Warning: Don’t read this post if you aren’t into not-happy, dying things. Seriously. just. don’t. You’ve been warned.
Bill Simmons, aka the Sports Guy on ESPN.com, is a writer I read pretty regularly, nay every week because he’s damn funny, lives and breathes sports and writes better than I do. I love all his columns, even the ones that are about things I couldn’t care less about, even the Boston Red Sox. Good writers are like that. Funny thing is, I never really saw him as a regular guy, even though his writing is very much like that. I saw him as a sports guy, stuck in a little niche that was all I understood of him. Like most people that you find out are actually human, I found out because of sadness in his life.
His dog died. Unlike most of the writers on ESPN, Bill has a little more freedom in his columns because he’s not really covering sports as much as he is explaining sports from a regular guy view. So ESPN seems to have allowed him to write about losing his dog. It had to have been extraordinarily difficult because The Dooze (Bill is crazy and I have no idea why his dog was named The Dooze) was only 6. She got lymphoma. It must be terribly hard to lose any pet or any human before their time. We mourn the old. We grieve for the young. His story of his dog makes my heart heavy.
If you aren’t an animal person or if you’re a glutton for punishment or if you just do crazy things like read about other people telling the entire life story of their dog ending in euthanasia, I recommend you read it. It’s touching and poignant like all the stories that end the exact same way that people write about all the time. And that made me realize, people don’t write these stories for their readers, even if it’s big-time famous people like Bill Simmons. They write the stories for themselves. To remember. To grieve. To honor the lives of the past, whether they are animals or people. And that made me realize (yup, this is a realization post and I’m doing some serious realizing) that I never did that last year for Pandora. I don’t know why really…well, I do, it’s because it’s difficult to tell and I don’t write well bawling and sniffling like a little girl. Obviously, the story didn’t have a particular happy ending and at the time, I was busy trying to find my life again and well, it just didn’t happen.
But then something seemed to click inside and told me it was a story I needed to tell, to have it out there and open and unbottled up. So this is that story. If you didn’t pay attention to the warning at the outset, here’s the synopsis and you can move on: Pandora came to live with me because I was sad, she made me happy, she was a good cat, she really only liked me and no one else, she got sick and went to the moon (read the Simmons story for the explanation about the moon).
I got Pandora when I was 20, a junior in college and living on my own for the first time. I was reasonably unhappy in the winter of that year (story for another time) and my girlfriend thought that a cat would cheer me up. She knew I missed my cat who still lived at home because my apartment didn’t allow pets so she figured a cat would be just the thing, failing to completely understand why I didn’t have my cat with me, god bless her. So Pandora came to live with me in my no-pets having apartment.
Pandora had a lot in common with the girlfriend because she didn’t understand the no-pets having apartment rules and would sit in the west window all day in the sun which happened to open onto the courtyard where the office manager walked all the time. Needless to say, we didn’t last long in that apartment but we lasted quite awhile together.
Pandora was always shy around guests but loved nothing more than to curl up on my lap at any opportunity. She was a mostly happy cat. She had the most amazing coat though, one that was made up of a thick, soft under-fur that always matted up in the spring. So she got shaved occasionally and there’s nothing funnier than a shaved cat. She always acted like she hated me for a week after that but secretly, I think she felt so much better that she could hardly stand it.
Pandora made the move from Amarillo to Fort Worth and then to Dallas and finally to Wylie. She liked the big house a lot, so many places to lay in the sun and once she got used to K and her two furrballs, she was pretty happy. She wasn’t ever a cat to have an overage of personality, she was more like a big, fat lazy Persian who loved being scratched and was completely content to just lounge around, like most cats. As a cat owner, you don’t really have crazy stories about what your cat did or the balls she chased. You just have the stories of them falling asleep with you or curling up on your lap. It’s just what they do.
In June of 2007, she started losing weight which was a big deal for Pandora. She was always fat. I’d had her on a high fiber diet for several years to no avail. She was just one of those cats who got fat, even when she didn’t eat much. So when she started to lose weight, I knew something was up but didn’t think too much of it because she was still eating and drinking and being Pandora. In August though, things got much worse for her. She stopped eating and drinking and was clearly quite sick. One night, she wanted to go outside really badly. We let her out and I followed her around and it was clear to me that she was trying to go off to be alone somewhere. I stayed outside with her a long time, letting her at least partially enjoy the outdoors but it was difficult.
I was sick at the thought of taking her to the vet, thinking we wouldn’t be bringing her back but I knew we had to. The vet ran a bunch of tests and found a tumor in her stomach. They put her on an IV and she spent a couple of days in the vet hospital. They were basically suggesting that it was time to let her go then but when we went up there the third day, she seemed like the old Pandora. She was full of energy and seemed genuinely happy to see us. Neither K or I could bring ourselves to put her down then and the vet said we could take her home for a day or two and see how she did. The vet warned us that she’d be fine for a little while but eventually her kidneys would probably fail and that was extremely painful. I think they thought we were making the wrong decision but at least they talked to us about what would happen.
We took her home and she seemed like the same old Pandora. She was eating and drinking, lounging around. She was still skinny but didn’t seem to be in pain and liked the fact that I felt guilty about her appetite and fed her tuna all the time.
She stayed that way for about 3 months and it was a bittersweet time. I knew she was dying but I also knew that I loved having her around.
In October, it was clear, especially to me, that she was at the end. I told K on Sunday, October 28th that I thought we’d have to take Pandora in to the vet for a final visit that week. I had quit my job the previous week and that Monday, I took the dog into daycare so that Pandora could be outside a little. She used to love just hanging out in the grass, watching things go by. She would chase butterflies and whatnot, so I wanted her to have a full day outside if it was going to be her last one.
In the end, she knew better than I did. She went outside but it was clear her heart wasn’t in it. She finally told me that she was in pain, something she hadn’t done before. It wasn’t medium pain, it was “the end” pain. I willed her to just let go but something inside her wouldn’t let it happen. I couldn’t bear the thought of stuffing her in a carrier and making the trip to the vet to sit in a room that smells of stale pee and sick animals just to have them stick a needle in her arm and put her down. She always hated the vet, like any cat, and I refused to do that to her. So I put her down myself at home in the backyard that she loved so much. It was both the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets but it’s not something I would wish on anyone. I hope all our other pets have the good decency to die in their damn sleep. I’ve read Old Yeller once and lived it once and if the rest of them know what’s good for them, they’ll listen to me.
I called K and she came home to be with me which was sweet and much appreciated. We buried her in the garden area and planted a Carolina Jessamine vine on her grave that I hope turns out to be very pretty.
I still miss her every so often. She used to sit in the bathroom while I was showering and then go inside when I stepped out to drink the water off the floor for some bizarre reason. I still expect her to be there some days when I get out. She was a good cat and I’m honored to have been her owner.