Our sweet cat, Millie, died on Friday, February 6, 2015 at ~3:15 PM.
As I’ve been working on this very long post for the past 5 days I’m continually reminded of her absence. I look around the house and I still can’t believe she’s gone. I sure do miss her a lot.
I’ve already looked under Eric’s bed several times, but she’s not there by the heat vent. When I stand in the kitchen and look over to Eric’s room, I still expect to see her slipping out from under the bed. As I play with Todd in the living room, I wait for her to walk past.
When I sit on the couch, I really miss her. The computer sits where Millie should be. I’m no longer contorting myself to type with the computer on my right side while Millie occupies the center of my lap. I can’t hear the sound of her breathing, her faint snore, her quiet purr.
Millie’s food and water dish are now gone. She’s not going to get up, have a drink, crunch on some food, then come back to me. I remind myself that it’s “good” that now Todd won’t be able to get into the cat food…but still I miss her.
Now– when I’m on the couch and I ask Eric to get something for me, it’s not because Millie’s on me and I don’t want to disturb her. And the other way around. I miss seeing Millie on Eric. I’m so glad she let him love her, too.
I look toward the front door, and I can’t see her walking around the corner. There are no more sounds of her light tapping in the litter box. Yes, that’s another good thing, right? We don’t have to worry about Todd getting into that…
More “good” things– No more rubbing her goopy left eye all over my computer. No more itchy skin welts (mine), when she’d try to rub her face on my hands/arms and I didn’t pull back fast enough.
No more sounds of puking. No more cleaning up cat barf on a regular basis. No more gross discoveries of poop on the carpet (at the end). Poor Millie. I knew that it wasn’t her fault.
Every time I’d clean up messes part of me was looking forward to the time when we could replace the carpet. Obviously I knew that meant after she died. Of course, then I’d feel bad for thinking that. Then I’d wish I could just have her forever but without the barfing. I didn’t want her to die!
I loved Millie so much. Writing this blog post is helping me grieve. Even though there are several things that I won’t miss, I still want to remember all I can about her. I’ve written it all down here because I don’t want to forget her.
“THE EARLY DAYS” – END OF 2011
Millie came into our lives in November 2011. She was already ~12 years old. Millie was cared for by Ellen, of New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary. Ellen and I became friends after I started volunteering at her rescue. I volunteered there from Fall 2008 (shortly after going vegan) to December 2013 (when I got pregnant).
We used to go out to lunch after I completed my volunteer shifts each Friday. Toward the end of 2011, Ellen started mentioning that she really wanted to find a new home for her cat.
Millie and her littermate had been with Ellen since they were kittens, but, over the years, Ellen also had other cats and dogs. Although Millie used to integrate with the rest of her “family,” something happened that made her afraid. For several years, Millie basically lived a life of isolation in the house. And it bothered Ellen more and more.
One woman offered to take Millie in for a trial period, but the woman returned Millie to Ellen. “I couldn’t love her,” she said. (Whaaaat?) After that, I told Ellen, “Well…maybe I should take her.”
Eric and I hadn’t planned to have another cat after our last cat, Stuart, died in Fall 2004. But something compelled me to help. I knew that we had the home environment that Millie needed: a quiet house without any other animals.
On Saturday November 12, 2011, we picked up Millie at Ellen’s house. When we first brought her home, I set her up in our spare bedroom (now Todd’s room). I closed the other bedroom doors. Not surprisingly, Millie was very scared and timid. In those first days and weeks, I worked hard to gradually win over her trust.
On Day 1, Eric accidentally left his bedroom door open, and Millie took her first opportunity to race under his bed to hide. She didn’t come out until 7:30 PM the next day. From that point on, Eric’s room was Millie’s room and Eric’s bed was Millie’s bed. (Underneath, that is.)
Millie got brave enough to venture into the living room on Day 3, she jumped up on the couch on Day 4, and she was a lap cat on me for two hours on Day 5. She also trusted Eric enough to go over to him. From then on, I looked forward to my daily “Millie Time.” She loved it, too.
