Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Farewell Kitty

I will begin with a video I made of Kitty's short but sweet life.

Holding the power of a life in your hands is not easy.

We experience this in a mild sense when we decide to squash an ant with our shoe or swat at a fly that is buzzing around the kitchen. Even when we whiz by and take out a squirrel on the road.

But what about when that creature is more than an insect or a nut-collecting nuisance? What about when it is a friend, a companion, and the one who greets you every time you walk in the door?

I had Kitty’s life in my hands over the past couple of weeks… and I didn’t like it. The stress of deciding “when is the best time” overwhelmed me. At first, it almost consumed me.

Shortly after Kitty’s emergency clinic visit, she improved quite a bit. She was a lot slower than normal, but definitely still had “Kitty-isms” that were true to character: chasing the laser pointer, “nursing” my hot pink blanket, running to the ice maker, and eating & drinking heartily.

As days went on, her breathing picked up quite a bit, but she still seemed happy to be alive. Towards the end of that week, her respirations were quite labored, yet she still had a little perk left in her. My parents were returning that Friday evening, and my goal was to make it until then.

I can’t explain it, but it meant more to me than anything else to have them see her before she died. Kitty stayed with my parents (and I) for the first few months of her life.

I can still remember the day I “asked my Dad permission” to let her live at home with us until I moved out. He was not too happy.

“I guess it’s fine, if that’s what you have to do,” he told me.

I felt guilty and happy all at the same time. My mom and I were excited.

The silly part is, Kitty loved my Dad the most. Probably… because he tried the least. And I would be lying if I said he didn’t love her, too.

Kitty slept in our basement room, which is also my Dad’s closet/shower room. Early each morning, he would be downstairs getting ready, and Kitty would come running up to my Dad, stand up on her hind legs (like a squirrel) and beg for my Dad to pet her.

Funny… because she didn’t like it when anyone else tried to touch her.

She would chase his shoe laces and weave in and out of his legs.
She would also spend a lot of time with my Mom during the day. My mom and I share a mutual affection for cats, so she loved it. Except when Kitty would walk across her kitchen table, try to eat off our plates, bat at her center pieces, and climb our Christmas tree. Then she would yell, “Kitty! OFF MY TABLE!”


We all enjoyed her. She was a bundle of energy and full of life, and always had us laughing.

Even after I moved out, Kitty and I would come visit… a lot. Usually, when I came over for a quick dinner or to spend the evening with my parents, so would Kitty. She was always with me, and my parents were always delighted to see her.

Because of the fun times we had together and how special she was to them, I really wanted them to see her.

My parents flew in late Friday night, and returned home just minutes before I had to go into my 3rd shift job. Kitty’s breathing had stayed pretty labored, so I had scheduled an appointment for Kitty to be put down that following Saturday morning.

As I scooped Kitty up and placed her in my car to go see my parents, my emotions were at the brim. I kept looking over at Kitty and thinking that this would be her last night. I would let her sleep at my parents’ house so she wouldn’t spend her last night alone.

I gathered Kitty into my arms and walked inside. As I did, it was instantaneous—I was sobbing. My Dad saw me and gave me a huge hug and told me not to cry.

That made me cry more.

They were so happy to see Kitty. Her side was shaved, as were her two front legs, and she was thinner. But Kitty sniffed them and greeted them, and my Mom calmed my tears.

“Taryn, we’ll take her in tomorrow morning, and if it’s too soon, we won’t put her down.”

So I slept that night.

And like usual, Kitty woke up early with my Dad and wanted him to pet her. She purred (she doesn’t purr for anyone else). She ate for my mom and sat in front of our back door and looked outside—her favorite thing.

We took her into the vet. Our vet is SO nice. He patiently listened to all my doubts.

What if I put her down too soon?

Is it too soon if she still seems to have a quality of life?

Is she in pain?

Is it possible that it’s not FIP, but something else?

Would she really be eating and drinking if it was towards the end?

He assured me that she was not in pain. Likely… discomfort. But not pain, and that she DID still seem to have a quality of life.

Without telling me what to do or “swaying me one way or another,” as he put it, I gathered from him that he thought I should wait. At that point, I was almost ready to do it and get it done. But my vet and parents were listening to me when my emotions clogged my logic. They explained that it would make me feel better to know that “it was time,” and this time… it didn’t seem right yet.

So we took Kitty home.

For the next few days, Kitty stayed with my parents, mostly. Her breathing stayed about the same… labored, fast… but consistent. She still sniffed around, ate and drank.

