And then, suddenly there were eight …

On Wednesday evening at around 5pm, Guinevere took her last breath as I cuddled and stroked her and told her she was a brave girl, how much I loved her, and how proud I was of her.

I was in bits, absolute bits. I still am.

Guinie didn’t want to die.

It was her third close brush with death, after two mystery illnesses, suspected poisonings, a few years ago saw her near comatose, on drips and saved only by my wonderful vets after extensive treatment and her fighting spirit.

I didn’t want her to die either.

But most of all, I didn’t want to put her through painful treatment as she was going into terminal kidney failure, which might have given her a few more days of life reduced to living in a room, on special food, her spirit broken.

Gordon, the vet who took such good care of her in her last years, remarked this evening that despite how ill she was, despite the double incontinence, the dehydration, her failing kidneys, despite everything, she kept her dignity and her spirit throughout. Several times during the day they had gone into the ward room and each time she lifted her head up high and greeted them.

She kept her dignity when she first had trouble walking, she kept her dignity when she first pooed on my feet by mistake (giving me an “oops, sorry, oh dear, tough” look), she kept her dignity when she peed on my pillow, on my mattress, on my carpets; she even kept her dignity when I was bathing her, insisting on arching her back away from me and having nothing to do with the process, except when she chose to latch her still sharp little teeth into my arm and hang on.

She even kept her dignity when she staggered out of the front room not 24 hours before, her nose covered with dried snot and asked for help.

Never underestimate the power of some warm water on a tissue, some left over baytril and a syringe.

Whilst she was on my lap, I called T, warned him that she was ill and I suspected she wasn’t going to make it; she stayed on my lap as I called the emergency vet and said I was bringing her in; she stayed as I texted M to say she was in trouble.

A quarter of an hour later, I had a completely different cat on my lap in terms of situation. With her nose clean, she could drink. Encouraged by the four syringes of water I had carefully got down her, she got down and lapped on her own. Her nose filled up again with green gunk but I cleared it each time so it didn‘t get a chance to cover her nostrils.

She got back up into my lap after each drink, a little calmer, a little more comfortable, although her breathing was shocking.

My other cats gathered in the back room. Merlin tried to get onto my shoulders and unusually, he withdrew once I said no. Arthur huddled around my feet. Poppet, Kitty, Felix, Oscar, Daisy and Jaggie sat on the floor around us, quiet and still. Grumpy was in the spot he had nicked from Oscar. All looked at me, in absolute silence

I knew then we were going to lose her.

I tried to balance the choices of having her put to sleep by a vet she didn’t know, in a strange place, or dying in the night at home, or put to sleep by a vet she did know, with the risk she might suffer before we could get her there in the morning.

I took her upstairs, put eucalyptus and tea tree oils in a diffuser to help her breathing and made her comfortable in the bathroom, where she had spent so many happy hours making nests and pooing in both my clean and dirty washing.

Later, I got an anti-emetic down her to try and encourage her to eat but over the course of the following hour, she continued to heave at the smell of food, so I removed it, topping up her water twice and placing it within half a head’s stretch of her so she could get to it without moving.

I continued wiping her nose and mouth and later, got under her chin and combed out the crud encrusted under her chin, which made her purr through clogged lungs.

Her little head lifted up to receive the gentle combing, her eyes closed in bliss even as her whole body moved with the effort to keep breathing.

I found some baytril, got that down her, gave her a second dose of the painkillers she was on to keep her inflamed skin from hurting her and I gave her intermittent strokes and loves (she didn’t want big fusses) as I watched her stabilise and then plateau, refusing food.

I called the emergency vet back only to discover their vet had “gone home”, something I need to pick up with my vets but it flew out of my head tonight so even if I had taken her down then, she would not have got more than a nurse’s care.

That set the seal on my decision to keep her at home.

Eventually going to bed when she was comfortable, and there was nothing I could do to enhance that comfort, I fell into an exhausted sleep.

Waking the next morning, I topped up her water, tried to syringe feed her, got told off, failed to get anything down her, told her again how much I loved her, said goodbye to her properly in case it really was goodbye and set off to work in my new job, hating every single step I took away from her.

Whilst on the way, I checked that Gordon was available (whilst there is a third vet who is perfectly capable, I don’t have the same level of trust with her as I do with Gordon and Deane and as I was sure we had reached the end, I didn’t want her seen by anyone else), booked her in and confirmed back with Tony that he was in place to take her whilst I wandered around the east end housing estate that my phone gps had decided to take me in lieu of my third workplace in as many days, alternatively sobbing and swearing at my phone.

