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,


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