I think with pets - elderly pets, you understand, who have lived long lives filled with sunny windows - it is not so much the death that hurts us as the dying. My vet friend once told me that everyone hopes their animal will slip away peacefully as they sleep.
"But they never do," she added darkly.
When I met Steve he had a cat named Rusty. Rusty was an orange and white cat with eyes like a lizard and the ability to walk a few steps on his hind legs if he thought you were holding something worthwhile, like a haddock. One day Steve and I returned home from a trip to the sounds of someone being murdered in our apartment. Further inquiries with our neighbor - who seemed peeved for some reason - lead to the discovery that it was Rusty's habit to cry (loudly and without ceasing) every time he was left alone.
Steve thought we should move to several thousand acres in the middle of Montana where Rusty would no longer disturb anyone in his loneliness. I thought we should get another cat to keep Rusty company.
So we got Jam. Jam was a tiny grey striped orphan who had been found in the middle of a busy street in Chicago. We got her from a woman named Mrs McAdams. Mrs McAdams had nine cats and when her daughter rescued Jam she agreed to foster but not keep her. Nine cats, I guess, is acceptable but ten? That's just crazy.
And speaking of crazyville that is exactly where Jam drove Rusty. Rusty was in his stodgy middle age and Jam was a kitten who kept biting his ears. Like Queen Victoria he was Not Amused and - as I mentioned above - when Rusty was displeased he was loud about it.
Steve suggested that we move to Montana where Jam would have thousands of isolated acres in which to burn off all that youthful energy. I said I thought that we should get another kitten so that Jamy could have a playmate and Rusty would still have companionship.
So we got Darwin. Darwin was grey striped like Jam but he picked up where she left off. The most Jam has ever weighed in her life is perhaps five pounds. Darwin had hairballs bigger than that. He was barrel-chested and beefy with the highest, daintiest meow you have ever heard. He also adored Rusty, who didn't seem to mind him nearly as much as he resented Jam. Jam moved into our closet where she remained with her towel bed and her litter box for the better part of a decade.
Three cats. Perhaps a little more cat than was strictly necessary but we were happy with them.
Then one day we went to look at a litter of ragdoll kittens and Steve refused to leave without one, so we got Kelvin and for the next many years I became a little vague when anyone asked how many pets we had. Four cats, after all, is only five cats away from being a Mrs McAdams.
But that was a long time ago. First we lost Rusty to old age and then Darwin a few years later. Kelvin is still with us, although he sleeps a lot and ignores everyone but Patrick. And Jam? Jam is now eighteen and a half and she is slowly dying and it is hard.
On the plus side, her great age has brought with it the healing balm of dementia. For the past several years she's been almost social and in the past weeks she has become positively cuddly. She actually sat on Edward's lap and let him pet her which six months ago would have been the feline equivalent of me climbing into a bathtub full of snakes. On the minus side we had the vet out on Monday and are trying to walk a fine medication line between managing her racing metabolism and killing her outright. Last week she fell off the chair next to my desk and landed in the wastepaper basket, where she remained - blinking at me - until I lifted her out again. Five days ago she stopped being able to drink from a bowl and decided she can only get water from the bathroom faucet. Two days ago I gave her straight-up canned tuna in an effort to appease her seemingly endless hunger, which made her very happy until it all came shooting out the other end in a... well. Enough said. And at three o'clock last night she tried to help herself to the traces of chicken broth left on my bedside table. I woke up to the clanging sound of a metal headboard being hit repeatedly by a cat whose head is trapped inside a soup mug.
Sad, sure, but also hilarious.
My poor little closet cat. She doesn't seem to be in any pain so we don't want to let her go yet but... it is hard to watch her deteriorate like this.
PS To end on a slightly more cheerful - although still pet death related - note: one of our betta fish is suffering from some weird condition that makes it impossible for him to do anything but float at the top of the tank. He's not dead, he just really really looks dead. So much so that - in between feeding him minute pieces of green pea by hand since the internet said it might help - I have been hoping that he'll pass on to his eternal watery reward so I can replace him with a new fish. One that will swim around and look pretty and not cause Caroline to gasp and clutch for her handkerchief every time she sees him.
As I tried to express this sentiment delicately to Steve during the course of a discussion about how very not alive Skye appeared; I did not want to say that I wished I could flush him to his maker (I was standing right in front of his tank!) Instead I said I wished that I could just... you know. And I raised my eyebrows and gave what I thought was a meaningful and understandable tilt to my head.
Steve - who clearly had not been listening to a damned word I had said - perked up at this and said, "Oh! Do we have time before you get the kids from school?"
And I said, "What? No! I meant: I wish I could euthanize the fish! Good Lord!"
To which Steve optimistically replied, "Huh. I'm not familiar with that particular expression but... OK!"
I told him to keep his pants on and left to pick up the children.
Euthanize the fish.
Worst sex euphemism EVER.