Wednesday, 22 July 2009

In Memory of Cats

It is over a year ago since Sammy died. He was one month short of his 16th birthday and I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately.

Perhaps it was seeing the pictures of lovely cats on other blogs – or perhaps reading Claire Rayner’s autobiography where she talks about euthanasia.

I’ve always felt that we are kinder to animals than to people when it comes to the end of life. What happened to Sammy has made me think again.

He was named after Sampson the cat in the excellent Graham Oakley books about the Church Mouse which were a favourite with my kids – and me, and are now a favourite with my grandchildren.

This photo was taken the year before he died when for a brief period he was well and responding to treatment. It was the point when I thought he was going to be well again.

Until he was about 13 he’d never had a day’s illness in his life. He was one of those friendly cats who was happy to spend time sitting with other cats. He and his brother couldn’t stand the sight of each other though – they used to ignore each other most of the time and would give each other the occasional slap round the chops.

Then one day he didn’t come home for breakfast. Very unusual. He rarely went out at night at all and if he did, he was always home by the time we were up and about.

During the morning he came slowly up the drive, limping. We took him to the vet and she reckoned, judging by the tarmac under his claws, that he’d either been hit by a car or narrowly missed it.

We’d also noticed a small lump on his leg. It was decided to remove it and give his teeth a clean. I’d noticed too that he was getting skinny. He’d never been a plumptious cat, but he definitely seemed to be losing weight.

He got skinnier and skinnier and the vet suspected thyroid problems – common in cats of that age apparently. He was given blood tests and put on thyroid medication.

After about a year he started to get really sick. Stomach heaving, retching, throwing up, weight dropping off him. Again he went in to the vets and this time he was there for several days. They operated to see what was going on inside and found nothing.

One of the vets who had looked after him in the “hospital” told me she’d never met such a polite cat and how she was amazed that when they went to feed him, he would always offer his paw.

He was a gentleman. Gentle, sweet natured, not a mean bone in his body.

Over the months that followed I had to steel myself to give him his drugs. Thyroid medicine, stomach medicine, steroids . . . And anyone who has a cat knows how difficult it is. Trying to hold his frail body and put pills down his throat broke my heart – several times a day. Yet he never held it against me and never tried to hide from me. And he still purred.

I tried hiding his pills in his food, but he’d know and it would put him off eating what little he did eat. He got hiding them in his mouth off to a fine art and several seconds after I thought we were done, he’d shake his head, spit and I’d be dripping with half-dissolved Zantac.

Since he was diagnosed with an over active thyroid, he had been going to the vet for regular blood tests and to be weighed. He’d put on a couple of grams (celebrations!) and next time he’d have lost them again (misery). This became the pattern for the last year of his life.

He didn’t want to eat. I tried everything I could think of to tempt him. At his next check up, the vet found a lump in his abdomen. Once again I took him in for X rays. He had a tumour. Inoperable. He was put to sleep and when he came home, we buried him under the oak tree.

I often wonder about that last miserable year of his life. All those pills I had to give him which in the end made no difference, all the blood tests and visits to the vet he had to endure, the operations and X rays. He had no quality of life. He’d stopped going outside to sit in the sunshine and his life as it was consisted of sleeping, taking pills and nibbling half heartedly at his food.

Stupidly I kept hoping he would pick up and get better – that was certainly the impression I’d been given. That is what I thought it was all for. And I feel I let him down at the end - he should never have had to go through that final year. But hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it.

Eighteen months before we lost Sammy his brother Gizzie had died in his sleep. We came downstairs in the morning and it was just as if he was asleep, eyes shut, peaceful. It was a dreadful shock as he’d seemed perfectly healthy, but looking back I have only happy memories of him.

He used to run to greet me chirruping, then he’d stretch up on his back legs so I’d pick him up. He was cuddly and mischievous. He used to lie on the armchair waiting for a dog to walk past, then he’d reach out to catch a tail between his paws.

