The loss of a beloved fur-child always hurts. Sometimes it hurts like hell. And sometimes it hurts so much that it brings you to your knees and breaks your heart….
Riley was a survivor.
When he was a kitten, he survived being lost–up a tree in a rainstorm. My friend, Kim, rescued him from the tree, and took him home to foster. I truly did not *need* another cat–I had three–but after I met him, I knew that he would be coming home with me. Sweet-natured, energetic, and smart as a whip, Riley was my first boy kitty, and what a boy he was!
I wondered how he would adjust to my household, with its three other cats and two dogs, but I didn’t need to worry.
He was patient and gentle (well, most of the time…) with my ancient Siamese, Cica (who died in April 2002 at the age of 20)….
…he let himself be mothered by Cirrus…
…and he got along great with my dogs!
He was still young and rambunctious, however, and I never quite knew where I’d find him. The top of my closet door was always a possibility…. For a while during his youth, I’m sure he thought his full name was, “Dammit, Riley!”
About 5 months after adopting Riley, I found “The Three Meezeketeers,” Kian, Kai, and Aja. (Their story is on my website: “The Quest for a Kitten”) Once again–after some initial hissing and sniffing–Riley was adaptable and sweet-natured, and he soon adored the babies!
His favorite kitten, however, was the little sealpoint female, Aja, and this mutual love affair between Aja and Riley continued throughout his life….
We added another kitten, Niko, in 2003, and again Riley was gracious and welcoming….
When Niko was about a year old, however, he developed a serious condition known as “stomatitis.” Feline stomatitis is an incredibly painful inflammation of a cat’s mouth, gums, and throat. While the cause of this disease is not fully known, one thought is that cats contract this through the spread of a virus. Is that what happened here? I may never know….
One of the last-ditch efforts for the treatment of stomatitis–as radical as it sounds–is the removal of a cat’s teeth. Niko had full-mouth dental extractions in 2006, and he adjusted pretty well. Riley had three separate dental surgeries beginning in 2010 to try to combat the disease–but there were complications….
As a result of not being able to eat due to the stomatitis, Riley developed feline hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) in 2010. A total of 4 separate surgeries to insert (or re-insert…) feeding tubes kept him alive during this time.
And then, due to long-term steroid use (for the stomatitis) which damaged his pancreas, Riley became diabetic. When he developed diabetic ketoacidosis–yet another life-threatening illness–I essentially brought him home from the vet’s to die. Simply put, I was out of money for further treatments, and I was also unwilling to put this brave, beautiful cat through anything further. I couldn’t make the decision to euthanize just then, but I also knew I wouldn’t let him suffer if the end did not come quickly or easily….
When the vet called the next day, inquiring in somber tones about Riley, I said he’d just run up the stairs and he was asking for food. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone line, and the young vet said, “That shouldn’t be happening….” I guess Riley didn’t know that! With diet changes, and with the support of insulin injections 2x a day for about 6 months, his blood glucose levels stabilized and he was no longer diabetic. Once more he’d survived, against all odds.
In the Fall of 2016, Riley started having more health issues. A vet visit in October (with minimal diagnostic testing, at my request), was inconclusive. At that point, my goal shifted to monitoring his quality of life, and keeping him as happy and as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible. By January 2017, he was having good days and bad moments….
During some of the bad moments–times when I thought for sure I was losing him–I would have sent him on his way to the “Rainbow Bridge” right then if I’d had the means (or a resident vet!) to do so. I’d sit on the floor beside him and I’d tell him it was okay to go. I’d ask both of my parents to watch for him, and I’d tell him that I would always, always love him.
But 15 minutes or so after each “episode,” he would sit up, gather his wits, and walk into the kitchen asking for food. (Dammit, Riley….) And I would feed him. And he would eat. Like I’ve said, he was a survivor.
By mid-March, the “episodes” were not happening as frequently, but he was simply slowing down. As much as I dreaded it, I knew that his time was getting short.
On the evening of March 21, 2017, I knew it was time–actually, truthfully, past time…. And even though I knew, logically, that I needed to free his amazing, strong spirit from his tired and worn out body, emotionally, in some ways, it felt like a betrayal….
After spending so many years, so much money, so much time, so much energy, and so much love trying to keep this wonderful, old cat alive and in a good place (I’m thankful that he was able to enjoy the too-early, warm Spring days out on the screened porch, which he loved), it seemed so wrong to make the decision to end his life.
He went peacefully, and as he took his last breath, through my tears I told my Mom (who died in 2012) that she was getting herself one hell of a fine cat. The very best cat. Ever.