I do this all the time. I talk with people about nearing the end of their pet’s life, how to decide when it’s time to let their pet go, and how to navigate the struggle of actually making the decision to do so. It’s something I’m comfortable discussing - even passionate about, because it is SO important. So when the time came to discuss it with my kids, I wasn’t quite prepared, partly because we were talking about Rudy, a 5 month-old kitten we had adopted 3 months earlier.
Rudy was boisterous and lovable, all at the same time. He was ravenously hungry at meal time, and he was thriving, even out-growing his sister, Peaches. So when he sniffed his food bowl one Monday morning, ate two bites and then walked away, I was shocked. The same behavior was seen at dinner time. I put on my “vet hat” and examined him. The only thing I could discover was some pretty intense pain along his spine, so I treated him with my laser and a few acupuncture needles. He seemed a bit brighter and more active after, so I thought he must’ve fallen or maybe gotten stuck under a chair and was just a bit sore. The next morning, however, the same response to breakfast, and then he threw up. I gave him some medications to help with his tummy, and then I watched him walk to the water bowl and drink. And drink. And drink. And the entire time, his little body trembled.
Off to the regular clinic to discover on x-rays that he had not pooped in a while, so we happily assumed he was “just” constipated. After an enema and an injection of an anti-nausea drug, he pooped, and the clinic staff and I all smiled and prepared to get him back in his carrier to come home. We had momentarily forgotten we had run some blood work on him as well, just in case. And when we looked at the results, my heart dropped. My immediate thought was “Oh, this isn’t the blood from MY 5 month old cat, it can’t be.” The values that showed how is kidneys were functioning were literally off the charts, and his electrolytes were a mess, too. This all pointed to kidney failure. Yes, FAILURE. Our next stop was the emergency hospital with the plan of intensive care for 24-48 hours, follow-up blood work and urine tests, and an ultrasound to see what was going on with his kidneys. Shortly after leaving him at the ER, the vet called to say his blood tests were even worse compared to a few hours earlier, and that she saw cysts in his kidneys. I was speechless. This sweet, silly, thriving kitten had been born with a kidney disease that we could not do anything about.
Knowing this, I still asked the ER vet: “Do you think it’s worth leaving him at the ER overnight?” This is where being a vet and pet owner stinks...I need someone to talk to me like a pet owner, because I can’t think clearly when it’s my own. She gently said, “Well, the fluids might make him feel a little better while he’s here, but...” and she trailed off. I asked if she thought it would be best to bring him home that night to euthanize him. She said, “I can’t make that decision for you.” Argh! I knew she couldn’t, but I needed to hear that helping him die was really the right, and only, option. I knew it in my mind, but my heart needed someone else to say it, but she couldn’t.
As I started discussing this with my husband, our two kids, ages 5 and 7, came downstairs. The 7 year old looked at me and refused to go back upstairs. So I explained to them what was happening with Rudy, and that we could leave him at the hospital overnight, but it probably won’t fix him, or we could bring him home that night, but we would be doing so to help him die. And the 7 year old said, “Bring him home, I want him in my lap.” So that is what we did. Sweet Rudy was on our bed, surrounded by all of us, his true sister, Peaches, and his canine sister, Marley, as his body gently let go of his spirit.
No doubt there were tears and questions in the following days, but we survived the loss. More than that, we celebrated his little life with a party (involving snacks, as requested by our 5 year old son), where we spread his ashes, took turns playing a Tibetan singing bowl and made tiny prayer flags out of photos of Rudy and Peaches and our kids. It was, in the end, a good thing. Even though I questioned why I chose that litter of kittens, or those particular kittens to bring home, I knew it was not only to give Rudy the best possible life, but it was to give our family the best lesson in love and letting go. So yes, choosing to help our beloved tiny companion die was a good thing for all of us. He was wrapped in love as he went to sleep, and I really believe we can’t ask for more than that.