Having finally reached my destination, I explained to the lady who I am replacing what was happening as I would have to interrupt her training to speak to the vet. She understood perfectly, having been in the US when her childhood cat had taken ill, frantically trying to get on a flight and arriving just in time to say goodbye to him.

At 10.15 came the call I dreaded and after some discussion, Gordon and I agreed, given her spirit, which was still shining through her eyes, that we would give it one last shot but if there was no radical change, we would do the right thing. We would make the decision at 2pm.

At 2pm, Gordon said that she had rallied a little and suggested we postpone the decision until I could get there. She tried so hard to come home. I tried so hard to bring her home.

I suspect Gordon was being kind enough to save me a terrible journey back.

By 4.30pm when T and I arrived, she lifted her head up and silent miaowed as we walked in. She held her head so proudly, waggling the paw that held her drip at me, in complaint. Another silent miaow indicated she wanted it removed. I told her not yet but soon. She put it down and stretched her head over for a scratch.

Gordon joined us, explaining how ill she was.

It was clear she was not coming home. At the start of terminal kidney failure, my worst fears were realised by the fact her body was giving up, just as her spirit would not.

I was going to have to put her to sleep against her will.

Bringing her back would have maybe (if we were lucky) have given her a few more days; days that would have been for me, not for her.

I don’t look after and love cats for me. I love and look after them for them; and no matter how heartbroken I am, no matter how much I didn’t want her to die, more than all of those things, I wanted my sweet girl to not lose that spirit, that dignity, that light in her eyes I first saw 15 and a half years ago, when she was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, when she sat on the arm of the chair in the back of M’s shop, looked at me and cocked her head, as if to say, “my cat mommi iz ded, yoo beez my Mommi now”.

We agreed it was time.

I cried buckets, composing myself to cuddle her, to whisper encouragement and love, before losing it again, over and over. I stroked her head, her ears, her chin, she purred through heavy breaths, as around us Gordon and the nurse calmly made the preparations they needed to.

T was a tower of strength by my side.  Unhurried, I told her everything I needed to tell her.

Once on the table, she realised what was happening and started to stress.

Again, because we were unhurried and because my vet is fucking awesome, I had the time to calm her. They must have picked up on this too because no move was made until she was ready.

When she was ready, she relaxed under my hands. She looked me full in the face, trust in me shining in her eyes. I looked into hers as I told her I loved her, that she was my gorgeous Guinie baby girl and I would always love her.

I saw Gordon gently remove the drip and insert the syringe which would end her life.

I held her gaze as her spirit left her body, her eyes never leaving mine, not for a single moment. She didn’t blink as life left her, her eyes still open, still staring into mine as her head dropped into my hand.

I stood with her, kissed the top of her little nose for what must be the thousand of a thousands times, ran my bottom lip over the fur there. I took a tissue, wiped her nostrils, found my favourite Guinie-spot, the inside of her front paw, about three-quarters up, where her fur is the softest and pressed my lips to it.

I don’t remember everything I said to her, just that it was right and honest. I cried buckets, drenching her fur with my tears.

Some time later, Gordon came in, apologised because he had to see a patient (I have no idea how long he waited for us, maybe half an hour, bless that man) but telling us to take as long as we needed.

I was nearly done, there was nothing more I could do for her except drench her in more tears. My vet kindly agreed to keep her until I was able to bury her at the weekend.

T and I said our final goodbyes, I asked for the bill as the nurse said how sorry she was, assured me she would look after Guin for me and we were presented with an amount of roughly half what I calculated it would be

That set me off again because not only have they looked after Guin at every point, but they would look after and honour her body now that she has gone. After spending a huge amount of time ensuring I had all the time I needed, they billed me a tiny amount for that time.

I came home tonight and fed the foxes, seeing in my head Guinevere running about the way she did on Sunday, slightly bow-legged, her walking better than it has been in weeks, sniffing here, sniffing there, completely alive and living in the moment.

I cried as I saw her run towards me the way she did on Sunday when I called her in, not ready to come in yet but unable to resist a noms call, pushing Oscar out of the way as she ran towards the back step, stopped, worked out how to scrabble up it, her back legs arriving a millisecond before her body, her head poking forward to redress the balance before plunging into the food bowl. After that, she came inside happily, having reacquainted herself with the foxies, the garden in general, having told everycat what to do and how to do it.

I went into the bathroom tonight, and saw her final bath, the cuddles we had afterwards and saw the one and only time she finished cuddles early and got out of the towel, drying instead by the radiator, which seems to have caused the fatal infection which took her from me.

