D. E. Larsen, DVM
Ida was sitting beside her daughter, waiting patiently, with Kitty nestled in her lap. Ida was my oldest client, a tiny, frail old lady with snow-white hair. She lived by herself, but her daughter, Lila, was close at hand. Lila was no spring chicken herself.
Ida drove until a couple of years ago. She had expressed her disappointment to me when they took her driver’s license away. She was fiercely independent, and she hated to have to impose herself on her daughter.
Kitty was an old tabby cat with a white blaze and a white chest. The record did not have a birth date for Kitty. That meant the girls probably disagreed with Ida’s guess. Maybe I should resolve that issue today.
Ida slapped at her daughter when Lila tried to help her stand up with Kitty. She also refused the helping hand offered by the girl showing her to the exam room. She ambled toward the exam room with measured steps and cradled Kitty in her arms.
“Kitty’s has not been feeling well for several days,” Ida said as she carefully positioned her on the exam table. “I had to crawl under my bed to get her this morning.”
I had to take a moment to process that statement. I am not sure I could crawl under a bed to retrieve a cat, and I am a young man. Imagining this frail little lady crawling under her bed was difficult to conjure up in my mind.
“Ida, you shouldn’t be doing that at your age,” I said. “You should get one of your grandsons to help.”
“They are always busy, and Lila is in worse shape than I am,” Ida said. “Besides, if you quit doing things for yourself, pretty soon, they stick you in one of those prisons that they call all sorts of fancy names today.”
“That’s pretty good advice,” I said. “Let’s look and see if I can find out what is wrong with Kitty.”
“Kitty is very old, she is 26 years old now,” Ida said.
“That is pretty old for a cat, are you sure of the date?” I asked.
“David, I got her as a kitten for my 70th birthday,” Ida said. “I should know her age. I named her Kitty because cats never pay attention to a name but always come when you call kitty.”
“I had no idea she was that old,” I said. “I don’t think I have seen another cat near that age. I did have a client who moved here from California with a 17-year-old cat. That cat aged 2 years every 3 months, according to the owner. It was 25 when he died a year later.”
“I have a picture of Kitty and myself at my birthday party,” Ida said. “That was the last birthday party I allowed Lila to give for me. They are sort of silly for old folks. They just use them as an excuse to take their picture with you. Just because you might not be around next year.”
Kitty was lying on the exam table, unmoving through all this discussion. I petted her head and then ran my hand down the length of her body. There was a bump when I cross her abdomen. I felt closer. It was a tumor, the size of an orange.
I looked at Ida, and she had a tear on her cheek.
“I felt it last week,” she said. “I prayed it would go away, but that didn’t help.”
“Sometimes, we can remove these with surgery,” I said. “That might be difficult at Kitty’s age.”
“No, I told her I wouldn’t let you do any of that to her,” Ida said, tears streaming down her cheeks now. “I don’t know what I am going to do without her, Doctor. She is all I have to talk with now, all my friends are long gone.”
Ida was purposely avoiding the discussion of euthanasia. I knew it had to be discussed, but I wanted her to bring it up. Maybe that wasn’t going to happen.
“You should get a new cat,” I said. “We could find you a kitten.”
“That wouldn’t be fair to the kitten, David,” Ida said. “I am not going to be around forever, you know.”
“You could have your Granddaughter help pick her out,” I said. “She could know that it would be her responsibility when the time came.”
“That might be a thought,” Ida said. “But what are we going to do with Kitty? I don’t want her to suffer.”
“Is she eating at all?” I asked.
“She has been under my bed for 3 days,” Ida said. “That is why I had to crawl under there to get her.”
“I think she waiting to die,” I said. “Maybe it is time we talk about making that an easy process for her.”
“Yes, I think that is what I thought when I called Lila this morning,” Ida said. “Then, I can take her home and bury her beside her favorite place in the back yard.”
“You should get one of your grandsons to help you with that chore,” I said.
“The ground is still soft, David,” Ida said. “I am not helpless. That is something I would like to do privately.”
“It will only take a moment for me to put her to sleep,” I said. “You can wait out front if you like, and we can bring her out in a small box.”
“I think she will like to be looking into my eyes when she goes, I will wait right here,” Ida said. “And I will take her home wrapped in her blanket. She would like it that way.”
And that is precisely how it was done. Ida carefully wrapped Kitty in her blanket and wiped a tear from her eye before gathering her into her arms.
“Thank you, David,” Ida said. “I will think about that kitten.”
I watched as Lila helped her mother out the door. Ida slapping at her as she tried to hold Kitty.
That was the last time I saw Ida. Her obituary was in the paper a few months later.