I have to look further back for happy memories of Sammy. Back to the days when he’d keep batting you with his paw so you’d stroke him. Or he’d play catch with a sweet wrapper and bring it back for you to chuck it again. He used to wrap his arms round my dog’s neck and kiss his face.
The day we first saw him when we’d gone to pick up two black kittens, he had come out from under the table and sat in front of my son swaying back and forth as if mesmerised.

I’ve always had a soft spot for ginger cats. I said to the woman I didn’t realise she had any ginger kittens. She said she hadn’t told me over the phone as she’d been planning to keep him, but . . . he’d obviously made up his mind where he wanted to be so she let us have him.

My first cat was a ginger cat. Leo. I can’t write about what happened to him now even though it’s been over 20 years. I’ve had just five cats in my lifetime and only had that final decision to make with one of them.

Leo – aged 13 – killed.
Star – lost at 1 year – missing.
Huggy – age unknown – went back to living wild aged 7 (he was born to a feral cat and never really seemed to settle to domestic life although he was very affectionate – he was called Huggy with good cause).
Sammy – age 15 – died at vets.
Gizzie – age 14 – died peacefully at home.

Will I ever get another cat? Probably not. There are other cats in the family so I still get cuddles. Do I miss having cats around the place – yes!

Am I in a sad reflective mood – you bet.

I have had this post drafted for a while, wondering whether to publish it or not. These aren’t the kind of things you can write about in a magazine short story – too downbeat. I agree. Who wants to read this sort of thing? No one.

And if you’ve got this far, thank you for listening to my miserable ramblings.


  1. I think it's a lovely story and any animal lover, not just a cat lover, will empathise. It is very, very sad when things like this happen. But we have to console ourselves that they at least had 1 year, 10 years, 15 years as very happy and contented animals with a fine quality of life for much of it.

    My first cat used to wrap his arms around my neck and tuck his head under my chin. We used to take him out on the motorbike like that, beneath my leather. And when we stopped at traffic lights, he'd poke his head out the top to look around before snuggling back down again.

    I sometimes wonder if Tinker curled up somewhere and died peacefully in her sleep - she's 11. I still can't think of the alternatives at the moment - other than someone may have taken her in. That's the one I hope for.

  2. We had a similar experience with a much-loved cat. And, just a month ago, we had our dear pony put down. He had developed inoperable tumours and was suffering tremendously.

    Amid the shock and desperate sadness in the field that day, a kind passer-by reminded us simply that we had done our very, very best for him. There is no more any of us can do for our loved ones.

  3. Your boy was beautiful, and a lot like my Jaspy.

    I do sympathise as I had to have my lovely Smudge put to sleep at the end of last year. I was lucky because the vet was very clear and very realistic about how long we could have him at home and when we would need to make the decision. The vet then came to the house when we felt the time was right.

    I may have slightly over compensated by replacing him with four cats, but I'm glad I did.

    Thanks for sharing those memories with us xxx

  4. I just had my old dear Hattie put to sleep a week ago Monday. I am going to write about it but haven't felt just right about it yet. I like many others can empathise with you and it's a nice post. RIP wee Sammy and the others. X

  5. Sammy was handsome and the way you talk about him I can tell he was much loved. It's strange because just before I read your post I was looking through my cupboard in my bedroom and saw a picture of my old cat, Furry. He dies a year ago of hyperthyroid and a brain tumour. He'd had an operation to take one of his eyes out as he'd scratched it and, despite antibiotics, it didn't heal. While they were operting they thought they could see mass just beyond the ear. He came round from surgery and seemed to recover well. But a week later he went rapidly down hill and was falling all over the place and was obviously distressed so my husband took him to the vet. I couldn't bear to go as I knew what the vet would say. Furry was put to sleep that day and it still breaks my heart now. The vet said from Furry's symptoms and the mass they saw he was certain it was a brain tumour.

    We have two sprightly cats - brother and sister - a year old and very amusing!! But I don't feel the same way about them as I did Furry. Mind you he was 17 yrs old and we'd had him for 11 years.

