Sunday, November 7, 2010


Life is so great at throwing curve balls, isn't it?

Just when everything seems to be falling into place, there's yet another drama.   The last two weeks have been surprisingly calm.  The house in North London is OURS - I am still have trouble digesting the fact that, after all this time, it does appear that I will in fact be moving home to the UK by the end of the year.  I have a new home, I have applied to the local borough for school places, I am coordinating all the logistics for a transatlantic relocation for me and the boys.  It is so overwhelming that I can't quite get to grips with the fact that it is actually going to happen, but the fact that the house is ours makes it real.  There's no going back now and the sense of relief is enormous.

The only concern I had was what to do with my two cats.  I had planned to take them home, but started to think that maybe it would make more sense and be better all round if I found them a new home in Chicago.  Which of course is easier said than done.

I have had both cats since they were kittens, adopting them both when we first moved to Chicago and I was volunteering at a local no-kill shelter.  They are now 9 years old and part of me just wanted to spare them the trauma of a move.  So I emailed everyone in my contacts list, placed local ads and waited for the offers to come pouring in.  And waited.  And waited.  Lots of people expressed concern for the cats, and my predicament, but it appeared that all the cat lovers were already inundated with felines and there was nobody willing to take them.

I knew that taking them to a shelter would not be an option.  I couldn't desert my faithful, loving pets without knowing whether or not they had a family to go to, so just last week decided that I had to bite the bullet and start to coordinate plans for their move to the UK.  Once I made the decision, I again felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  It was going to be costly - nearly $3,000 - and I wasn't sure where that money was going to come from, but all the alternatives seemed too heartless to contemplate.  It's only money, I told myself, and started to get all the paperwork together to make it happen.

However, there was one nagging concern at the back of my mind.  My big, fat, fluffy hair ball of a ginger tom, Ernie, had lost a lot of weight.  I knew I had reduced the cats diet a couple of months ago and initially I assumed that it was a natural side-effect from eating less.  But as I watched him more closely, I began to notice that he no longer had a ferocious appetite.  And then in the last few days he seemed to have no appetite at all.

Oh no, I thought.  What's going on now?  I don't have time to deal with this.  I felt sure it was nothing but googled 'cat weight loss' nevertheless.  Of course the internet threw back a list of ailments as long as my arm, all of which looked alarming and expensive.  I decided to book an appointment at the vet the following week to get him checked out, reassuring myself that it was probably a simple ailment that could be cured simply with medication.

When I woke up on Saturday, with a busy and fun-filled day planned (the expat bloggers were in town and I was excited to spend the day with them) Ernie could barely drag himself up the stairs.  His fur was bedraggled and greasy looking.  From being a chunky, lump of a cat just a few months ago he was now skin and bones.  I could no longer ignore the obvious.  I had a sick cat on my hands and needed to take him to the vet immediately.

A couple of hours later I was sat in the vet waiting room, feeling fairly optimistic that I was panicking over nothing.  It's bound to be a simple parasite, I thought, which would explain the weight loss.  I couldn't allow myself to think that it was anything worse.  Having made the decision to take both cats back the UK, the thought that Ernie might now be suddenly and inexplicably ill and unable to travel, made no sense at all.

The vet came in and looked him over.  Ernie purred in his usual friendly fashion.  He has a big, traction engine type of purr that reverberates through his whole body and reflects his general contented personality.  The vet looked at his teeth, as I explained my concerns, then she started to feel the rest of his body.  I suddenly remember that I forgot to bring his faeces sample with me and internally berate myself for forgetting the evidence which would reveal the parasites.  The vet pauses in her examination and looks me in the eye.  "Ernie has a large tumour in his abdomen.  I can't be sure, but in my opinion I think it could be lymphoma.  I'm going to have to run more tests.  Can you come back in 45 minutes?"

I look at my cat, who is obviously a shadow of his former self, and burst into tears.

Oh holy crap.  Cancer.  How?  Why?  And why now, for Christ's sake?  What does this mean?  Is it curable?  And what will the treatment involve?  How can I possibly deal with this, when I am going to be homeless in 3 weeks and living in my friend's basement?

I stagger out to Starbucks and email Ex to tell him the news.  He responds immediately and is kind, considerate and thoughtful.  He reminds me that I have given Ernie nine very happy years and that he probably wouldn't have survived as a kitten if I hadn't nursed him around the clock for the first few months.  He tells me to keep him posted.  I call a friend and can't seem to stop the tears.  I can't help feeling that I gave a sign to the universe that this cat was disposable, that he wasn't wanted.  And it had responded with a fatal solution to not having to bare the expense and stress of shipping him home.

Eventually I go back to the vet, dreading the results and feeling sure this was going to be a worse case scenario prognosis.  Which it is.  There are options for surgery / chemo / long-term treatment, but none of them are guaranteed to cure the disease.  And he certainly can't travel back to the UK in a matter of weeks.  The vet kindly advises me that euthanasia is probably the kindest and most respectful option.

I cuddle Ernie close to me and he purrs rhythmically in my ear.  I don't feel ready to lose him.  I don't know what I was thinking about even considering re-homing him several weeks ago.  Out of the two cats, Ernie was always the one from a kitten that has been attached to me like velcro, taking every opportunity open to him to coat me in a layer of hair impervious to most lint rollers.  He has the sweetest, most loving nature.  The thought of putting him down is heartbreaking.

I call Ex and tell him what is happening.  I can't stop the tears as I am talking, although I am trying my hardest to keep my shit together.  I have decided to take Ernie home, with medication, to be able to say a proper goodbye.  The vet assures me he isn't in any discomfort right now, although he probably will be soon. The medication will increase his appetite a little and make him a little more alert.  When I am ready I can bring him back and be with him while he is put to sleep.