Within a month, Millie started using the scratching post and she felt comfortable enough to sometimes stay on the couch even if I got up. She was still very nervous, though, and it didn’t take much to set her off running under the bed to her “safe zone.” In general, she stayed under the bed if she wasn’t on my lap.
At the very beginning, I had to coax Millie out from under the bed by stretching out on the floor, saying her name, and then gradually crawling toward the living room. Next, I was able to remain standing and just come into the bedroom and say her name. Finally, within a month, she started to come out on her own, anticipating that it was “couch time” because we were developing a regular cuddle routine.
THE PRE-BABY YEARS – 2012 & 2013
Millie cuddled with me on the couch and not so much Eric. Eric always tried to win her over, though, and he did this by coming over to her every evening when she was on me. She let him pet her, blow bubbles on her belly, smoosh up her face and generally act silly. The look on her face said, “not impressed,” but we both knew that she liked it.
I was always glad when she did go to Eric. That’s why I have a lot of pictures of them together. There was a time when Eric had a better chance of getting Millie to cuddle with him if he used my couch instead of his. Later, it didn’t matter.
Even still, once I was available, Millie always came to me. She was my girl. I tried to give her as much of my time as I could, while still living my life.
Before I left for work in the mornings, we’d enjoy at least 30 minutes of couch time. After work, after dinner– I’d try to get as much time with Millie as I could before I went to bed. There were countless times when maybe I wanted to do “this” activity or “that” chore, but I made sure that couch time with Millie was a top priority.
Except– I did feel really bad every ski season, because we’d leave her from Friday evenings until Sunday evenings pretty much every weekend. (One reason we weren’t going to get another cat after Stuart died was because of our ski season routine of leaving every weekend.) But still, I knew that Millie’s quality of life was so much better than it was before, even factoring in our winter schedule.
Millie’s needs were so simple: food, water, safety, and couch time. On warm sunny days, she liked to sit on the sunny patches of carpet.
Millie was rarely seen “playing,” but a couple times I caught her in the act of batting around a plastic grocery bag that had dropped on the floor. It was refreshing to see her not so serious! A few other times I saw her chasing her tail. She had zero interest in catnip or cat toys.
Millie didn’t meow much, but when she did, it was very soft and meek. It always melted my heart and I know for sure that it was her quiet plea for some couch time.
Most often, though, she would simply stand and stare at me from the couch while I was busy in the kitchen, or else she’d stand and pause next to Eric’s bed. The look said, “Are you ready for me yet, or should I go back under the bed and wait?”
She had several white whiskers over her left eye but just 1 white whisker over her right eye. Her left eye was runny all the time and it must have been an annoyance for her because she was constantly rubbing her face against hard surfaces like the corners of our walls, my computer, chair edges, etc..
More things about Millie:
- When we’d do yoga, Millie would come out and circle around the mat and maybe meow quietly.
- Millie would sometimes sit under our dining table, and she would use that location to “stage” herself. From there, she could make a dash for the bed if she felt scared.
- Millie’s 2nd choice for a “safe” place was under Eric’s couch. We bought new beds in May 2013. Before the delivery guys got here, I pulled Eric’s old mattress and box spring off the frame while Millie was out in the living room. When the guys arrived, I knew she was going to freak out. Sure enough, she ran into Eric’s room, panicked, and ran back out and under the couch. There were a couple other instances when she ran under there, too.
- Millie wasn’t a barfy cat when we first got her, but later it was a regular problem.
- She liked to stand with her butt in our faces.
- We had to have a blanket or a towel on us for her to sit down.
- Sometimes she got her claw stuck in the couch and she struggled to free herself. She’d panic and I was always afraid she would rip it out.
MILLIE’S 1ST MEDICAL ISSUE – AUGUST 2012
Millie was treated for a urinary tract infection (UTI). We knew something was wrong because she wasn’t peeing in her litter box. We thought she wasn’t peeing at all, but I later realized that she’d been peeing on the carpet.
After treatment, her health was back to baseline. We tried feeding her wet food, since the vet said cats are prone to dehydration and urinary problems. She accepted it for a while, but then she stopped eating it.
