The Family Pets

Growing up, I had an allergy to pet dander plus my parents grew up in pet-less homes so I never had any animal as a part of my life.

Once we had kids, a pet seemed inevitable. Since Deb grew up with dogs, we started with Spooky, a mixed breed we picked up at the North Shore Animal League. He was great, growing up with Kate and then Robbie so was terrifically good natured. Then, around 8-9 years of age, we noticed his breathing was labored. The vet said it was as if he had been hit by a car, impossible since the yard is fenced. He was at the vet’s, under observation for a few days when I headed for the Chicago Comic Con and Deb attended an off-site meeting. And sure enough, we got the call from the vet, as he sounded bewildered. Spooky passed away without ever getting better and he wasn’t sure how and why but I know it stunned me as I took the call on the convention floor.

After Spooky passed, there was no question he’d be replaced and after a time, he was, with Dakota. A slightly larger dog and very friendly. He’s strong-willed and smart and despite the most powerful invisible fence collar and setting, still goes through the field when something piques his curiosity.

From age two or so, Kate wanted a cat. She spent nearly a year meowing when the mood struck her, lobbying as only a two year old can. Finally, for her fourth birthday, if I recall, she received a kitten, Zeke. They were an ideal pair and as Zeke aged, spent more and more time just hanging out in her room. Unfortunately, as she slowed down, our two dogs got more rambunctious and they’d tussle occasionally. Well, Robbie came home from school one afternoon last year, to find Zeke’s body in the living room. We swung into action, keeping Kate away from the house, breaking the news to her by phone as I rushed home to clean up. It was all very tragic and very sad.

After Zeke arrived and proved a successful addition to Spooky, we somehow got talked into adding a second cat. This one, a black and white named Thimble. I liked this one a lot since she fit snugly on my shoulder and liked it there. Turns out, Thimble had a heart defect and passed away within a year. This time, Deb rushed home to be with the kids.

Undaunted and kind hearted, Deb and Kate fell in love with Ben, a 13-year-old golden retriever who had been abandoned by his owners and was taken in by a rescue society. They were showcasing him at the local pet store when the girls found him. Somehow, I got talked into bringing him home and he joined the family. He was overweight, mostly deaf and slow. Still, he would go walkabout every now and then resulting in one of us chasing him up the block. Well, age caught up with him after nearly six months with us and he was ailing mightily in March. I took him to the vet a few times and was assured he needed to eat more and be watched. Instead, he ate less, grew a little incontinent and wasn’t improving. On the morning of Kate’s birthday party, he was barely moving. Without her noticing, thanks to houseful of girls who slept over, I took him to the vet, who drew blood and was ordering tests. When I returned home, I couldn’t move him out of the car. He had died on the way home. I went back to the vet, who joined me in the parking lot and that was that.

One day, in a moment of weakness, I mentioned that when Dakota needed replacing, we should get a golden retriever. Somehow, Deb and the kids turned this into we need a second dog…now. And we researched breeds and went to a dog show to sample the types and wound up settling on, not a golden, but an Australian Shepherd. We actually bought Dixie from a breeder and she’s been a fine addition. Often, when writing in the basement, she’ll curl up under the desk and keep me company, which I’ve grown to like.

So, with the constant comings and goings of animals, it was inevitable that Thimble would be replaced since the notion of a second cat worked. We got Snickerdoodle, named after the color of the cookie of the same name. She was trouble, this one. Liked to climb into the basement ceiling, her weight twisting and bending the drop-ceiling frame, clawed at our furniture, liked to sit in my lap and nibble at my fingers while I tried to write and, to me, was a general pain-in-the-ass. She and Zeke tolerated each other but never really bonded. Dakota also tolerated her. Dixie less so, and they’d snarl and snap at one another so we kept them apart. Over the last year or so, maybe in the absence of Zeke, they’d actually be near one another, nose to nose, or in the same room without incident. And just as quickly, someone would twitch and they’d be at one another with Snick hightailing back into the basement for safety.

About two weeks ago, Robbie noticed Snick’s front right paw at an odd angle and she was licking it. We took her to the vet who x-rayed it and said it was a serious sprain, not a break. We suspect Snick got into it with the dogs, but weren’t there to see what happened. Anyway, she was to be kept in a crate and observed. There was a risk of self-mutilation and it was almost a race to see if the paw would heal before she hurt herself further. Snick accepted the crate, listlessly staying put, barely eating and drinking. The only time Snick indicated a spark of life was when Kate turned up this weekend. But by then, the paw had gotten worse and we feared infection.

Yesterday, we paid a visit to the vet who examined the cat and agreed, the infection was worse and getting worse. We had two choices: amputation with a long recovery period or putting her to sleep. The one advantage to having Kate around was having her input. The one disadvantage to having Kate around was the emotional toll it took on her.

And us. We chose to put her to sleep and as the three of us said goodbye to the cat, it grew very emotional even for me, who never got along with the animal. And I’m writing this to work it through the emotions my system and I realize I’m tired of saying goodbye to the pets. It’s proving much harder than I imagined.

4 comments

  • I think I’m gonna go hug Plush Porthos for a while:-(

  • When our cat Spot died, I was surprised how distressing it was, also never having grown up with pets. Eliz was even moreso, since she seems to have the ability to bond with animals as if they’re human.

    We now worry as our two oldest cats are approaching their late teens. Fido especially seems to be getting more fragile, weighing in at only 14 lbs. (instead of his correct 16, or once 18). He’s also had kidney and bladder problems, meaning expensive cat foods and vet trips. Still, as Eliz says, “His eyes are clear and he eats.”

    I don’t look forward to the next few years pet-wise. Then again, even with the vet bills, they’re cheap entertainment.

  • Jackie

    It’s never easy to put a pet down. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.