On Tuesday, she seemed to slow down quite a bit. I was beginning to think that the end was near. By Wednesday, she could hardly walk 5 steps without stopping to catch her breath, stooped over so she could concentrate on breathing. When we presented her with food or water, she would walk up to it and hang her head over the bowl… she wanted it… but she didn’t have enough air to partake.

It broke my heart.

I had been taking her outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. She LOVES outside and now that she had slowed down so much, it was much easier to keep an eye on her. However, on Wednesday when I did this, while she tried so hard to enjoy it, she was very obviously struggling. At one point, she tried to lie down, but stood right back up and resumed her “I can’t breathe” position.

Again… it brought me to tears.

I phoned my vet… knowing it was the day. Unfortunately, my vet was not in on this particular afternoon. It made me very sad, because everyone at that office knows Kitty so well, and the sentimental part of me wanted the vet who had been working with her to carry it through.

However, after observing her a little bit more, I knew I didn’t want to wait until morning. I phoned another local vet and made an appointment for later that afternoon.

My mom came with me. On the way to the vet’s office, I rode with Kitty in my lap. She was inside her carrier bag. I unzipped the front and stuck my hand in, petting her. Typically, Kitty did not like to be pet but as she had grown more ill, she learned to love the comfort. She rested her little head on my hand and let me stroke her, enjoying every moment.

We walked into the vet’s office, and everyone was nice and accommodating.

The vet there was young, and was so compassionate and kind. He asked all about Kitty—her history, her diagnosis, and then proceeded to explain in great detail the whole process of putting her down.

He brought in a blanket for her to sit on while it was done. My mom and I held her and pet her the whole time. It ended up being too hard to find a good vein in her back legs, because she was unable to breathe when they positioned her a certain way. The vet suggested that we give her a sedative to relax her so they could do what they needed to do. Another friend of mine (a fellow cat lover!) had suggested this to make it easier, so I gladly agreed.

He explained that the sedation would take a few minutes to work, so he injected it and then left the room so we could wait with her.

And this was the saddest part.

Almost immediately, Kitty started panting out of her open mouth—something I had never seen her do. Clearly, she was gasping for air. My mom was supporting her and felt her front legs wobble and then eventually give away.

“Just lay down, Kitty,” we both told her, soothing her as much as we could.

My baby, my black & white fluff ball who was the strongest fighter I knew, who would never in a million years lie on command… she laid down, and gave up.

All it took was something to relax her, and all of the fight came right out of her. She laid on her side and struggled to breathe.

“This may finish her,” I said, tears rolling down my cheek.

My mom’s hands were resting lightly on top of Kitty, feeling her little chest rise and fall. Her normally quick, short breathing turned into a slow, labored breath every 1-2 seconds… and eventually… no breathing.

My mom and I stood above her, stroking her and whispering soothing words, while our salty tears dripped onto her beautiful, soft coat. It was a special time. I knew Kitty was dying in our arms, and without the aid of euthanasia.

In that moment, it was proof to me that it was the right time. The one thing I struggled to wrap my mind around was letting her go too soon. But I knew with all of my heart that this was her time, and she told us by slipping away once she was relaxed enough to stop fighting for us.

I can’t describe to you the mixed emotions that I felt. I felt sadness for losing her, but relief for knowing she was done suffering. Watching her deteriorate each and every day was horribly hard. I tried to mask it as best as I could… much like Kitty masked her difficulty with breathing. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want her to have to get to the point of suffering, but I also knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t wait long enough to see she had no way of improving.

And somehow, God gave me the perfect timetable to accomplish the balance.

I am so thankful for the prayers, support, and understanding of so many cat and pet-lovers as this all unfolded.

Kitty took her last breaths, and shortly after, the vet walked in. When he realized what had happened, he apologized profusely. However, I was relieved that it happened as it did. He ended up giving her a little bit of euthanasia to ensure she was truly “gone,” since he still picked up a faint flutter of her heart from time to time. He returned her in a special “coffin” box, perfect for us to bury her in.

My mom and I drove home in quiet tears. We exited the car and sat out on our front porch. It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon—sunny, blue skies, and in the 70’s. We sat outside and pet Kitty’s soft fur for awhile, and reminisced about her short but sweet life.

My Dad buried Kitty in my parent’s backyard. I request she be buried there, just several feet away from Belle (and Whiskers).

