and would have, done anything to treat the animal, regardless of expense, but there are only about 4 schools of vetrinary medicine around the country doing chemo on animals - and at her age the odds were negligible.

Ya do what ya gotta do, cry and move on. The shelters are full of needy "orphans," and I think you will find in short order that the remaining "child' doesn't like being an "only"....

I'm with the previous poster about pets in heaven....

Posted by: Front Porch Philosopher at October 1, 2004 11:54 AM

I've been in your position before and I agree that the Vet. is an unsatisfactory solution. It feels like your betraying an old friend. I'll be in the same position again soon.

I've been leaning towards the same solution as you are and had read the John Ross piece just a few days before your post.

It's strange that I felt so alone in my desire to be with my sweet cat in her last moments while in an environment that's comfortable for her. I've felt almost perverse for wanting to do the job myself while keeping her comfortable - it must be leftovers from being conditioned to let the "experts" do the job even when I'm in the best position to see what needs to be done.

No one would want this responsibility but today I would never outsource this responsibility.

Posted by: Marc at October 1, 2004 10:32 PM

I've lost a number of pets in my life. Growing up we always had a dog.

We've had to put a few down. One went to the vet, the other was handled by an uncle with a .22 to the head. What do I prefer? I'd rather the dog died at his home. I know it sounds savage to most people to have somebody shoot your pet -- but I still think it's better than being dragged into an office and injected with a needle. I know which method I'd prefer if it was myself.

If you decide to put her down without a vet, find somebody else to do it. It'll be much easier on you. If you can't find somebody -- well, I'd do it if I lived near you, though I have no idea where you live.

Posted by: Justin Buist at October 3, 2004 08:33 AM

I had to put my cat to sleep. Because she reacted when he first tried to give her the shot he gave her something to calm her down. She fell asleep in my arms and then he gave her the next shot and she just died very quietly,with my hands on her.

It is hard, but it was the right thing to do. She was no longer eating or even moving about. She was just lying there.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at October 4, 2004 08:29 AM

Everybody has a story. Or they should.

T.C. went in his sleep, with his head in my hand. I don't know what I'll do when the white dog goes...

I am not looking forward to that.

Posted by: Jim at October 12, 2004 12:25 AM

Omg thats right! Please come see me and my friends! ;)

Posted by: watch moi at March 16, 2005 02:40 PM
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