Coping With Having to Put My Cat JR to Sleep

It was crazy how quick it happened. I took JR in for an appointment with the vet in the middle of June to check on an issue he was having with one of his eyelids; he was cleared, and I was told that he was in perfect health (minus his blindness, of course). Then, just two months later, things began to change quickly. I noticed he was starting to be pickier about his food, and he was looking a little skinnier. Nothing to be worried about – he was old, and he often got tired of his food after a couple of years, and I would switch him to something else to give him some variety.

But then the last week of August was when it got bad. In the middle of the night, he suddenly began howling out in a way that was worrisome. It instantly woke me up, and I found him sitting in the doorway to the office on his side, his mouth agape and panting while his legs seemed stuck. I was able to console him to calm him down, and he seemed back to his normal self within a minute or two. The next day was pretty normal, which didn’t give me too much cause for concern. Unfortunately, the very next morning, it happened once more. He was on the bed sleeping next to me as he often did, and he jumped down to get to his water bowl. Except… he landed, and immediately fell to his side and began to howl out. I quickly got him on the bed to console him, and noticed there was a thick residue in his mouth this time and that he had pooped on the bed as well.

I called the vet to see how quickly we could get him in, and thankfully they had one opening for me that afternoon. They did a physical exam, noting that he’d lost just over a kilo in two months, and took some blood work as well. Their initial guess was some combination of heart, kidney and thyroid issues, though the blood work would tell them for sure. They also sent me home with a bottle to collect a urine sample (which JR loved, let me tell you…) to see how his kidneys were doing. When the results came in, they showed signs of stress on his heart and kidneys, which was likely due to his age (14 years). The initial prognosis was good – an oral blood pressure medicine once daily, and switching him to a prescription food for his kidneys.

For the first couple of days, things seemed to slowly improve. JR wasn’t having any more episodes, and his energy was slowly coming back. We monitored him for a week, and didn’t notice anything that was worrisome. But after that first week, his health quickly took a turn for the worst. Previously full of energy, he now spent almost all of his time sleeping on one of our beds upstairs. He no longer could make himself go down stairs to visit us, and I noticed that he wasn’t even walking around much. He could stand up for just a few seconds before his legs would give out again. He was eating even less than in the two weeks prior, and his weight continued to drop.

I e-mailed the vet on a Wednesday that I was concerned about his health and needed to bring him back in. The quickest opening was on Friday, and I had to watch as JR struggled to even make it to the litter box. His back legs, already weak, were soon matched by his front paws, which would lock and twitch up if he tried to walk too much, or if he was held for too long. We changed the sheets three times in those two days, simply because he wasn’t making it to the litter box on time.

The prognosis when I took him in on Friday afternoon wasn’t good. His heart and kidneys were beginning to fail, and he’d lost another kilo of weight in just two weeks. There were a few options – we could drive two hours to see a specialist, or pump him full of pain medicine and stimulants to try and get his appetite back as a way of trying to get his weight back up. As the vet continued going over everything, my worst fear was coming true. I didn’t want to see my boy suffer, and in my heart I knew it was time to make the worst decision I’ve had to make.

In a weird way, I knew it would be okay. Just the night before, after JR had retired to the office because he enjoyed feeling the hardwood floor, I lay next to him to pet him and let him know it would be okay. Though he was blind, he turned his head towards me and our eyes met. It’s something I’ve read other pet owners say, that it’s their way of giving us the okay, so to speak.

But that didn’t make the decision any easier.

I called my husband after the vet brought him back out and told him what they said, and that I would probably make the call the next morning. I couldn’t bear to keep him suffering much longer, but I knew I had to give him one last night of pampering and being spoiled. It also, unfortunately, turned into one of the most emotionally-draining nights I’ve had to experience.

JR was too weak to do much that evening. I would have to carry him in and out of his litter box so he could use the bathroom. He had enough energy to stand while he urinated, but would almost immediately collapse, which meant hovering over him to make sure he didn’t fall down on his waste. I left him alone to take a nap while we ate dinner, checking on him every five minutes or so to make sure he didn’t need anything. When I came back up once, he had thrown up all over the bed and didn’t even have enough energy to move, lying the side of his face in his waste. My husband, who was hoping there would be a miracle, said it was seeing that that told him it was time, too.

JR slept on the guest bed in the office that night; I couldn’t bear to be away from him on what was going to be his final night, and I found myself curled on the bed next to him for the night. I could barely sleep, instead just running my fingers along his back (and feeling just how skinny he’d gotten), telling him how much I loved him, telling him that he would be pain-free in the morning, and giving him as many kisses on the head as I could. I also cried more than I thought was physically possible – crying over the thought of losing my best buddy, crying over how unfair it was that he was so sick when he’d just been given a clean bill of health two months prior, crying over the guilt I felt for feeling like I somehow failed him. I think it was finally close to three in the morning by the time I fell asleep, only to jolt back awake a little after seven.

Though still sick, I noticed that JR was trying to seem happy for me and Andrew. In a weird way, I think he knew he would be leaving us soon, and wanted to make sure we had good memories of his final day. He was smart like that, always knowing exactly what I needed when I was sad or upset. I managed to get him to drink some water, and when his thirst was satisfied, I brought him downstairs with me. The first time he’d been downstairs in over a week, I brought him to the couch so he could sit next to me for a while. It was one of his favourite things to do, just cuddling next to me while I watched TV or played my video games or read a book. He even moved his paws every so often as his way of showing affection, which I knew was becoming an ever-growing struggle for him to do.