Most people are either a “cat” person or a “dog” person, and I have concluded that regardless of which you prefer, we all somehow have a special connection with our domestic pets that is unexplainable. It can only come through loving care, and while animals are not children, there is still so much emotional energy invested. So much so, that at the end of the path, it always ends in tears.

I was only able to enjoy Kitty for 8 short months. However, in that little amount of time, I could write a book about her. My friend told me, “No two cats are the same. Some people say: Oh, that’s just a CAT. But you will never meet another Kitty.”

I won’t. And for awhile, it will be hard to put up with any kitty that ISN’T Kitty. Time will help heal my sorrow. God does not let this go unnoticed, and I am convinced that there is a reason behind this circumstance.

My cousin pointed out a beautiful thought to me… that we can’t always know or even come close to fathoming why God works the way He does. But it is so interesting to note how He so often parallels death with life… the death of someone in a family with the birth of another, attending a funeral today and attending a baby shower tomorrow, and the death of my Kitty with the flourish of kitten season.

We serve a beautiful God who wants us to enjoy His creation… and that, I will continue to do. The hardest part about loving is losing… but oh, to think of how much we gain in our Eternal Home! J

Love you all!


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Miss Kitty

I never wanted to be the type of person who drives around with my pet's head hanging out the car window, or call myself "Mommy" in relation to them. I thought doting on a pet in such a way-- buying them special collars and food and toting them around everywhere like a child-- I thought that was over the top.

That all changed when I decided to adopt Kitty when she was just 3 weeks old. Our intern from work brought her to me from her cousin's farm. She described her as a "black & white fluff ball." Kitty stole my heart immediately. With her soft, fluffy hair, ornery personality and outgoing nature, she quickly became known as the "dog-cat."

She LOVES people, is very nosey, always has to be the center of anything going on, perks up and comes running when you call her name, and sleeps with me every night.

She is a true companion-- and honestly, she keeps me company. I don't ever feel alone because she is around to lift my spirits.

I went on a trip to Arizona to shoot a wedding, and returned last Tuesday. I was excited to go pick up Kitty, who was staying with my parents. In fact, it was one of the first things I did upon arrival home. My parents love Kitty, and she loves staying at their house, as it is where she grew up for the first few months of her life.

I brought Kitty home and we resumed life as normal. I noticed that she was a little bit more subdued than normal, but I chalked it up to her being annoyed with me. After all, I had just left her for a week and it's not unlike Kitty to sport an attitude at times.

This "attitude" continued for the next few days, and if anything, got worse. Kitty started moping around and sleeping for large portions of the day. I kept thinking, "Maybe she is finally growing up and becoming less playful." But something inside of me felt that she just wasn't acting right.

On Friday, I was starting to really get worried, but I decided to get if one more day. I noticed that she started breathing funny-- it was very labored-- but then, was I just making it up? I didn't want to make a big deal out of nothing. Yet what alarmed me the most was her changed personality. She seemed depressed and lifeless. Her spunky sparkle that everyone loves was just gone. On Friday, she sat listlessly on the folding chair and started outside all day, hardly acknowledging me when I called her name.

By Saturday, she completely ignored the food and water bowl that I tried to push under her nose, and she was continuing to slow down. Additionally, she protested with a scratchy meow every time I tried to pick her up, as if it caused her pain.

I called the vet in town, but the doctor was out for the weekend. They gave me the number to the Tri-Country Emergency Animal Clinic in Peoria. I phoned them and found out I could bring her in at anytime.

I loaded Kitty up in the car and continued to observe her on the way. I put her in her carrying bag, which she normally immediately tries to bust out of by nudging her head up towards the zipper and inching it back until she can climb out. I usually let her, as I know she enjoys watching out the window.

After a couple of meager failed attempts, she sat with her little head sticking out of the bag and tried no further. I lifted her out of the bag, and she tried to climb up on top of the console in between the two front seats, but fell to the back. She stayed back there on the floor the entire time, not wanting to move.

Upon arrival at the clinic, we were seen by a very nice female vet. She took some x-rays of Kitty. I could hear her meowing in the other room and at that moment, I wanted to go to her and comfort her, like a mother would a child. It was like my baby was crying.

The vet came in with the x-ray pictures and showed them to me.

"See this right here?" she pointed, indicating a huge area with her finger. "That should all be black. That is her lung. But only this little spot is black," she said, showing me a small circular shape. "The rest of her lung is full of fluid."