Psychologically, she was set back by the experience. Getting her into the box to take her to the vet was traumatic for all of us because she really fought being handled. Millie was never (for us, anyway) a cat that you could pick up and carry.
After the incident, Millie didn’t act differently toward me, but she definitely lost trust in Eric. It took a long time for her to regain it.
PREGNANCY TIME – 2014
After I got pregnant with Todd, our general routine changed a little. I had a new job and I was working longer hours (and I started working 5 days/week instead of 4). I went to bed earlier than usual. All this cut into our couch time. I felt bad.
Fortunately, Millie got used to having couch time with Eric before I’d get home from work. If I went to bed before he did, she’d have that time with him, too. It was a good transition, in preparation for Todd.
Eric said on more than one occasion that Millie responded to him differently (better) after her medical event in March. She opened up to him like never before. (I detail that event below.)
As my belly grew larger, Millie had to accept her new spot on my thighs instead of my belly. Increasingly, she’d try to sit right on my chest, but that wasn’t happening! I got annoyed with her sometimes when she kept trying and trying to go there. She was persistent.
We moved Millie’s litter box out of Todd’s bedroom in late April, to give her plenty of adjustment time. We rented a Rug Doctor in late May. There was an incident or two of peeing in my bedroom that seemed behavioral so we permanently restricted her access to that section of the house with a baby gate. Thankfully, we didn’t notice anymore inappropriate peeing in other parts of the house.
MILLIE’S SECOND MEDICAL ISSUE – MARCH 2014
At about 3:30 AM on Saturday March 1st, Eric suddenly came into my room crying while holding Millie, saying there was something wrong with her. His crying told me that it was something serious. My heart sunk.
When I asked what was wrong, he said that for a while he heard her meowing under his bed. He first ignored it but then he realized that something wasn’t right. Millie wouldn’t come out on her own, but she let Eric help her. Then he noticed that her head and eyes were bobbing back and forth, she was staggering/couldn’t really walk, and her breathing was labored. When I saw this, I thought maybe she had a stroke. I thought it was the end.
We called the Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital, where Millie was seen in 2012. They offer 24 hour emergency care, so we brought her right in. The result of various tests revealed dehydration and abnormal kidney function values. She was diagnosed with chronic renal failure.
Millie was treated with IV fluids and electrolytes. One overnight stay turned into two, which turned into three nights, because her levels weren’t improving very fast. When I took her home on Tuesday morning, her kidney levels were better but still not within normal limits. It wasn’t “about” the money, but the bill came to ~$2000.
The vet recommended feeding Millie a wet food formulated for cats with kidney disease (she wouldn’t eat it). We offered her a kidney support supplement (she tried it a few times but then rejected it).
In the evening of that same Tuesday (March 4th), Millie was on the couch with me when she exhibited the same neurological symptoms which prompted our initial vet hospital visit. This time I suspected a seizure. We weren’t about to subject her to another stressful vet visit this time, so I prepared to say goodbye to her for a second time in less than 4 days.
I brought her head close to mine, held it gently but firmly, and I just kept telling her that it was okay to go. The head stabilization seemed to help re-focus her gaze, and gradually her respiration rate returned to normal. I stayed up until 11 PM just holding her, and when I went to bed she appeared somewhat normal again.
When we woke up the next morning, she still seemed okay. Inexplicably, there were no further incidents. Odd. From that point on, though, we assumed that she might not live a whole lot longer.
BABY TIME – STARTING AUGUST 2014
My sister and niece stayed with us for 2 weeks before/after Todd was born and then my parents and nephew added to the number of people in the house for a few additional days. Naturally, Millie stayed under the bed more often than usual. However, since they stayed so long, Millie started to warm up to them. I’m pretty sure she enjoyed some couch time with my sister and niece.
After Todd’s birth, Eric was Millie’s only consistent source of 1:1 attention for weeks and months. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the demands of a baby! I was so glad that she actually got a fair bit of evening couch time with Eric, especially when I was busy with Todd’s bedtime routine (it used to take an hour).