When the vet opened, I had to call them and tell them I’d made the decision to put him to sleep that day. It was a call that I never expected to be as hard as it was, and I could barely make it through. After I hung up, I just sobbed. I knew it was the right call for JR, but I also was mad at the universe that my cat was leaving me after only 14 years. In those last few hours, time seemed to slow down and speed up interchangeably. We sat on the patio with JR for a while, letting him smell the fresh air like he loved and giving him all the lovings. He even managed to walk around for a bit, lounging next to my chair and looking up at me with that face of his I loved so much.

When we finally left for the vet, I had Andrew drive so JR could sit on my lap for the car ride. Unlike most cats, JR absolutely loved car rides – provided he wasn’t in a carrier, and could sit on my lap or be touching me somehow. The vet was, fortunately, running behind schedule, so we spent just over ninety minutes sitting in the car with JR, giving him our full, undivided attention and love. Though I knew he was just masking the pain he was in, he made sure to seem happy to us. Plenty of photos were taken in that time span, photos that I still haven’t stopped looking at.

When it finally came time to bring him in, I think the numbness of the situation had set in. We got to take as much time as wanted in the room with JR before the procedure, saying good-bye to him and giving him as much love as we could. I brought his favourite catnip toy, as well, though he was so far gone that he didn’t even feel like playing with it.

I told myself many years back that if I ever had to make that decision to put him down, I would be in the room with him so he would have me by his side at the very end, and that’s exactly what happened. He sat on my lap with Andrew and I putting him as the vet got the shot ready. I knew it would be quick, but I was astonished as to just how quickly it happened. As the shot went in, Andrew and I were putting JR and letting him know we loved him; the final words my sweet, handsome boy would ever hear me say.

Immediately afterward, I got to lay him on the table and spend my final few moments with his physical body. He was now gone, and I could finally see him at peace after all the stress and pain that he’d been in for the past two weeks. I knew I made the right decision for my boy, but the tears began to flow, and they didn’t stop. It was finally hitting me that he wouldn’t be coming home with me, and it was going to be the first time in fourteen years (half of my life) that I would be at a home without JR.

I was numb, for lack of a better term, for the first couple of hours when we got home. I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t cry anymore, and I just spent the night looking back over all of the photos of JR I had throughout the years. After a few hours, I tried to go online to the memorial website to order his urn, and just felt myself break down. Suddenly the guilt was overtaking me… I felt guilt for making the decision, guilt that it was my fault he got sick in the first place, and guilt as if I’d killed my cat. Andrew was able to calm me down finally, but it was hard. I missed him so much that first night, but it wasn’t anything compared to how difficult I found the next day to be.

I became depressed immediately upon waking up and not feeling JR’s paws on my forearm as I’d grown accustomed to over the years. Sierra, who had been inseparable from her dad since her birth a few days shy of JR’s first birthday, seemed sad and was meowing more than she normally did. It was also pouring when I woke up, which gave me some joy. For as much as I loved the rain, JR loved it even more. Whenever it rained, he would sit close to the window and just sleep peacefully to the sounds of rain hitting the side of where we lived. To me, it was a sign that he was at peace and telling me he loved me, which just in turn made me cry once more.

I tried to keep myself busy that day. We looked at a few different stores for potential shelves to put his urn on, and looked around what we could of the mall for a bit. I had a few Instax Mini photos of JR that I’d taken that morning that I wanted a holder for, and thankfully found one at Urban Outfitters. When we finally came home, I tried to distract myself as much as possible. I felt a pinch of guilt when I removed one of our four litter boxes (the one in our guest bathroom, which was taking up a lot of space and wasn’t used that much, but was kept just owing to having three cats in the household). I also found myself in another crying fit when I saw his carrier from that Friday visit in the garage; it still smelled like him, and it was hard to handle it.

When the 24-hour mark hit a few minutes shy of 4:30, I broke down once more.

After dinner that evening, we went to get some ice cream. I’d had a craving for it all day, the result of all of the times JR had climbed into my lap over the years while I was eating ice cream. In a weird way, I could still sense him trying to lick some from the bowl when I wasn’t looking. I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted, having not slept much over the last two nights. When I went to lay down particularly early, the tears flew once more, and I couldn’t stop crying. I had to call for Andrew to come lay with me, because I was going on close to a half hour. I think that’s when it finally hit me that he was gone, and just how much I missed him. It was hard looking down at the foot of the bed and him not being there. It was hard looking at Sierra walking around or sleeping on the chair, and not seeing JR next to her as had been the norm.

I had an old stuffed animal that I used, and I found myself finally sleeping through the night. I awoke on Monday, sad that my buddy wasn’t next to me, but I could handle it this time? The rest of the day was still hard, as was Tuesday, and even so far this morning. There are still random moments where I’ll find myself beginning to cry, but I’m starting to recover. I’ve taken to lying on the bed with Sierra at random points during the day, looking at the Instax photos I have of JR, and talking to him. Letting him know how much we miss him, how Sierra’s doing without him, and asking how he’s handling kitty heaven. (I can’t say I personally believe in much of an afterlife for myself, but I definitely believe it in it for animals.)

Once we get his remains back, I’ll feel better. I’ll know he’s back home with everyone, and I can finally have some closure. But it still won’t take away how incredibly difficult the last few weeks have been; how incredibly difficult it’s been to say goodbye; or how incredibly difficult the aftermath of him being gone has been.

He gave me fourteen incredible years; everyone’s told me I did the same to him. I look back at everything we did over the years, and can’t help but feel some sadness that I’ll never get to do anything with him again.

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