    We originally had the girl cat's other brother but he did at 5 months old of heart failure and pneumonia - we'd only had the poor mite a week - vet said he must have had an underlying heart defect and poor immune system as it floored him within a week. And you'd think loosing two cats in the space of a few months would have put us off but no! The woman at the cat refuge still had another brother cat left so we went back and brought him home.

    God bless Sammy and Furry

    Julie xx

  6. We always had cats in the family but when our last two, Freddie and Biscuit died, I couldn't bear to get anoher one.
    Biscuit had to be put to sleep because of illness but Freddie died just like your Gizzie. He'd been as fit as a fiddle, came in one morning meowing for his breakfast and then promptly dropped dead beside his bowl. Heart attack the vet thought.
    My daughter's cat has recently had his tail amputated after getting knocked down by a car. He looks strange but at least he's still here!

  7. He was gorgeous, Teresa.



  8. I couldn’t believe it when I found so many lovely comments. Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and memories.

    I love that your cat used to ride inside your leathers, Diane – and I know what you’re going through with Tinker. I still wonder what happened to Star and I’ve always hoped that someone just took him in – he was a very friendly and pretty little cat. I also remember my sister’s cat being missing for months and then one day she just turned up. There’s always hope.

    That’s so sad, Joanna, but what that person said to you was right. Strange isn’t it how a chance meeting like that can be of comfort.

    So sorry about Smudge, Helen. It sounds as if you have a lovely supportive vet and one you can trust though – worth their weight in gold. I love the way you compensated by getting four.

    Thank you MOB – I’m so sorry about Hattie. Very hard for you to write about just yet I would think with it still being so fresh.

    Oh Julie, so sad what you went through with Furry. And then the kitten to die like that so young.

    It’s such a shock when they go like that isn’t it, Sue, but it’s a comfort knowing they hadn’t suffered beforehand and that it was their time. My daughter’s cat – very handsome he was – was knocked down by a car and his face was smashed terribly, his jaw virtually hanging off. He dragged himself home and their dog found him and raised the alarm. He was at the vets for ages and now his face is wonky but he’s still beautiful in a lopsided way.

    Thank you, Suzanne.

  9. Oh, what a lot of sad stories. You've all made me remember my cats Tigger and Piglet who both ended their lives at the vets.

    I've only one cat left now. She turned up on our doorstep a few days after Princess Diana's death. Beautiful and bedraggled, she was only about six weeks old, but we could never find out where she came from so we took her in and called her Sadie, which means princess.
    She's getting on a bit now too. And it's worrying what the future might hold. She's perfectly healthy at the moment but who knows how much longer she will go on. And sometimes you can't help wondering if vets keep animals going longer than they should so they can make as much money out of their owners as they can.

  10. Lots of hugs and sympathy. xx All those of us who have lost lovely pets over the years know what it feels like - but the memories of their lives are very precious too. My Burmese, Charlie, is the remaining one of two - we lost his brother when we moved house. Maybe I'll tell the whole story on my blog one day. Charlie's 13 now and like you, I'm thinking: will we get another one, one day? Ever? I'm glad you posted this. It wasn't miserable. It was lovely to read. x

  11. Ah, Teresa, I can sympathise with you here.

    We have four cats at the moment: we've always had cats, and I love all of them. We only ever give homes to cats in serious need and we currently have one brain-damaged Siamese (who my husband kisses before he kisses me, when he comes home from work each night), one very laid-back Ragdoll, and two highly nervous and neurotic Balineses, one of whom I blogged about a while back:

    Tink is lying across my forearms as I type, just so you know, checking for typos.

    Yes, it's heartbreaking when they die. It never gets easier, I am inconsolable for a long time after we lose them. But the years of companionship and love that we pass with them before that happens is just wonderful. I couldn't be without my cats. And, having seen how some cats and dogs (we have two of those, too!) are so badly treated, I can't help feeling that we do a Good Thing by giving them a safe and loving home--even though it's so horrible at the end of their lives.

