Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lawyers, Used Car Dealers .. and Veterinarians?

Last week I had to commit a heinous but necessary act. It's one many of us are forced to do in our lifetimes, frequently more than once, but one we rarely talk about, except among our immediate families.

I had to take something that I had loved and nurtured for 18 years and have it killed: my beloved orange marmalade tabby Tuxedo.

But this is not a blog about a lost pet. Tuxedo had a wonderful life and was clearly in physical pain at the end. I told him that he had to tell me when it was time to go, and over the previous week, his cries became more plaintive, and on Wednesday he stopped eating. But this is a blog devoted to life's aggravations, and this entry is specific about raw anger about how Tuxedo's death was handled by the people who were supposed to care for him — with a bit of a twist.

We have been patronizing a local veterinarian's office almost since it opened seven years ago. It's only about three blocks away, so it's easy to transport cats in distress when necessary. The doctors there were the first to diagnose trouble with our cat Fluffy, who eventually passed away from lymphoma five years ago. Tuxedo, Gus, Bandit, and even Midnight, the stray who lives outside and whom we once trapped for neutering, have all been there.

When Tuxedo's time approached, I wanted him to pass away at home, where he was comfortable and the smells familiar. But when I called our clinic, I was curtly told by the receptionist, "We don’t do home visits." I was aghast. At the very time when an animal needs the most compassion (not to mention its parents), it's denied. At the very time when an animal is the most vulnerable, it's supposed to be brought to the one place it associates with fear and pain. I find this unconscionable — particularly from a clinic that lists "compassion" as the first word in its motto.

Irate, I called the doctor that had administered Fluffy's lymphoma’s treatments (work beyond the ability of our primary care clinic), who had graciously agreed to euthanize Fluffy in our backyard, where he would feel the most comfortable. I got a call back from her technician. "She doesn’t have time to do that anymore," I was told. (Never mind that we have paid thousands of dollars in treatment costs to both of these clinics over the years.)

Eventually, it was too late to dither. Tuxedo's anguish took precedence over my anger, and, without having a chance to hear an explanation of the clinic's lead vet, I took him on his last ride. And that's where the story becomes a little gray.

Tuxedo was the first cat we had as adults. My wife and I adopted him even before we were married. I always said that before Tuxedo, we were a couple; after Tuxedo, we were a family. In addition to being frequently cantankerous — as male orange tabbies are wont to be, I later learned — he was also a teacher. He taught us how to be good parents.

When he was young, he pounced on the bed at 2 a.m. because he was lonely and wanted to play. To my eternal regret, we had to shut him in the bathroom to get any sleep. But we realized quickly that he needed a playmate; he taught us just how social cats are and how much they enjoy having other animals around. That was how Fluffy came into our lives. Tuxedo was jealous of Fluffy for all of 36 hours, until we could almost see the light bulb go on with his realization that we had finally figured out that he wanted a friend.

Another time, many years ago, Tuxedo was clearly in some sort of distress. We had no idea what it was, but when we brought out the carrying case we used for taking him to the vet, he walked right in and lay down. He knew he wasn't feeling well and that — as much as he hated it — he had to go see the doctor.

Fast forward to last week. Tuxedo initially whimpered when I put him in the car; the car always meant going to the doctor. But then he was quiet, even after I carried him into the exam room. The only time he cried again was after they put the catheter into his vein to give him an initial sedative. But he knew it was time to go; once again, he was saying, please take care of me.

I think — I hope — that Tuxedo understood that, rather than being a place of fear, the vet’s office was the place where he would finally be released from his pain. It was the launching point for his trip to Rainbow Bridge. He was a smart cat that way.

I'm still angry at those veterinarians; I'm still anxious to discern their definition of compassion. And while there is a big hole in the house where that little cat used to be, I am glad to know that he is finally at peace, hopefully romping with his brother, his teaching career finally over.

1 comment:

  1. Howard,

    My heart is breaking. Making this call is one of the low points in life, and I'm so sorry that you had to make it -- but, for Tuxedo's sake, I'm glad that you were there to make it for him. You clearly learned much from him--but he couldn't have asked for better parents, either. All I can say is: Well done.