During Todd’s daytime naps in his swing, I had to prioritize what I got done. I didn’t stay on the couch as much as I would have liked. But– I did feed Todd on the couch and she took advantage of that. In the early weeks, Todd would snooze on me after he ate, so there was that time, too.
It was never good enough for Millie to sit next to me– she always had be somewhere on me. She had to settle for my lower legs when I had Todd. She acted a little neurotic because she would repeatedly jump up, circle around me, and sit down right where she started from. Frequently, she’d get too close to Todd and try to walk over him. (Of course I didn’t let her!) There were plenty of times when I was annoyed by her behavior.
Deep inside, I felt like I was neglecting her since she wasn’t getting from me what she was used to getting. I felt more emotionally distanced from her after Todd was born. It’s hard to admit, but there were times when I even questioned whether I still loved her as much as I used to.
Honestly, now I realize that my detachment was possibly a coping mechanism for feeling such intense guilt. Now I know that I never stopped loving her.
LEADING UP TO MILLIE’S LAST DAY
Because I’ve been so focused on Todd, I didn’t realize the full extent of Millie’s weight loss until literally the past week. She used to weigh about 8 pounds, but at the time of her death I’d be surprised if she was half that. Sure, I noticed even a couple months ago (or more?) that she was getting quite light to move, but it didn’t register that I could be witnessing her terminal decline.
The thing that was suspicious was that Millie started a pattern of not pooping for a couple days at a time, followed by going multiple times within a day (a combo of formed and loose poops). We discovered poops all over the house and under the bed.
THE LAST WEEK
On the morning of Thursday, January 29, 2015, Millie had yet another poop-on-the-carpet incident. Then, nothing for 3 days. We thought it was the “new normal.”
But– she still hadn’t pooped by Wednesday, February 4th. That was the day that the truth of the situation suddenly hit me. I finally noticed just how bony she felt. And I got that sinking feeling that we really had to make some decisions…now.
Our last cat, Stuart, died in our home just a few hours before his appointment for euthanasia. He was failing for too long and I’ve been living with the regret of not letting him go sooner. I didn’t want to repeat that with Millie.
“Other than” the extreme weight loss and change in bowel habits, Millie was still eating, drinking, peeing, walking around the house, and generally behaving like herself. She was spending most days all day on the couch and of course she would immediately sit on whoever sat down.
I sent a text to Ellen to inform her of what was going on, and I asked for her advice because I was having a hard time knowing if the time was right. I didn’t want to do it too soon, but I didn’t want to do it too late. I was struggling. Since she has the goat rescue, she has to make tough decisions all the time. Ellen offered to come over after work that day and her visit was exactly what I needed. Plus, we had a nice time catching up over dinner.
I cried a lot that night before I went to sleep. On Thursday February 5th, I cried off and on all day. It took me several hours to summon the courage to make the dreaded phone call. I didn’t think I could talk without crying and I still wasn’t sure what day to make the appointment for. Meanwhile, I sat on the couch with Millie as much as I possibly could.
I sent an email inquiry to Kraft Mobile Veterinary Services and Dr Kraft called me almost immediately. He offered me an appointment the next day or the following Wednesday. I knew I needed to take the Friday 3 PM opening.
Ugh. Tomorrow? So soon? More crying.
Unfortunately, Eric expected a busy Friday at work, so he was unable to get away. It was a bummer that he wouldn’t get to spend one last weekend with Millie, but he agreed that we shouldn’t wait. Eric and Millie had some time together on Thursday night while I was putting Todd to bed.
My goal– obviously– was to be on the couch with Millie as much as possible Friday. I knew that I could count on a long nap from Todd in the morning, but I knew that the afternoon could be unpredictable. I was so thankful to Eric’s mom (Diane) for agreeing to come over.
Millie spent the whole day on the couch. We had quality time during Todd’s 9-11 AM morning nap and I focused only on her. She got up a few times to eat and drink. I scooped some pee out of her litter box in early morning and replaced the litter, but she didn’t use it all day. She still hadn’t pooped.
After Todd woke up, I fed him and played with him on the couch while Millie sat on my lower legs. I took final pictures and a couple movies.
