You may remember when we lost our 19 year old cat, Aslan, last February. I talked about his final moments with us and his brother, Boo, here.
Well, in August 2010, we found ourselves ready to enlarge our furry family members once again. After a doctor's appointment for Nate, we kinda ended up at the city shelter. To be honest, I had been dropping not-too-subtle hints that I really wanted a dog. In fact, that day at the shelter, until we walked out with Callie, I wasn't sure if we'd be leaving with a cat or dog.
So we met and fell hard for Callie.
Callie, on the night we brought her home. . .
Thus began the debate with the shelter over whether or not she had to be neutered before we could take her home. They had a policy that any animal over 2 pounds had to be neutered before it could leave the facility. Callie was technically over 2 pounds, but not by much. After years volunteering in a major urban shelter, believe me, I totally get why they wanted to neuter her before she came home with us. And I wanted Callie neutered. But I wanted my vet to do it for two compelling reasons. The first was that although they said she was 6 months old, I highly doubted it. She was severely malnourished and her growth was significantly stunted. I was worried about the stress the surgery would have on her at that time. And, again, having assisted in the mass spayings/neuterings at a major urban shelter, its SO not pretty how they do it. Most of the vets are donating their time, and they are providing a crucial service. But they are rushed, and have vastly limited resources. There is no pre-surgery evaluation. They are simply taken from their cages, weighed, anesthetized with a single injection, the surgery is done in about 5 -7 minutes ( I have actually witnessed vets race each other and come up with other challenges like doing them one-handed), the sleeping cat is stuffed back in the cage where someone hopes they wake up. If they don't, well, it was a waste of time and veterinary resources, but that is one more available cage.
This was not what I wanted for Callie. I knew my vet would do all the appropriate pre-op tests, it would be done when Callie was best ready for it, and every concern would be given for her safety and comfort. We argued back and forth with the shelter, even offering to leave a $500 deposit, redeemable when we showed proof of her neutering. The shelter would not budge. So. . . as we were already taken with her, we felt we had no choice but to comply.
They would not tell us ahead of time when her surgery would be, but would call us immediately afterwords. Once they called, we had 2 hours to come pick her up, or we would forfeit the adoption. We got the call at about 6:30 p.m., got there by 7:30 p.m. She had just had the surgery, and was still pretty out of it from the anesthesia. And, as I had feared, there was absolutely nothing about post-op care. No pain meds, no antibiotics, nothing. We got her home at about 11 p.m., and immediately brought her into a secluded room. I planned to bring her to our vet first thing the next morning. She seemed pretty quiet, but otherwise ok. She even ate some dry food with apparent enthusiasm.
Early the next morning, it was obvious she was sick. We rushed her to our vet, who diagnosed a post-op infection and allergic reaction to the sutures. We brought her home that night, but it was quickly obvious that she was getting worse, not better. We could get no food or water in to her, she was very listless, and drooling constantly. After being up with her all night, singing to her, holding her, begging her to eat, we rushed her back to the vet as soon as they opened in the morning. She was hospitalized immediately.
This began a roller coaster week where Callie deteriorated in an utterly heartbreaking fashion. After 5 days in the hospital, she was transferred to the equivalent of an ICU. We still had hope she could pull out of it. On day 2 in the ICU, the doctors notified Nate they had discovered the root of the problem: the stress of enduring the surgery when she was so malnourished had resulted in a twisting of her bowel. By this point, she was septic. If there was any chance to save her, she had to have emergency surgery. The chance of a positive outcome was virtually nothing, but they would try if we wanted. And the price tag for just the surgery would start at $15,000. Nate called me at work, in tears. He was talking about trying to get a loan. . . Some of the hardest words I have ever had to speak were, "No. She has suffered enough. Its time for her to be in a better place."
I was several hours away, and they did not think Callie would hold out until I could get there. In an act of love that was as much for me as it was for Callie, without saying anything to me, Nate rushed to the ICU. Callie died in the arms of one who loved her, even if he had known her only the briefest of time.
We were devastated. It had been a whirlwind of love and loss inextricably entwined. I was heartbroken, raw, and angry. Even though I had been right in every concern I had for her, I felt like I had completely failed. It was my job to protect her, to fight for her, and I had ultimately been unable to carry through in the courage of my convictions.
The day following her death, we went back to our vet to return a carrier we had borrowed in order to transfer Callie to the ICU. We wanted to talk to our vet, to thank her for all she had done to try to save Callie. We had to wait a while, and when our vet came in the exam room where we waiting, she was carrying a squirming bundle of black fur.
And my first thought was "No, I can't do this. Not now, its way too soon. . ." and after that my thoughts kinda melted away because he was in my arms, and was already working on my sore, badly bruised heart. He gave his love almost instantly, totally, and without a backward glance. And his doing so helped me to do the same.
Next time, I'll introduce you this furry mixture of exasperation and utter enchantment:
Buster quickly claimed HIS spot - on top of the microwave. . .