She explained that her lungs being full of fluid was blocking her ability to breathe. Possible causes were heart or kidney failure, or FIP-- Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Neither were positive options. She explained that she suspected it to be FIP, since she had a recent surgery in January (spayed) and the vet would've noticed complications with a vital organ if that was the problem.

The vet was very nice and helpful, and also honest, which I appreciated.

"If it is FIP-- which I suspect it is-- it doesn't look good," she told me. "Kitty could die from this. And even if we treat her-- and we would try everything in our power to do it-- she could die from the process of treatment."

My options were-- treat Kitty and hope for the best-- a treatable condition so I could continue to keep her alive--or, let her die. I knew that she wouldn't hold up much longer in her current condition, and I wouldn't want her to suffer, so "let her die" would entail euthanizing her.

Given Kitty's young age and the fact that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't first try to treat her, I decided to go that route. I love Kitty. If I can treat Kitty and make her better, I would rather pour my money into trying than letting her go without knowing.

I knew I was on my own with making this decision. Unfortunately, my parents were out of town, otherwise my mom would have been with me. As I sat alone in the clinic's small room, running the estimate figures through my head and my potential courses of action, I contemplated phoning my mom. I almost did, and then refrained, as I felt tears brimming at my eyes. To call her would open the flood gates, and this was not a time to drown in my emotions. I needed to stay strong until I left.

In the end, I decided to do it. It cost me a lot of money that I did not want to spend, but my love for Kitty and knowing the tremendous guilt I would feel if I didn't at least TRY to help her get better were a catalyst to my decision.

I went out front and signed papers. As I did so, the girl asked me if I wanted to say "good-bye" to Kitty. Immediately, I said yes, fully aware that this could be the last time I saw her alive.

She led me to a back room where the vet and 4 other assistants were standing, surrounding Kitty. She had an oxygen mask in front of her, and her breathing was still labored.

Immediately, the tears came. And there was no stopping them.

The five individuals in the room were silent and I could feel their quiet understanding as I pet my baby kitty.

"I'm sorry," I choked out.

"It's hard," said the vet.

"You be good, OK Kitty?" I told her. I smiled at everyone and thanked them.

They were there on Easter weekend, giving their time for my pet and many others that would come in at any hour of the day or night with a problem. To that, I am extremely grateful.

Kitty was kept in an oxygen box almost the entire time. Around midnight, they had to to make the decision to do a chest tap. They were giving her diuretics to try to drain her of the fluids, but those alone weren't enough to allow her to breathe on her own with oxygen. After literally gassing her to the point of her falling asleep due to it being impossible to maneuver an IV into her, they drained several mL of fluid from her lungs.

This allowed her to breathe successfully again and sustain herself off of oxygen. After this, she immediately started to improve and regain some of her spunk and sass :)

I was able to go pick up Kitty today-- Easter Sunday-- right after church at 11:30. I got there in time to chat with the vet on shift who was with her all night and helped drain her fluids.

The news he delivered to me was not ideal. I'm not sure what I expected, but overnight I was hanging onto some glimmer of hope that Kitty would be all better-- healed-- and would live on for many years to come.

"She's stable for now," he told me. "Draining her lungs of that fluid allowed her to breathe on her own again without the assistance of oxygen. However, I don't know how long that will last. I helped her for now, but I didn't fix the problem."

He said it looked like FIP. All of the fluid that came out was honey-colored, which is characteristic of the FIP virus. In this case, her lungs will fill up again and she will have the exact same problem.

From what I have gathered from the 2 vets who had assisted me this weekend and reading online, FIP is a feline virus that lies dormant in cats (typically farm cats). Many cats can be exposed and never contract the virus, but once contracted, it lives inside of the cat like a ticking time bomb (similar to have a canker sore-- if you get them, it is because something has triggered it to pop up, otherwise it lies dormant). Once it flares up, there is no stopping it (except to treat Kitty as they did last night) and it is fatal. There is no known cure, and signs and symptoms are what Kitty experienced-- the depression, labored breathing, lungs filling up with honey-colore fluid, etc.

"I wish I could deliver better news to you," he told me, "She's SO stinking cute. Our nurses back there are in love with her. I hope I'm wrong."

I had scheduled a vet appointment for Kitty for Monday morning, so he advised me to keep that and go get a 2nd opinion on how to proceed next. We kept Kitty's IV in (as it was VERY hard to put in) for convenience of her Monday morning appointment.

