On January 14th, I put my beloved cat, Buckwheat, to sleep. Since my last post when I mentioned her claim to our household as a private domain, she deteriorated rapidly. She stopped eating and moved from her perch on the couch only to sip water. When doing so, I observed that her back legs, particularly on the right, were poorly controlled.
The veterinarian performed a brief neurological exam. When touching the right side of Buckwheat’s face, there was no reaction, not even a blink of her eye. Her forepaw and back foot drooped. Reflexes normally noted, were absent. The facial paralysis led the doctor to theorize a brain tumor. “And,” she said, following a pregnant pause, “Buckwheat is 20 years old.”
It was left for me to drop the other shoe. I’m pretty slow on the draw, but this situation demanded an immediate decision. The diagnosis surprised me even though I’d joked with Buckwheat that this might be her last car ride. Normally, when faced with this predicament, she’d sit on my lap grumbling with agitated disgust. Yet, on Thursday’s trip, she was docile.
I thought I was ready to make such a call. I’d wondered for the last two years if she’d make it through another winter. But, my composure broke when it became obvious this was not the time for procrastination. The veterinary staff tacitly conveyed a paradox of their profession: clemency is often the least tenderhearted of choices. I agreed with the vet’s implied suggestion to euthanize Buckwheat. Thereafter, the process moved swiftly with grace and dignity.
An assistant shaved Buckwheat’s right foreleg. The doctor inserted an IV catheter and taped it in place. Bucks did not seem troubled by this, which provided more evidence of the lack of sensory response. She lay on my lap with her head resting in my hand… the hand of her best friend.
Though difficult, I consider it an honor that I shared in her dying. Later, knife pains of grief pierced my chest, but at the moment of the injection, I felt peace. One of the staff stroked Buckwheat’s brow and praised her long life. Buckwheat meowed softly once, then closed her eyes, and relaxed her head upon my palm. Finally, she did what she does best: she went to sleep.
Now, a couple of days after her passing, I recall other signs leading to this rapid decline. I’d assumed her wobbly gait to be merely arthritis. Most likely though, that hitch in her step, along with the occasional fall when jumping, and moments of apparent confusion indicated the presence of a more serious condition.
Already, I miss talking with her. Writers are solitary creatures, yet they crave an audience. Buckwheat was mine. During my early morning rambles as I wrote and read aloud, I bantered with her as if she were my editor. Most of my wonderings deserve only silence and I received plenty of that. Nonetheless, I appreciated her listening.
Buckwheat’s serene personality eased the self-doubt in much of what I try to say. She nursed me with a calming presence during my recovery from the stem cell transplant. Her companionship was a salve for my wounds and enhanced many of my joys. She loved to garden. Together, we dug in the dirt and enjoyed the butterflies that visited our efforts.
The responsibilities of animal care include food, shelter, and sometimes the vicissitudes of mercy. I feel blessed for having known this gentle soul. Letting her go was my final troublesome but correct gift for all she had given me. Respect at the time of Buckwheat’s death is the least I could offer in return for the friendship we shared. At home, in the hours following her passing, I made a shroud with her favorite blanket. Then I buried her in one of my wildflower beds, beneath a young maple tree. She will rest in a warm but shaded spot. There, I can visit whenever I wish to continue our chats.