A whole host of memories assail me now, the first day she arrived, going up the stairs, completely unafraid; the first time she went outside, aged about 14 weeks, way too young but determined, flanked by her brothers who didn’t let her out of their sight or paw’s reach.

I remember her being small enough to sit in her first human Daddi‘s pocket, which she loved, being carried about. She would get disgruntled when he eventually sat down and she had to stalk out, her little face saying “not long enuff”.

I remember the time I had to board her and the two boys at a cattery and she nearly gave my cab driver heart failure

I recall the times she sat on the top of the shed with the fox cubs, watching the sun go down over the allotments, the times I would call her in, in the summer, only to have her streak past me with those same cubs, now fully grown.

At the time, we had an old immersion heater, which contained only so much hot water, requiring a run and a second run half an hour later, to get a decent hot bath. Guin learned quickly to come in only after she heard the second lot of water, knowing I would get straight in, which meant she could creep in for food and stay out until the early hours.

Thankfully, we grew wise and my housemate Sally would place herself downstairs, ready to close the kitchen door when she dashed in.

I remember when I got her spayed, later than usual, because I sensed it would not be good for her. It wasn’t and she spent weeks sulking on my pillow and several years after that sulking in whatever place she chose to perch. I suspect she had fancied having some fox babies.

I remember the year Jaggie spent, crawling up to the chair she lived on at the time, trying to say thank you for bringing him home, only to have her ignore totally his advances, or swipe his ears if he was lucky.

I remember the first time she went down with poisoning and an animal hospital wanted to charge me thousands for an ultrasound scan. M ran to a friend of hers for help and he (bless him) arrived in the petshop, with the cash in his hands, just as I found another local vet could and would do the same scan for 50 quid.

I remember the subsequent journey between vets, Guin carefully crated in her carrier, barely conscious, me holding her drip so it didn’t pull out, M in the front seat of the cab and at a major set of traffic lights, a cuntish truck driver got out of his cab to harangue the taxi driver over some alleged infraction.

I told him that I had a seriously ill cat in the back seat, on a drip which I waggled, we were dashing her to the vet and he could kindly get back in his truck and drive away or deal with me. He stepped back, apologised and got back in his vehicle which made us all giggle a bit.

I remember the time Jaggie had a right go at Arthur, a few months after he started living with us. Guinevere gave him one look, just one and he cowered in the corner, in shame. Guin was always on Arthur’s side, apart from when he personally annoyed her. This didn’t happen often but when it did, was usually caused by him making friends with a foster or new kitty. She could never keep it up though and once he got the message which he usually ignored), she would be back to loving him, just the same

When Kitty came along and challenged her for leadership, she didn’t bother to fight, just gave her the look and continued to do so, whilst Kitty tried to engage her in feline warfare.

Kitty eventually gave up, moving upstairs to try and reign in the spare room, a plan Guin thwarted by occasional forays in there, planting herself squarely in the middle of the room and daring Kitty to try and get past.

For years, Guin held herself aloof from most people, even me at times. It is only in the last few years that she started to seek me out again for cuddles and strokes, rather than just waiting for them to come her way.

As she started to lose mobility and continence, she needed more reassurance. Guin, who had depended on no-one and nothing to make her mark on the world, depended on me. Guin, who had never lacked self-confidence, needed to know she was still loved.

She didn’t lose her queenship, it never wavered. Always the quickest cat by far, she soon worked out that she couldn’t stay upright swiping with one paw, so perfected the art of balancing on her disabled back legs and bum, rising up to issue a sharp two-pawed slap on the top of the head of any feline who annoyed her.

She would clamber up into my computer chair, scrabbling in next to me, wait and if a headstroke was not forthcoming, bite my upper arm gently and stay there, her teeth a mere warning on my skin, until she got what she wanted.

She loved the computer chair and before her spine crippled, would often jump on it and wait for me to swing her around, eyes tight shut, her mouth in a grimace of enjoyment, I would turn it around over and over one way, then the same number of times in reverse, leaving her dizzy and purring, leaning against the back of the chair, her eyes still tight shut in pleasure.

When fully mobile, she would open the bathroom door by running at it and hitting it with one hip; this last year, she used the same double-pawed move to pop it open.

The first time I bathed her, I was terrified. She had grown so frail. She never stopped hating it but I could tell she felt better after each one. What she hated more than baths was the cream so I did it as often as I could without distressing her, not quite meeting the veterinary requirement of twice a day, ever mindful that fly strike could kill her or her skin would become so sensitive she couldn’t bear it.