I never, ever expected this to happen to Kitty, especially so early on in her life. I have only had her for 8 months, but she's already mine. I love her. I love her spunk and attitude, I love how she HATES to have soft paws put on and how she sits in our studio window and watches traffic, and how she loves to look out my front door at home and I love how soft she is. Everyone who meets her-- whether at my house or our studio-- they love her. Even people who are allergic or aren't cat people, they say she's the prettiest kitty they have seen.

I look at Kitty now and it makes me so sad to think her time here with me may be very short from here on out. It sickens me inside. I just laid to rest my other childhood cat 2 months ago, and Kitty was my joyful transition after coping with that loss. If Kitty dies, who is here to lessen the blow?

I know better than to question God, but I did it anyway today. I kept asking so many questions. Why? Why Kitty, and why now-- when she's so young? And while my parents are gone and I'm left to flush her IVs and spend her last days with her alone? Why FIP, which is such a rare condition? Why do I have to mourn the loss of another cat-- didn't I just do that?

I don't have answers to those "why" questions, which is why it's not good to ask them. And honestly, it doesn't really matter WHY. It just matters that I rely on God's strength and comfort to pull me through. And part of me wrestles with feeling like this situation pales in comparison to what my parents are dealing with in Arizona-- which is helping my aunt and uncle (who was just diagnosed with lung cancer) obtain his treatment options to fight his cancer.

But all those things don't take the sadness away. And although my human nature is to question and fight against this, I must surrender and offer it up to God, and let Him do what He will. I love Kitty and that's all I can continue to do, no matter how many days I have left with her.

Love you all,


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Arizona Highlights

My trip to Arizona is not yet over, but I wanted an excuse to write tonight

So I will review my highlights so far:

{1} Shooting our VERY FIRST wedding in ARIZONA! It was spectacular. This is a place that I have loved since birth, and I was given the opportunity to DO what I loved while HERE!

The wedding was beautiful-- outdoors at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Included a beautiful bride & groom, a lovely family, lakeside outdoor ceremony with negative edge waterfall as the backdrop, a blue-sky sunny day, and many architectural AND desert scape areas for photography!

{2} The sun. Even though we have had an uncharacteristically warm and sunny winter in Illinois, Kristi and I have soaked up the sun as much as possible. (Because let's face it-- the sun is just different in Arizona). Not to mention, you can sit in the shade here and not SWEAT, even though it's 90 degrees! At any given minute from the hours of 10-2, we could be found at my aunt & uncle's community pool... every single day.

{3} Making a new friend. On the air plane, on the way out here, I befriended a little 6-year-old girl. She was absolutely darling and I loved to be in her company for even just a short while. In times like those, I cherish the ability to revisit tic tac toe boards and handfuls of Skittles, because sometimes my life gets too crowded with "big people" decisions and worries. And in the world of drawing daisies and chasing butterflies, you don't have to think about those things.

{4} Freshly-squeeze grapefruit & orange juice. On my first morning here, my aunt pulled some frozen grapefruit/orange juice out of the freezer. She had squeezed it out of her fresh fruit a few weeks ago, and then froze it to keep it good. She defrosted it in the fridge overnight, so on that first morning it tasted like slush... which was, amazingly delicious. Then it turned to extra-pulpy juice, which was, also, amazing delicious.

Needless to say, I have drank it every morning since. It pairs nicely with my cinnamon oatmeal squares.

{5} Beautiful all around me. Multiple times, Kristi has said, "This is so beautiful." The thing is... I can't believe I'm admitting this, but the things I find beautiful in nature are quite unconventional. And mountains aren't one of them (GASP!) I know, I'm terrible. But I usually don't look at rocky desert and prickly bushes and red-rocked mountains and think, "Wow... beautiful." I just don't. The blue sky? The sun? The fresh air and ability to hike up a giant rock? THAT is beautiful. I find experiences beautiful. I look at this time with my aunt and uncle, with my best friend, with everyone around me and think... it has been beautiful.

Don't get me wrong... I love God's creation and how He has hand-crafted this desert-scape which is so different than where I come from; BUT, I guess I'm just mored wired to see beauty in the people and experiences and faces rather than the places.

Lastly, I share a picture. Kristi snapped this of me tonight. Still trying to decide how I feel about it. Let it be known that she told me, "Twirl around and look up." I think my gut reaction is that I feel like this picture is a little cheesy, because rarely am I found twirling around with my camera; OK, I'm never found doing that. But nonetheless, the mountains and camera and carefree nature of this photo sums up this trip quite nicely, so I shall share it.

Love you all!