Eli was our 3-year-old black-and-white kitty. He was rescued with Marley, his sister, when they were a few weeks old. They were brought by Santa and immediately became part of our family. We felt complete. Father, mother, daughter, son, and brother and sister four-legged critters.
Eli and my daughter, Amanda, had a special bond. He picked her as his owner and best friend. He would sit on the chair next to her at breakfast. He would wait by the door for her while she was at school. He would curl up on her bed at night to hear stories.
When cats are rescued they are tested for the dread feline diseases. Unfortunately, there can be false negatives as well as false positives.
Last spring Eli began acting lethargic. A trip to the veterinarian brought us face to face with a death sentence: anemia, brought on by the feline leukemia virus—a virus he tested negative for pre-adoption.
We had to make the decision to either euthanize him or try medication. The doctors gave us little hope.
The parallel between Eli and Amanda was obvious. Here was a cat, who, if he had tested positive for the feline leukemia virus as a kitten, would not have been allowed to live. He would have been perceived as unhealthy. His quality of life would have been in question. He was the best friend of a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome, type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. There are those who question her quality of life; some people view her as unhealthy and compromised.
With medication, Eli went into remission. He was his old self. Once again he was at Amanda’s side whenever she was home.
Knowing this happiness might not last, we did not take Eli’s presence for granted. We stopped what we were doing to watch as he would chase Marley up the stairs and down the hall. We appreciated when he jumped on our laps. We giggled when we would come down into the kitchen in the morning and the toaster oven door would be askew, the cabinet drawer where the kitty treats were hidden would be open, and the garbage can would be in disarray.
Ordinary became extraordinary. Relaxing with the cat on your lap became a treat instead of boring. Amanda and her 10-year-old brother, Jason, viewed brushing the kitties as a privilege instead of a chore. Feeding the cats required turn-taking. We had three months of kitty well-being.
The lethargy eventually returned; the anemia was back. This time Eli did not respond to medication. We were again faced with a choice: Euthanize him or bring him home to die. My husband, Brian, I, and the kids discussed it and decided that we didn’t want Eli’s last experience to be of the veterinarian’s office, a place he hated. It wasn’t right to do what might be easiest for us. We needed to do what was right for our family. Eli was family. As long as he wasn’t in any pain, he would stay at home.
It was sad to see Eli lying under the chair instead of romping around the house. It was heartbreaking to see his sister try to play with his tail and then give up and go sit by the fish tank. It was tough for Amanda and Jason to go to bed every night, not knowing if Eli would be with us in the morning, kissing his head goodnight and goodbye, just in case.
But while there was sadness, there was also an understanding. I saw compassion in my children as they lay on the floor next to Eli and spoke to him quietly while petting his head. I saw caring as they brought him a dish of water to drink or a treat to munch.
We had discussions about why loved ones die, why some are born with issues that make it challenging or impossible to live. Why doctors can’t fix everything.
We spoke about how we need to remember to give back love to those in our lives. That Eli’s life, while short, was pretty good. He went from being a stray kitten stranded in a snow bank, to a loved pet who was well fed and cherished by his owners. The next few weeks taught us lessons we would not have learned if Eli had not graced our lives for the short time he did.
As Eli faded, Amanda and Jason realized a time comes when it is OK to say goodbye. They saw it would be best for Eli to go and they were ready to let him. Thankfully, he died very shortly after they came to that realization. We all cried and mourned, but we knew his time had come.
It is OK to feel sad. It is OK to cry. It is OK to not understand.
One of the last nights that Eli felt like himself he jumped to Amanda’s bed, curled up on her chest and fell asleep. They slept, he purring, she snoring lightly. He with his paw on her chin, her with her arm around him. I wanted to take a picture but was afraid to break the spell. The love they had for each other was clear. Just as it was clear Eli and Amanda were family. And they were meant to be.
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs and publishes the blog www.momofmanyneeds.com.
Photo Above: Deborah Cavanagh photo