My biggest fear was flies (her kidneys were fine when they were tested about nine months ago) and I did everything I could to encourage the bathroom bitey to get as many as possible.

In becoming a cheerleader for a spider, I realised the enormous trust Guin placed in me to do the right things for her and how much of a privilege it was to do just that.

I got used to my carpets being ruined, I got used to gearing up for the inevitable struggle that would ensue when bathing her, I got used to putting cream on her little bits as she turned her head away from me, refusing to engage with the process, just as she turned her head back to me the moment it was over, pushing her nose into my neck and purring like an engine as she knew bath time was over and cuddles and rubs were now on the agenda.

I got used to being woken in the early hours of the morning by a smelly cat wanting a cuddle. I got used to half-sleeping, my hands on her head and neck, both keeping her at bay and stroking her. I got used to coaxing her off the bed whilst half asleep when she had got in without me being aware of it, determined to sleep on our heads, trying to ensure she didn’t feel excluded as I led her back to the warm spot in the spare room where a heating pipe runs underneath the floorboards.

We even managed a few nights with her curled up next to me.

A couple of times I closed the bedroom door, just to give us a good night’s sleep and would emerge in the morning to find Guin pressed up against the door, as if guarding it, her little face all cross until she realised it was noms o clock at which point she would get up haltingly then stagger around in circles with excitement.

Each of the cats has their special place for feeding and Kitty, Arthur and Poppet eat on the stairs. Guin used to do so, but if she was spending her time downstairs, it was rare for her to make the move upstairs to eat, and I would feed her next to me. If she was spending time upstairs however, she would sit on the landing until I called, at which point she would come downstairs, often at a sideways run. It was a frequent occurrence that she would try to over-compensate and end up crashing into the others, sending bowls flying, food everywhere and poor Kitty upstairs in fright.

The first time she did it, I was so fearful she had hurt herself but I soon realised she caught herself each time, perilously near the bottom and seemed to be enjoying the experience. Kitty and Poppet were slightly less enthralled.

I got used to putting the mattress up on its side each morning, leaving the futon cover (which lives underneath) for her to sleep on and wreck. Kitty would then sleep on the side of the upturned mattress.

Last weekend, Guin nearly made it up there too, so fast I turned with the noise of her paws attempting the run up, watching amazed as she levered herself up it to the top and then fell off as she tried to clamber on, so fast I didn‘t have time to react, just thankful her fall was cushioned by the futon cover as she dusted herself off and glared at me, as if it were my fault.

I got used to agonising about how long she would last and what to do for the best. I made and remade decisions all the time. When she was diagnosed with bladder cancer, only to have the tumour to drop off, followed by developing a nasty mammary tumour, which once tied off, disappeared, it would have been easy to believe that she was always going to be blessed, but I couldn’t buy into that.

Cats pick up their humans stress way too easily and I didn’t want her health to be a type of  worst fears self fulfilling prophecy; but it would be wrong to claim that I never cried when she cuddled in my lap. It would be wrong to claim I didn’t notice her fragility.

I let her out against my own advice, watching her but not interfering as she lived her life, on her terms, did what she wanted to do, always. I was petrified that one day she would not come back, victim of a situation she couldn’t move fast enough to escape, or getting stuck someplace she couldn’t move her body out of. Never a great miaower, her miaow decreased over the years to a whisper and I knew if she needed help and called for it, I would never hear her.

However, I feared something far more than that. I feared her last days would be blighted by my fears; that she would be frustrated and annoyed at being treated like an invalid so I let her out to do her thing.

It was absolutely the right decision for her and she came in, albeit a few times later than she should have, safe every time, her eyes shining with delight and adventure.

During her last bath, as with her first and all the ones in between, she whipped her head around and bit me. I wish it had been deeper, had left a scar rather than just a bruise, something tangible to keep now that she has gone.

About titflasher

Writer, blogger, animal activist, people activist, dream-catcher maker, mommy to 9 cats and a roving band of foxes ... Blog name comes from my father's suggestion for the title of my autobiography ... after my mother's and my awful habit of flashing whenever the security police took our photo in the dark old days of apartheid South Africa. I love nature, including creepy crawlies and people, find life fascinating and frustrating and have two terrible weaknesses - nictotine and animals in distress ... can't abide the latter situation and can't give up the former. I'm Pagan but not anti-Christian, funny but quite serious, light-hearted but can be annoying. I am warm-hearted until someone p*sses on me too much, then I get soggy and even. Feel free to link me but all the words on these pages is copyrighted, so copy it and take the credit and I will find you and slap you upside the head, hard. The blog is probably best read via category as there is loads on here already, and I just got started :-)
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