Friday, January 9, 2009


Today I made the decision to have my cat, Stinky, put down. He's gone. I had him for 11 years, the longest I've ever had a pet. He helped me through my first break up, comforted me whenever I was in a bad mood, purred and licked (sometimes scratched) and loved me. I didn't spend as much time with him as I should have. I didn't pet him as often as I should have. I didn't give him as many treats as he deserved. I don't know if I did the right thing today - I don't know if he was ready to go. He was still eating and purring when we petted him, but he had lost the use of his hind legs and wasn't drinking any water today.

Two days ago, I took him to the vet when it was clear that he wasn't able to walk anymore. I assumed and dreaded that FIV, the feline version of HIV, for which he had tested positive years ago, had finally caught up with him. The vet tech detected no fever, and the vet had them take some blood, said the problem could be infection or cancer, he would call and let me know. He gave me pills to give Stinky, steroids that would reduce the swelling on his spinal cord, helping him walk and reducing his pain. The vet called later and said that there was no infection, that it was therefore most likely cancer, but that the steroids would still help and may extend his life by a month or two.

The steroids didn't help. We gave Stinky four doses, but Stinky couldn't even stand much less walk. Mom called the vet, who said that the pills should have worked by now, and that we might want to consider euthanasia. When we took him in, the doctor said that the steroids should have taken affect after 24 hours, that we should have seen a result by now; maybe the cancer had gone too far for the steroids to help.

It was a difficult decision, especially to make now, when my depression is so severe. At the initial vet visit, I stood in the small room looking down at Stinky on the stainless steel table, and I just kept repeating, "I hate you God, I hate you, I hate you." Why now? Why kick me (again) when I'm down, like a empty beer can down the street? Why give me another reason, in my mind, yet another sign, that I should off myself?

I called and made an appointment at the vet again today, telling them that I thought it might be time to euthanize, feeling like I was setting up Stinky's death sentence, that I was his executioner. Waiting for the appointment, and even at the vet's office, at the last moment, I was overcome with not wanting to let him go, not knowing if it was his time, not knowing if I was ending his life prematurely, when he was still able to hold his head up, look around, purr.

But how sick did I want him to get? Could the doctor have been wrong? Could he have gotten better?

I don't know.

All I do know is that today he was sick and possibly, more than likely, in pain, and I did not have the resources to pull out all the stops (take him to a place in Charlotte that could do further diagnostics, would have chemotherapy and/or radiation available), and even if I had, the vet said that he didn't know that those things would work (do doctors ever know for sure?).

The vet also said that he thought I was doing the most humane thing, but here is something else that is bothering me.

We don't put humans down just because they are ill and/or dying (we only do that if they're a criminal on death row, but that's a different matter). In fact, we go to tremendous, desperate efforts to keep them alive and, often, restore them to health (unless they don't have health insurance, which, again, is a different matter - see this blog entry). Even when the patients themselves, in their suffering, opt to end their own lives, we lock up anyone who helps them. In instances even of severe brain damage to the point of a "vegetative state" we go to lengths that some would argue we shouldn't, take Terry Schiavo's case for example.

In any case, a human's life seems much more valuable than that of any animal, even if that animal is a dear, beloved pet. Why don't we go to the same lengths, the same efforts, to sustain their lives as we do for human beings? Why do we have pets put down, when we would never euthanize a human? Why do we have this attitude? Why did I feel like I was doing the right thing today, when I would never consider for one second ending, say, my mother's life, if she were in Stinky's exact situation. If she could still lift her head off the table and look me in the eye, I wouldn't direct the doctor to give her an overdose of anesthesia and stop her heart. I wouldn't sign papers to have her life ended because, like Stinky, she was shitting and pissing herself, or was in any way a "burden" to me (the vet today mentioned "urine stains on the carpet" as if that should be a factor in my decision). We would call that callous murder if it were done to a human. The vet kept mentioning "quality of life" today, but we don't make those same judgements (and the damnations, death sentences that go with them) with humans - even when they are in severe pain, we don't take a living, breathing (on their own) human and put them down. Again, that would be murder.

Why was I okay with doing that to Stinky? Because he was suffering? Because I couldn't afford more expensive treatment? Both.

I don't know how bad Stinky's suffering was, but I try to tell myself that it was pretty bad, and that it wouldn't have been right to let it get worse. I didn't want Stinky to suffer. My decision today came out of love, yet it was a decision that broke my heart. I was inconsolable, made a scene out in the reception area, sobbing and unable to control myself. I gave my checkbook to mom (they give you the total and have you pay right then and there, which I think is cruel, ridiculous, and further evidence of how lightly we take animal's lives - would a relative be requested to pay a hospital bill immediately after a loved one's death?) and ran out the door, kneeling on the sidewalk out front and weeping. I didn't care about the people around me.

Maybe I'm wrong to compare or contrast the value of humans' and animals' lives, the way we treat them when they are alive, when they are sick, when they are dying. Maybe I'm just letting my grief for Stinky, my pain, make me question our actions. Maybe they're good questions. Aren't we here to help care for the animals on this earth? We aren't doing a very good job.

Do I think it was wrong to have Stinky put down today? I don't know.

It's the decision I made and I can't take it back now. I hope I did the right thing. I hope Stinky forgives me and knows I love him. I hope there is a heaven for cats, and that he's there now feeling wonderful. That makes me cry.

What I do know for sure is that thousands of sick pets are put to sleep because, in part, their owners cannot afford more expensive treatments like surgery or chemotherapy; what's perhaps worse, thousands of healthy pets are euthanized because shelters do not have enough room or money to care for them. It shouldn't be this way.

While at least humans aren't euthanized because they don't have health insurance, they are left to wither and die (again, see this blog entry). This isn't right either.

What's wrong with us?


Amanda said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. How dreadful.

Honestly, I wish that in certain cases, euthanasia was legal countrywide instead of just in places like Oregon. Right now, my aunt is dying, and we've spent the last couple weeks trying ot figure out the most humane way to let her die. Take her off the pacemaker and let her lungs fill up with blood, causing more heart attacks? Or take her off the ventilator suction and let her drown by her own lungs? Stick in a trach and let her have an open wound in her throat which'll cause her heart to have an attack but at least she won't be drowning to death? And so on. It's awful. When it's clear someone's about to die, no matter what you do, and they are in pain, and would be better off having an easy death, it would be nice to at least have that option.

What they did to Terry Schiavo, letting her starve to death multiple times because they kept sticking the tube back in, was inhumane. Terrible. her family might have wanted to keep her around, but if they loved her, they wouldn't have started feeding her again on the brink of death after several weeks of starvation.

Sorry to go off. It's early in the morning.

Amber said...

I'm sorry about your aunt.

I've never faced having to witness a loved one suffer like you're having to do with your aunt. If I were actually faced with a person I loved who was suffering and dying, I might feel that it was right to end their suffering, too, just like my pet.

It is such a difficult thing.