There are so many things I want to write down so I can remember all the best things about being Zen's lucky human for the last 12 years, it's just hard to know where exactly to start.
I spent the better part of more than 7 hours off and on in varying stages of crying, today my face feels like someone took a cheese grater to it. I think there was a part of me that knew the day was going to end the way it did but I was in denial, hoping as hard as I could that we would be able to have more time with her.
About 3 weeks ago she suddenly started showing signs of a UTI, easy enough to treat and not too concerning. She'd always been so healthy and hadn't even seen a vet in years. At the end of 2 weeks of antibiotics we took her back for a recheck and I opted to drop her off for a dental cleaning. It was included basically for free in the health care package we signed her up for. I figured she'd never had one before and given her age it was a now or never decision. She was fine for a few days then her usually voracious appetite started waning. Clif and I went out of town for the weekend, when we came home we learned she'd barely been eating and had thrown up what little she had gotten down. She went back to the vet where they discovered an unbalance in her digestive flora (overgrowth of cocci). She went back on a different antibiotic for a week. At first it looked like she might start improving a little. She'd lost a bit of weight, wasn't eating more than a few bites of tuna at a time and started looking like she'd aged 5 years overnight. I kept thinking it must be the antibiotics making her feel unwell and her not eating was just making her weak. After all, her blood work and everything else we'd checked had been perfect, I was sure we'd get past this once the antibiotics were finished.
Earlier this week I resorted to syringe feeding her baby food as she'd pretty much stopped eating anything on her own. Even table offerings of pork or chicken, which she usually inhaled the second it hit the floor, wasn't enough to entice her. She felt so fragile when I held her, just skin and bones. Her eyes were cloudy and her inner eyelid wasn't fully retracting any more the way it should. She'd struggle to adjust herself, to change position or get up to walk. Her entire body would sway when she stood and she'd drift towards the wall or stumble as she moved. Night before last Clif brought her to bed to lay with me. A little while later she went to jump off and fell. When I looked over the bed she was just laying there, sprawled where she'd fallen. That was the hardest thing to see. Sometime in the middle of the night she tried to come back, went to her little foot stool and tried to make the short hop up onto the mattress but she fell again. She righted herself and went to come up a second time, that time I caught her and set her at the foot of the bed. On a trip to the bathroom not long after that I saw she hadn't moved an inch and I thought I'd already lost her. When I came back to bed I pulled her up to sleep on my body pillow by my stomach so I could feel her and pet her for the rest of the night. Yesterday morning I begged Clif to take her back to the vet.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon I got the dreaded call: Zen's kidney values had been perfect two weeks ago but were now through the roof. Not only was she in acute renal failure, it was so sudden and severe. She also had a heart murmur that, while not impacting her other health concerns, would make it incredibly difficult to give her the type of fluid therapy she would need, and even then it was just a temporary solution to try to make her feel better, possibly enough that she'd be interested in eating. In other words it was risky, it might not work and if it did it would probably only buy a little bit of time. I knew that it would be a selfish, unfair choice to make. Two of my closest, dearest friends are also veterinarians, so I called them for emotional support and their advice on my decision. While mine and Clif's choice to make, sometimes it helps to have someone else's support that you're doing the right thing.
I drove home to meet Clif and Jed who were coming along to the clinic. Clif opted not to come in to say goodbye, which I understood and respect. Jed came to sit with me and spend some time with her as he'd been living with her almost as long as I have. Zen could hardly pick her head up off the table and she'd meow every now and then. She seemed so tired and not at all the same cat she'd been a few weeks ago. Her discomfort was clear and I kept telling myself we were doing the right thing for her and she'd be thankful. it came time for the drugs and I asked Jed if I could be with her for that alone. He didn't want to be there for that part anyway. I'd been with my fair share of other people's beloved pets for their last stage, it didn't seem right for me not to be there for my own girl. I think that was one of the hardest things I've done, but she'd always been there for me so I would be there for her until the end.
She will come home to me in a small wooden box in a few weeks and I'll keep her somewhere that Clif won't freak out about. It will bring me some peace and comfort still having her near.
For a lot of people a pet is just an animal. They live shorter lives, come and go, sometimes in multiples, over several years and can be somewhat of a flash in the pan. For me Zen was my first child. She brought me peace, comfort, joy and unconditional, unquestioning love. She was a true member of the family and as much as me bringing her home may have seemed like I was the one saving her, it was really the other way around.
-Zen came to me as Fen, the name she'd gotten from her previous owner's ex-wife. He brought her into the clinic I was working at wanting to put her down because she belonged to his ex-wife. The clinic was a bit of a powerhouse when it came to their revolving door of treating patients and I was worried the doctor would concede to his request. I knew I couldn't take her for a month, when I'd be moving out of my sister's house, but I could take her and foster her if he could just wait that long. He agreed and almost threw her in my car before peeling out of the parking lot, never even signing over her medical records. As a result we never knew exactly how old she was.
-She had originally been free-fed and had the extra weight to show for it. I decided to feed her twice a day but the morning she started meowing and throwing herself at my bedroom door at 4:30 in the morning was the last day she got breakfast and her food doubled up at dinner time.
-A few hours before dinner time Zen would start making the rounds, looking for plastic bags to lick incessantly, knowing it drove us crazy and hoping it meant we would get up to feed her earlier. Some days it was a serious battle of wills.
-She would always sit on her haunches with her right back foot poking out to the side.
-It never failed, whenever I'd sit at my computer she'd come up from under my desk, jump on the CPU and make her way to sit between my hands. Sometimes it was annoying and I'd have to move her, most of the time I was glad for her company, though it made it harder to type.
-She purr-meowed and I'd respond. It was one of my favorite sounds in the world, especially the abridged murmur version she gave when I'd wake her up from napping by touching her.
-Zen was Alpha of the house. She could sit in the middle of the doorway from the kitchen to the sun room and the dogs would refuse to come through to go outside.
-Thayer loved to mess with her and they would do this kitty-drama posturing act, often throughout the house. He would squat his hind end and raise a paw, meowing as if saying "I'm going to swat at you, ok?" and she would crouch, facing sideways to him and hiss. They would move at a snails pace in these exact positions, once I saw them go all the way from our bedroom to the kitchen.
-She loooooooved having her face and head scratched, usually the harder or rougher the better.
-Some nights at bedtime she would jump up in bed with me and I'd pick her up and position her on my chest. She would settle down with drowsy eyes, purring like crazy. I'd rub her face with my thumbs and she'd lick them alternately then use them to wash her own face. That was one of my favorite bedtime habits.
-I called her Hoogie, almost more often than I called her Zen. I don't know why.
-She was a Siamese/muted calico mix (as best as we could figure) so she had these amazing blue eyes and incredible coloring that included a near perfect stripe of patter difference from the center of her face down to the middle of her back. She was one of the most beautiful cats I'd ever seen.
-Zen LOVED the wood fire. We tried to always keep one of her beds in front of it, even if we didn't she'd be there. Sometimes she'd sit right against the screen, cooking herself in ecstasy.
-One of the things I will miss the most is a warm lap, she could spend hours there with me and I was more than happy to let her.
I feel like there is so much that I'm missing. If and as I remember things I'll come back and add them here so I can always remember the best parts of her.
-Our very large dog bed has a perfect Zen-sized dip right in the center of it, she loved and shamelessly commandeered it. Many times Kenya and Teva napped on the floor while Zen dozed happily in their spot.
-As she lost weight from a healthier diet her apron (extra tummy skin) grew. Whenever she ran down the hall it would wag back and form like a living floor Swifter.