Several weeks ago, I noticed our fat and happy cat Pepper was looking a little less… fat. She wasn’t eating. In fact, the food in her bowl looked untouched for several days, I realized.
The vet said she had Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, or Fatty Liver Disease. Strange for a cat this young. Medical science really doesn’t know what causes it, but all the frantic research I did on the Web made it clear that survival odds were dismal.
This isn’t about the heaps of time, effort and money we spent trying to nurse Pepper back to health. None of it helped. Somehow she hung in there, week after week, even during the stress of Hurricane Ike and the following 13 days we endured without power. (That’s another blog post entirely!) I don’t know how this 11-pound kitty could wither away to 6.5 pounds and still be alive. Stubbornness, I suppose.
Kinsey and Pepper, 2004
Pepper was my little silky black purring birthday gift to my daughter Kinsey four years ago. We rescued her from a shelter as a kitten. Kinsey likes to say Pepper was her first best friend.
This past Monday I knew the time was quickly approaching when we’d have to face the euthanasia decision, and we talked about it calmly and tearfully. I didn’t have to do much convincing — Kinsey knew it was the right thing to do. She said she wanted to be with Pepper when it happened.
Although I was feeling sad, guilty and helpless about not being able to get Pepper to recover, as a mom I was more heartbroken knowing how difficult the loss of Pepper would be for Kinsey, only ten years old. I suddenly began to grasp how important it would be to have some ceremony, some ritual, some well thought out gesture to help her say goodbye. It had to be more significant than digging a hole and planting a rose bush above a pitiful corpse. (Been there, done that with hamsters as a kid myself.)
An hour before Wednesday’s final vet appointment, I asked Kinsey which of the many blankets piled in her bedroom was Pepper’s favorite place for stealing a nap. The fuzzy green one, she immediately responded. We got my good sewing scissors and cut a long 3-inch wide strip from the edge of the blanket, leaving plenty of blanket for Kinsey to keep in Pepper’s honor.
We thought of some of Pepper’s other favorite things. Her gourmet catnip. Her mini monster teddy bear. And the stiff brush she loved to rub her chin against endlessly. Then we located a cardboard box that was the right size for the burial.
Having anticipated Pepper’s demise, the all-knowing Grammy Gayle had already planned on the right spot in her garden for the upcoming funeral. She called my brother Brett to prepare the grave while Kinsey and I made the agonizing trip to the vet’s. It was over quickly, peacefully, with a simple heart-stopping injection. We cried all the way back to Grammy’s place.
We took our box and curled Pepper up inside, resting on her share of the green fuzzy blanket, teddy tucked in, stiff brush within chin distance, catnip sprinkled liberally. Before we closed the box and sealed it, we each wrote a personal love note to Pepper on the inside of the four box flaps. We put it in the ground at sunset, said a prayer, and cried some more.
I know this may sound a little cold. I don’t want to hear, “Pepper is in a better place, out of pain, chasing mice,” and all the sentimental drivel that people say to ease your grief over losing a pet, a child, a parent, a friend. I do miss our sweet cat, and I do hope there’s a pet-friendly heaven where we will all have a joyous reunion. But for this mom, mostly I’m relieved that I found a way to help my daughter say a heartfelt farewell.
Goodbye, sweet Pepper. We’ll remember you, always.