I drive home slowly and sit on the couch all afternoon with Ernie curled up on my chest.  This wasn't how this weekend was meant to be.  I feel sad and somehow responsible for my pet's imminent death.  I feel worried about how his brother, Bert, the little black mischief maker is going to cope in his absence.  I'm not sure how I am going to cope with his absence.  Yes, he is just a pet, just a cat.  The boys love both cats, but that affection has never, in all honesty, been returned (with both cats running a mile as soon as the boys are within sprinting distance).  But they will be sad.  And I am going to miss him very, very much.

This is the trouble with having animals as part of your family, isn't it?  Their life span is shorter to start with, so the relationship is duty bound to end in heartbreak.  I can't tell you how many times I have moaned about having the cats over the past two years, particularly when tripping over them carrying armfuls of laundry or shooing them out of my kitchen when trying to get everyone fed.  There have been times I have really resented the responsibility of having to find people to look after them whenever we have gone on holiday.  And I've felt guilty if I haven't had the time to give them much attention, when they seem permanently desperate for a lap to curl up on.  Some times I have just wanted to sit down and write a blog post for heaven's sake (okay, not that often admittedly) which is hindered somewhat when there is a cat determined to sprawl across the keyboard.  And it's probably best not to mention at this point my constant whinging about Cat Hair and it's ability to impregnate every surface with super glue tendencies.

Because despite the minor irritations and my petty little grumbles, I really love having pets and I have been really lucky to have had such a gentle and affectionate cat.

Goodbye my darling Ernie. Turns out you were always meant to be an American cat - and not an English moggy - after all.


  1. Feeling tearful as I'm remembering my feline losses and my heart is full of empathy for you. xx

  2. I am sat sobbing big hot tears, not only for you, but we made the same decision for Mr Smudge a couple of months ago.

  3. Thinking of you. Pets are not just pets are they?


  4. In our world, there is no such thing as 'just a pet'. They are members of our families and we mourn them as we would any other member of the family. I am so sorry about your kitty. You gave him alot of really great years.

  5. I'm so sorry Nicola. I hope your last days with Ernie are lovely and memorable. Big hugs. xx

  6. So sorry Nicola, that's just so sad. Our pets are members of our family and the thought of losing one of ours feels me with dread. But for once your Ex is spot on, you gave Ernie 9 happy years and for that your should be proud of yourself. Take care x

  7. I'm so sorry, dear. I also am having to face putting down my Lady Flirt, who is 15 years old and finally in such bad shape that it's time to let her go. She's been with me for years through move after move and trauma after trauma. I think the divorce is what was too much for her at last, because I was rarely there in the house and I couldn't pay her enough attention and she pined away.

    So I feel your pain. You're making the right choice. ((((HUGS))))

  8. Hope you're feeling better today - and I hope Ernie gets lots of chances to cuddle up with you over the next few days. xx

  9. Also wanted to tell you that you are not responsible for this - you wanted to take him with you. You gave your pet it's best years for that, you can feel proud. Hugs.

  10. So sorry Nicola. Thinking of you. x

  11. So sad - your post made me cry. I once had a cat who badly injured himself at a "convenient" time, when we were struggling to figure out how to address troubling behaviors that developed once the babies showed up. I knew it was right to end his pain, but couldn't shake the guilt that he had handed us an easy out. That cat was my first baby.

    I hope you find peace.

  12. So incredibly sorry. This has happened to us more than once and it is especially hard when the cat is a marker and reminder of happier times.
    Please try to remember that you did not will this on him. If anything, he's giving you a gift of leaving gently before you had to drag him overseas at great physical/mental/financial cost to all of you, when really your time together was done.
    Fresh start, but his love will remain. I'm thinking of you. xo

  13. I'm so sorry, Ernie sounds like a lovely cat and it's a hard but brave thing to have to do. Don't feel bad about the frustrations you have had about him, it sounds like you have given him a wonderful home and really made him a part of your family.

  14. I feel awful that whilst we were enjoying the art museum, you were dealing with this.

    It was so lovely to meet you at the weekend, I hope you can enjoy your cuddles with Ernie, he's so lucky you found him at the shelter.

  15. He's lucky to have had all those happy years with you.

    Thank you for putting on such a brave face, and not letting this spoil the w/e for the rest of us. I loved meeting you.

  16. Can't say anything more than to offer my heart-felt sympathy. Animals give so much to our daily lives and the payback to that is having to make these sorts of decisions about them.
    Sometimes being the grown-up is really crap isn't it...

  17. Oh I can relate to what you are going thru. I had kicked out a cheating husband a couple of years ago and my cat was there thru it all. He would greet me on my return from work, sleep at the bottom of my bed and just be someone to chat to (my kids are grown and left home) I had to make the decision in Feb to have him put down as he was having strokes and I took him home to say goodbye. As I held him at the vets the next day crying my eyes out the vet said Soot knew I needed him in the past year and held on for me. As he gave his last sigh it was the hardest thing to sit with him while he was put to sleep I knew I had to do it for him. My thoughts are with you. I miss him more than I do my husband. Take care of yourself.

  18. Having only had goldfish as childhood pets, I never really understood the attachment that others have for their animals. Then last year, a little cat in the neighbourhood decided he was going to adopt me as an owner. I really don't know what I'll do when it's time to say goodbye to him. You've clearly given Ernie a marvelous life full of contentment and love which he otherwise wouldn't have had.

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