Between 12:30 AM and 2 PM I became increasingly anxious. I hoped that Todd would accept an afternoon nap. I hoped that Millie would stay on me when the vet came. I hoped she wouldn’t try to run under the bed. I hoped she wouldn’t experience fear.
My perfect (!!) baby started his nap exactly according to “plan” at 2 PM, coinciding with Diane’s arrival. I was able to spend a full hour with Millie. I was grateful for Diane’s company. It was exactly what I needed because we chatted while I focused on Millie. The casual conversation kept me calm and prevented me from spending the hour sobbing.
Dr Kraft and his tech, Kerri, arrived at 3 PM. I had a note on the door instructing them to come right in as I remained on the couch. I doubted Millie would get up when they came in, as long as they approached slowly. I was right.
Dr Kraft did a brief assessment and he immediately saw how bony she was. His few words and look gave me more confidence that I was doing the right thing for Millie.
Millie had been lying on me with her head toward my head but Dr Kraft needed her facing the other way so he could access her front leg. With the handling, she got a little scared and tried to flee, but Kerri was able to gently stabilize her while I also held her. The shaver startled her a little, too. After that, she seemed to calm down. I think she was too frail to put up much fight.
Dr Kraft initially tried to inject the euthanasia drug intravenously (IV), but that didn’t work after 2 attempts and trying a smaller needle. He said Millie was so dehydrated and her blood pressure was so low that he would have to “do it the other way”…which consisted of an intramuscular (IM) injection of a sedative (in the hind leg), followed by an intracardiac (IC) injection of the euthanasia drug.
That told me Millie’s condition was worse than I thought.
Dr Kraft said the sedative can cause some vomiting. Millie had a tiny bit of heaving but at that point she seemed pretty unresponsive. I couldn’t completely see her face because her head was toward my feet. I was a little tearful during their whole visit but I think I finally cried when he injected her heart.
My sweet girl was gone.
Millie’s diaphragm relaxed and there was some final reflexive muscle twitches. Dr Kraft checked for a heartbeat. A couple minutes later he checked again and found a weak pulse, so he gave her a second injection just to be sure.
Even though I knew the answer, I still needed to asked Dr Kraft if he thought Millie had been close to death. Was it good that I didn’t wait until Wednesday? He said definitely yes, he wouldn’t have waited for the weekend. I felt a big weight lift off me at that point.
I thanked Dr Kraft and Kerri for their kindness and they were on their way. I’d definitely recommend them to anyone in need of a mobile vet. Since I was feeling okay, Diane left a short while later.
After the stress of the previous days, I initially felt relief that it was over. I felt confident that we did the right thing. (Though, if anything we might have waited too long.) I was thankful for in-home euthanasia. I was glad that things played out more or less how I’d hoped. It’s just too bad that the IV route didn’t work.
Todd woke up from his nap at about 4 PM. I didn’t expect him to notice her absence, but still it felt strange. He had no idea what just happened. His bright, naive smile upon waking immediately lifted my spirits.
An hour later– I felt a deep sadness creep back in. Suddenly the house felt empty. And so it goes with the grieving process…
I miss Millie. I miss looking at her sweet face. I miss her company, her affection, her warmth, and her complete devotion to me.
Overwhelmingly, I’m dealing with my guilt. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I can’t help it. I keep thinking back over the past months when maybe I could have spent more time with Millie but instead I chose to do “X, Y, or Z.” Sounds silly, right? She had it good.
Finally, I think about recent times when I was on the couch with her, but I was too busy typing on the computer to just pet her and enjoy her. As I process my grief, it’s a good reminder to never take the ones we love for granted. I should strive to “focus” more and multi-task less. You never know when they’ll be gone.
Despite these pesky negative thoughts, I do know for sure that I poured my heart into Millie during the 3+ years that we had her. Eric did, too. She was well-loved and well-cared for. She had a very good quality of life here with us. So many animals don’t get a fraction of the love and attention that Millie got. She was one lucky cat. I feel good about that.
We can see Millie’s grave from our kitchen window. She was buried in our yard under a piece of granite rock, between two Russian Sage plants.