There’s a beautiful story making the rounds online about Duke Roberts’ last day on earth. Duke was a beautiful, three-legged, cheeseburger-loving black lab who had to be put down because of a large tumour growing inside him. Duke’s owners tenderly documented his last day as they took him swimming, to the park and had goodbye visits with all his favourite people. If you haven’t read it (and you feel like sobbing), grab some tissues and look it up.
Duke’s story hit me hard, not just because he we had a similar experience three years ago, but because we recently said goodbye to two feline family members and I wish I’d thought to document and honour them in this way.
Before I get to recent events, here’s a bit about our late lab, Buster – aka B, B Dog and Sir Fartsalot. Like Duke, Buster was also a rescue, which is ironic because that’s what he loved to do most when you were swimming. We let Buster go when he was 14, after discovering a large mass on his spine. The vets predicted he would never walk again and most troubling (to Buster) was that he would need to be fitted with a catheter and have his stool manually removed for the rest of his life. When he heard that I swear he looked up with his big brown eyes and said “Guys, I’m good.” On Buster’s last night, we ordered him a meat-lover’s pizza, hand fed him cat food and slept beside him on the dog bed.
Like most black labs, Buster loved to eat, run, eat, lick, eat and snuggle. He LIVED for the cottage where he spent his days chewing sticks, chasing ducks and “rescuing” swimmers. He never made it to PEI but I know he would have loved it so we christened our ocean-front “Buster’s Beach” and every summer we go there to strip down and lick our privates. (Just kidding, we have a champagne toast and lick our privates inside.)
Like all certifiably crazy dog-lovers, we always assign our pets thoughts and feelings:
“Look at Buster, he’s like ‘No way I’m eating that shitty kibble. I want what they’re having’.”
“Check Buster out. He’s sad because it’s raining and he can’t go swimming.”
“Buster is NOT happy about the olives on that pizza. Could you please pick them off for him?”
Always with a Scottish accent.
When we adopted Buster at age 9, we were told he “loves cats” which we later understood meant he loves to chase and ideally eat them, like ALF. But they soon found a way to coexist and eventually formed an interspecies alliance (now legal in Ontario and 20 States!) against puppy Scout.
Technically, the cats belonged to me. Lucy (short for Lucifer) and Avery were mine before I met Daren (who still rues the day he didn’t pretend he was allergic). The cats (aka “the girls”, “fish breath” and “God Dammit!!!”) turned 14 and 15 this year and they were as much a part of our growing family as the dogs and binge drinking.
Lucy and Avery were put down last Monday and it’s taken me a week to be able to write about them without blowing snot bubbles all over my keyboard. With multiple health issues coming to a head, we made the difficult decision a month ago but it took a few weeks to summon the courage to actually go through with it.
Anyone who’s ever euthanized a pet knows it’s one of the Worst. Things. Ever. Relieving pain and making “the right decision” amounts to nothing but a crock of shit when you’re waiting for the vet to enter the exam room. And when you have to do it twice in one sitting you can expect to spend the rest of the day lying in a dark room clutching catnip mice and babbling to yourself. Trust me.
My cats weren’t like the adorable yet hapless Cirque-trained acrobats you see in homemade videos. They were stone cold nasty and about as cuddly as a box of weasels. Trying to pet them was like playing Russian roulet, but with a worse potential outcome. Adopting bobcats would have been safer. Even our vet had to use gardening gloves and two assistants to handle Lucy at routine visits. If our family wasn’t singlehandedly financing her niece’s Ivy League education I’m she would have fired us as clients.
When we went on vacation and had the gall to leave them with capable in-home caregivers, they used their liquid vowels to voice their displeasure forcing us to spend thousands of dollars in replacement mattresses, furniture, clothes, hockey equipment and autographed memorabilia. The last two went over real well. And the liquid bowels? They turned up at other times too, like the night before our wedding when about a dozen family members were looking for a place to sleep.
They hated most people, especially children. It took them years to warm up to Daren (no connection to the previous comment, I’m sure). And because cats love change, the parade of dogs and multiple house moves – not to mention the general pointlessness of life – made them a tad surly. They were like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting the Golden Globes: no one was safe.
It was the kind of relationship (ie. abusive), where I took whatever they dished out and kept coming back for more. It was like the colonoscopy you know you must have but can’t quite bring yourself to accept with open ….. arms. To quote the Bandaid Christmas song, it was a world of dread and fear.
But it wasn’t all bad. Before the double D’s (Daren and dogs), they were the ones I came home to and the ones whose fur I sobbed in when my Dad died. They might have used their claws to say “no thank you” when I suggested we sit together, but they also kept me company in the bathtub and slept on my head.
But as the house filled up and life got busier I spent less and less time with them. Three dogs and two kids take up so much physical and emotional space that I had very little left for Lucy and Avery.
There’s a lovely verse that many people find comforting when grieving their pets. It’s called “The Rainbow Bridge” and it’s named after the place we’re supposed to meet our animals before we cross into heaven together. So I imagine them there now, with Buster, healthy and happy, throwing out sarcastic one-liners like the two old guys on the muppets. Waiting for me.