    Sammy was a generous and beautiful boy, and he was lucky to find you. Despite the difficulties you both faced in his last year, I bet he'd not have swapped you for anyone else; and you did your very best for him, which is far more than many other cats have. You should be proud.

  12. I have read your post with a tear in my eye. I have an elderly cat 'Sopie' who had one year of going back and forward to the vets, many tablets and injections and in the end she had an eye removed. She manages very well with just one eye but two weeks ago her other eye started to become sore and I thought oh dear maybe she has an ulcer on that eye and that would mean she would loose it. But thankfully when I took her to the vet (under protest from her) he did tests and said it was fine she just had a sore eye gave me some tablets and drops and sent us away £45 lighter but the happiness I felt was worth the money as I knew I would have had to make that dreadful decision knowing she could not have managed if she had lost her other eye. So thank goodness Sophie lives to fight another day.

  13. I hope you have a happy and healthy Sadie (I didn’t know that name meant Princess) for many years to come, Susan. It’s wonderful how they so often choose who they want to be with isn’t it and she definitely chose you. Your last sentence struck a chord! You have to be able to trust your vet – I found a fantastic vet practice about a year ago and I trust them completely!

    Thank you, Olivia. You’re right about those precious memories.

    Jane – the more I hear about your husband, the more I like him! Kissing the cat before you! Our Gizzie used to be very laid back and floppy (he’s the one who used to miss the cat tray). We think he might have been brain damaged at birth. He was dangling from his mother for ages (so we were told) trapped by his head and when they finally got him out his head was a peculiar shape – they called him Kevin the Fruit Bat! Thank you for your comments – I’ve felt constantly for the past year that I let Sammy down but he was such a happy and contented cat for most of his life. And you’re right, I so agree that the years we have with them are wonderful. I’ve just reread your post about clever Tink (and coaster Mabel!) – beautiful both!

    Thank you, Lacey.

    I could feel your happiness, Elizabeth – you must have felt wonderful when you came away from the vet knowing Sophie was going to be okay with tablets and drops, particularly after you’d been through such a terrible time with her before. It’s a great feeling when you’d gone in expecting bad news. So glad things turned out okay.

  14. Rebecca Holmes26 July 2009 at 00:26

    You never forget a cat. there was a black and white one my family had when I was very small. Apparently she used to sit by my pram and hiss if someone she didn't know approach.When I used to come downstairs in morning she was always there.Then one day she wasn't. My mother says she had an awful day with me after breaking the news.
    When I was 8, we brought 2 kittens home from Ireland. One was a really affectionate b;ack one, but not very strong. she had to miaow for me to pick her up onto my lap when she wanted a cuddle. One day I came home from school and she wasn't there. My mum said she was poorly and the vet had kept her in hospital. In fact she had worms and wasn't strong enough for the treatment. Years later, my mother thought I'd forgotten but I hadn't.
    The cat I got when I was a teenager was 'my' cat, who always got on with our dog, and came to live with me and my husband after we were married. My husband had never had cats before but she wound him round her little paw. She died in her sleep at 16.
    We have a 3 year old cat at the moment, who rules the roost. A house isn't home without at least one cat.

  15. How lovely Rebecca - the cat guarding you in your pram. But I feel for your mum having to break the news to you.
    You're right, you never forget.
    I desperately wanted a cat as a child but my mum (who had always had cats when she was growing up) wouldn't have one. I had all kinds of other pets but no cats.
    I can only speculate as to why she wouldn't have cats as an adult because she loved them and they loved her.
    So when I got married we got our first two.
    I still don't know if I'd get another, but sometimes the decision is made for you isn't it so I'd never say never.

  16. Hi Teresa

    Reading your story struck an emotional chord with me as I lost my dog at the end of last year after a similarly traumatic time. It has prompted me to post his story on my blog, so I fully understand how difficult your story must have been to write, but sometimes it can be good just to let the emotions out.


  17. Thank you, Juliet - I've just read about Mickey. My heart really goes out to you x

  18. Teresa

    Thanks for your lovely comments.