When four kittens were born to a feral mother cat nearly six years ago, one of them was different from her sisters.
There were four kittens born to this small feral cat named Molly. (You can read her story here.) Three of the kittens survived and two of them inherited at least some of their mother’s fear and lack of interest in humans. (Click here to see the four kittens at about 6 weeks, just before the fourth died.)
Then there was Emily.
Almost from the beginning, this tiny little girl — about 4.5 pounds, very much like her mother and sisters — wanted attention and affection. She quickly decided that her favorite place in the world was on top of me. Every night for almost six years, she slept on my back. When she was a tiny baby, she slept next to my head, as in this next picture, but after a few months she switched to climbing onto my back instead.
Late last fall, Emily started losing a little bit of weight. She had always weighed slightly less than her surviving sisters, Charlotte and Anne, but she slowly lost down to 2.5 pounds. In mid-December, the vet tested her for various things — feline leukemia, parasites and other possibilities that I don’t even remember — but none of the tests revealed anything. She was still eating well. Her body just didn’t seem to be absorbing enough nutrients anymore and she had persistent diarrhea.
If something didn’t change, she was going to die.
The vet put her on a daily steroid pill to help her put on some weight and increase her appetite. She hated her daily pills and drew blood from my hands and arms many times with her claws and teeth over the past few months, but we got the medicine into her every day. Her weight got back up to 3.2 pounds and her stool solidified quite a bit. She continued to eat well, but then she plateaued and remained about 3 pounds.
Through all of this, Emily remained strong and quite happy and content. She continued to sleep on my back. She was determined to be the queen of the bed every single night.
I had started hoping that maybe she could survive long-term even with this low-weight condition. She was too strong and downright assertive for me to think that it might really kill her.
But Friday evening, she had an unusual discharge around her eyes. When I look at pictures from Thursday, I can see that it had already started then. From my experience with cats in the final stage of life, I’ve come to associate this discharge with animals who are dying.w
I worried about her and planned to take her to the vet Saturday morning if the discharge remained. But she got weaker as the night went on. Earlier in the evening, I bathed her and she was quite unhappy about that. She fought the indignity of having water poured on her, and she continued to complain as she groomed herself afterward.
As she dried off, she curled up on my chest as I tried to write. I gave up the attempt to write and just let her sleep on me instead. This picture from my MacBook is the last one I ever took of her. (Click it for a bigger image.)
I held her frail little body and she stretched herself out, purring part of the time and sleeping the rest. Everything I saw made it clear that I was losing her, although I hoped I was wrong.
Emily died in my arms about 6 a.m. She didn’t make it quite to 6 years old.
It was only weeks ago when William died. Since he was 16 years old, his death was less of a surprise. Losing Emily right on the heels of losing William was very difficult, partly because she was so young.
This past week was one of the most stressful I’ve experienced in years. We moved from the place where I’d lived for about 22 years and there were various difficult complications related to that. It was a really bad week. But I’d gladly go through those problems again just to have my little sleeping partner back.
I sometimes go through years without losing an animal and then the deaths can seem to come in bunches for awhile. I hope this is the last one for quite a long time, because they take too much out of me.
For awhile, I’m going to wake up in the night and wonder whether Emily is on my back or not. The groggy realization that she’s not there — and isn’t coming back — will be my repeated and unwelcome reminder that she’s dead.
Goodbye, little Emily. I’ll miss you.