This is my cat, The Meow.
Before she came to live with me seven years ago, The Meow was a show cat, a grand champion, in fact. Her real name is Kauai King Kaluamoa Ipolani. My aunt, a high level Siamese breeder (no, this is not a Christopher Guest movie), had been trying to give me a cat for years. But it was this little fanged beauty that finally captured my black heart.
Her life as fancy-cat came to an end when she entered retirement at Casa de Caitlin. From then on, her days were filled with chasing the best sun spots, farting on the sly, and occasionally making an appearance for death positivity in Ask a Mortician.The Diagnosis
Last year, on the 4th of July, I found a small lump on The Meow’s mammary gland. Lady Siamese of a certain age (12+) run a much higher risk of mammary cancer than other breeds, so I had a pretty good idea what it was. But it was still devastating.
The vet confirmed the diagnosis, and suggested a full lumpectomy and cat chemotherapy. I asked if those procedures would extend The Meow’s life considerably. The answer was no (which, frankly, made me a little surprised she had suggested it at all). With that info, I made the choice to let The Meow live the rest of her life without invasive medical intervention. I understand some of you make different choices, but I felt that a cat wouldn’t grasp the concept of “pain to get better.” To her, it would just feel like pain. Period.Days Before the Death
Fast forward to last week, when I came home to discover what appeared to be a pint-sized murder scene. The Meow’s largest tumor (it had grown to golf-ball size) had ulcerated, causing her to bleed all over the living room. I said that I wouldn’t let her get to the point that her health or body was seriously compromised. Even though I had months to get used to the idea, it was still very difficult to make the appointment with the vet to end her life. I made an appointment for 7 p.m. the next evening.
In the meantime, Meow wouldn’t stop freaking out over her oozing tumor (understandably, cats are very fastidious). Thanks to Google, I was able to make her a fashionable body sock with ointment, cotton gauze, and a cut-up pair of nylons. Here she is in her get-up. Werk that elegant black, kitty-kins.
I stayed home with Meow on her last day. I was supposed to be finishing the final draft of the book, but it ended up just being lots of weep cuddling… wuddling, if you will. This was the last picture we took before her death. All the chin scratches for you my fluffy love bundle.
Since I knew the Meow’s death would likely be within six months, I had put some serious research into the best at-home pet euthanasia in Los Angeles. Just like hospice care for humans, I think, if possible, animals should be able to die at home. Especially since trips to the vet can be so stressful. Disclosure: a house call vet will run you about $100 more than euthanasia at a vet clinic, but if you are able, I can’t imagine money better spent. The experience was really lovely, if you can call having to end your cat’s life lovely.
When Dr. Smith arrived (I’m going to go ahead and give him a shout-out because damn that guy is doing the good lawd’s work) the Meow was curled right up in my lap. The doctor administered three shots–one that relaxed her, one that put her to sleep, and the final one that caused her heart to stop beating. The only time she had any sense that something was amiss (other than, “awesome, new dude to pet me!”) was the prick of the very first shot, but even then she recovered quickly and continued right on purring like a champ.
We sat with her and had a good cry as Dr. Smith talked us through everything he was doing and what was happening with Meow’s body. He said most people apologize profusely for crying. Apologize for crying as their pet is being euthanized! Our dear sweet death denial society strikes once again.
My roommate Jillien ventured into the world earlier in the day to get flowers, food, candles. We made The Meow a cat-sized altar for her body to lay in state. Right after she died her body was incredibly limp. It was bizarre to cuddle her still-warm, furry body as she slowly went cold, knowing something was forever different.
At some point during the first night, about 3 hours after her death, rigor mortis set in. She was stiff, moreso than I’ve ever seen in humans. If you hold your own pet-wake, this is why setting body positioning, tail positioning, and closing eyes and mouth are so important, because the Meow was not moving positions.
More friends came over for cream puffs, cake, and champagne. Pour (purr) one out for the wee feline homie. Wakes are about coming to terms with a death, and a loss to the community. But…they are also about food.
Overnight I had her on rotating sealed bags of ice. Double bag, my friends, double bag. I learned that the hard way and poor Meow got a little wet on her dead butt. Late night hair dryer + cat in rigor mortis is the comic scene of the century, tell you what. Cue Yakety Sax.The Burial
Here is The Meow, still in full rigor meow-tis, being prepared for her burial on my friend’s property in Topanga, a place that means quite a lot to me.
I wanted to practice what I preach and leave her out for other animals on the hillside but did not, since (important note) the chemicals used in euthanasia can be dangerous to other animals. We made sure to bury her at least 4 feet down so she wouldn’t be a danger to others.
Thanks to Jillien Kahn and Mara Zehler for the photos. And thanks to all of you who loved her so much. I’m glad her fangs, compliant attitude, and look of complete boredom made it a little easier for you to accept death. She was with me on my very first day at the crematory six years ago, and she was with me through break-ups, deaths, and existential crises. I buried a part of my life’s story last week. She was the finest of felines, and she will be missed.