Warning: sad post alert! Get some tissues now!
As a follow-up to my post of 7th October, my little old Gatekeeper left us on 6th December. We still cannot believe that he managed to hang on for two more months. I have never known a creature so unfazed by illness: Barney’s main concern was to carry on ‘ruling the roost’, as our vet put it.
He was still mad keen for his food, and although he ate slowly he was usually first in the queue. He would eat whatever I gave him, whether ground raw mixes of chicken, turkey, rabbit or beef, and the odd tin of sardines. He would even gamely having a go at chunks of raw chicken. He had no sense of smell at this point, so I guess his survival instinct kicked in and he just ate.
Eric the Jack Russell terrier came to stay the weekend, and it was business as usual for Barney. Straight on Eric’s bed as soon as it hit the floor. But he allowed to Eric creep on and have the other side…
…for a while! Then Eric had to make do with the cat bed. Fortunately he’s only a little dog so he just about fit in it.
I love how these pictures show Barney’s legacy of ‘Dogs? Huh!’ I hope Larry, Monty and Herbie will always remember to be cool with dogs.
During Barney’s last weeks, we were in a state of high Barney alert. Has he eaten? Does he seem tired or depressed? Is there any change in his habits today? We were acutely aware of his symptoms and his ability to shrug them off. Every day could have been his last. Every morning we thought, where is he – is he still alive? And he was – alive and demanding breakfast. Tough as old boots. Tough old moggy.
His nosebleeds were less frequent and stopped. His breathing became less noisy. But we knew this was not actually a good sign. Looking carefully, we could see he was breathing through his mouth, just as the vet had foreseen. The tumour had progressed to the point of completely blocking his nose. Somehow or other, Barney carried on eating, walking around the table and greeting visitors. We were in an agony of indecision. Clearly his body was struggling, but we also felt that Barney’s indomitable spirit had to be respected.
On 6th December Barney really did not want his breakfast. He was drinking a lot. He had a new unpleasant smell about him, and he seemed low. I knew it was time. I called work and said I wouldn’t be coming in. It wasn’t so much the refusal to eat: he had skipped the odd meal before only to tuck in 12 hours later. It was the smell which I remembered from Bob’s time, the stench of kidney failure. We could not leave it a moment longer. I gathered myself together and called the vet. Fortunately our veterinary surgery is at the end of our road, and our vet is a very kind Dutch lady who loves cats. I asked if she would come to the house when she had finished her appointments for the day. The receptionist put me on hold and then said the vet and the head nurse would be with us in half an hour.
Barney was in his bed in front of the fire. The vet had trouble finding a vein as he was dehydrated. Barney swore at her – ‘get on with it woman!’ and he was gone in a few seconds. Tough, feisty old moggy to the very end.
We did not want to keep his body or have his ashes returned to us. I have never derived any comfort from having tokens of death around the house, or bodies buried in the garden. We have a wooden casket of Fred’s ashes from 2003, and it makes me feel so uncomfortable that I have hidden it away in the attic. In 2010 we chose to bury Bob’s body in the garden, but I found the burial a hundred times more traumatic than the euthanasia and I was almost hysterical. So we asked the vet to remove Barney’s body for us. I was expecting her to produce a practical, heavy-duty plastic bag of some sort. But to my surprise she took out a rather nice pet blanket with a paw-print pattern all over it, to wrap him in. I was touched by her sensitivity.
Every bereavement is different. After a long illness it comes as no surprise. There is not the raw shock of a sudden death of a young creature. I had already done a lot of grieving for the old lad. But the house felt very different and very empty. I realised how much I had worried about him over the last few weeks: the daily face-wiping, cleaning up, moving his tray around after him, trying to work out how much he had eaten, constant vigilance for signs of pain, and snatches of lap time whenever I could. I went through drawers and cupboards, throwing away his medication and his pills and potions. There is a big hole where all the love, care, and laughs used to be for Barney.
A week later I got a card in the post from our vet.
Enclosed was a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds, to plant in the garden.
Till next time,