I had known Thomas all his life, had even neutered him, but for some reason he just didn’t stick in my memory. And yet here I was going into the exam room to end that life. His owner, Mrs. Burgess, met me in the room with tears in her eyes. “So I understand you want to put Thomas to sleep,” I started as I stroked his soft fur and felt his purr of appreciation in reply. She explained it was not what she wanted to do, but she felt there was no alternative. She had recently remarried and since the new husband had come into the picture, Thomas had taken to urinating and defecating in the house. It was something he had never done before, and when the husband was not around or when the pair was gone on vacation, he was as good as gold. As soon as he returned, so did the accidents. To her it had come down to Thomas or her husband, so you know who lost. I suspected there had been some unpleasant altercation between Thomas and Mr. Burgess, but of course I had no proof. Perhaps, he had relished the full attention of Mrs. Burgess so much when they were living alone together that he was just unwilling to share her with anyone else. Regardless of the underlying cause, her house was being ruined, and the cat was causing friction between her and her new spouse.
Although I had the euthanasia solution already drawn into the syringe and tucked into the file with me, I was very reluctant to follow through with her request. It was obvious we were not doing this for health reasons nor was it anything either of us really wanted to do. I offered some behavioral suggestions and even medication, but she was unwilling to try them, fearing they would fail and only delay the time until she was back and once again requesting euthanasia. She admitted it had been so hard bringing him in this time that she could not face doing it again. The clinic had adopted out a few pets over the years, so I thought I might try a different tack. I excused myself and went out to talk with my staff. I wanted to know if any of them knew of someone looking for a cat. We had had no inquiries, but my technician who had babysat Thomas on a few occasions thought perhaps her mother might be interested. Cheri’s mom had accompanied her on one of the trips to his house and had instantly fallen in love with him when he had hugged her. Cheri said that was his best quality - that he gave great hugs. It was a trait I would come to know well.
I returned to the room and asked Mrs. Burgess if she would be willing to relinquish custody of Thomas to us until we could find him a new home. Once more the tears flowed as she asked, “You would do that?” I assured her that putting him to sleep was not something that any of us wanted, and we would work to find him a good home. The tortured expression she had worn into the clinic suddenly vanished as she felt her burden lifted. She agreed to leave him with us, kissed her friend good bye and left us, still saddened to be leaving Thomas but relieved that his life would go on. I carried him from the room, and true to his billing, he flopped a big paw on either side of my neck and nuzzled my face with his. He really did give great hugs!
|Thomas giving Megen a hug|
Now, the pressure was on. Where was I going to find a home for a mature cat? He was already 11 years old and was surrendered because he was urinating in the house. It was not exactly a grand endorsement. Besides, cats are a dime a dozen with so many unneutered outdoor cats breeding like rabbits, producing litter after litter of unwanted kittens. Occasionally, a client would lose a long time pet and seek its replacement, but more often no one seemed interested. Cheri’s mom was my one great hope, but that hope was quickly dashed when Cheri informed me that her mom would not be taking Thomas.
We put out feelers and questioned anyone we regarded as a potential good owner, but the answer was always the same – thank you, but no. For Thomas this meant spending his days in a cage in our kennel area. I was still trying to keep my distance from him because I didn’t want to become attached only to have to put him down because a home could not be found. However, I made the mistake of taking him out of his cage one day and holding him. Again I was greeted with a great big bear hug and a firm head butt. He did not try to wriggle from my arms like most cats, but instead settled in quite comfortably. This cat seemed a little different, and I suddenly had pangs of guilt that he was spending all his time locked up in a little cage. So between appointments, I took him to my office, closed the door and set him down on the floor. He explored his new environment, then hopped onto my desk and flopped down on the open file in which I was writing. Thomas was not about to be ignored. When I worked the file free from him, he reevaluated his situation, gave out a quick meow then climbed from the desk onto my lap to catch a quick nap, but not without once again nuzzling my face as he went.
|Thomas checking on work in the front office|
It was nice having a cat to stroke and cuddle when I was not seeing patients, so whenever I had a free moment, I hurried to the back and retrieved Thomas. It was always the same – if there was an open file on my desk, he was on top of it, or if I was on the phone, he would work himself between my face and the receiver or plop down on the phone itself, often pushing buttons and disconnecting me. Thomas demanded attention, but he gave as good as he got. Every bit of affection he received he managed to amplify and return. Soon, I was not the only one pampering him. I discovered that at lunch, the staff was letting him out to explore. One day, he had snuggled into a chair in the pharmacy area and had fallen asleep just before the afternoon appointments were slated to begin. No one could bring themselves to wake him up, so there he remained as the activity around him suddenly picked up. We all noticed that even after waking, he remained in the back hallway and did not interfere with our work. So we started granting him even more freedom, and soon he was remaining out the entire time we were open. Food and water and a litter box were always available in my office, which served as his home base, but he preferred to be where the people and action were. However, when we were too busy to acknowledge him to his satisfaction, he would slip back to “his room” for a nap on my desk or curled up on a coat in my chair.
Thomas was very accepting of the hustle and bustle around him and even the various animals being led or carted through the halls. However, we soon learned that he did not like it when another animal became upset. It was not out of concern for his fellow creature, however. I don’t think Thomas ever considered himself a cat, but rather saw himself as another person. If an animal started meowing, barking or growling, he would charge it. On more than one occasion my technicians felt the sting of his claws as he clambered over their backs to reach the screaming animal, all the while letting out his own banshee cry. We soon learned that if an animal was becoming upset, someone needed to quickly find Thomas and lock him away.
|Thomas getting close to Jamie|
My staff gradually discovered what I had already witnessed – that Thomas had to be in the middle of the action. Yes, he would take frequent naps in the chair we provided him in the hall, but any new box that was delivered required exploring, as did open cabinets. He quickly developed a special knack for lying on the phone and activating the intercom system. Of course there were always open files in the front office, and these became an open invitation to plop down and smother their paperwork. A basket of catnip mice usually sat for sale on the front counter. Invariably, Thomas would find it, throw himself into the basket and roll around in his “drunken” stupor, often grabbing one or two of the mice and licking or chewing them until they were unfit to sell and would instead become his. It wasn’t just catnip mice he would find. Colleen, one of our office workers, often kept a small cup of Goldfish crackers on her desk. Frequently, while she was busy helping to check out a client, Thomas would hop through the window from the pharmacy area into the office, find her cup and start snacking on her crackers. I also learned he would sometimes sneak into the office of one of the other doctors and drink from his glass of water. This was discovered through Thomas’s tendency to set off allergies. One afternoon Dr. Steele emerged from his room coughing and sputtering. He could not figure out what had set off this attack until he looked into his water, and there floating on the surface were the telltale hairs from Thomas. Sometime later he was actually caught in the act of sneaking a drink from the water glass, but he always won his way back into our good graces with a big hug and a little head butting. One had to be careful though since head rubbing often led to face licking. That on its own was tolerable, but if he got very excited he would throw in a little love nip for good measure, and like everything else he did, he nipped with gusto. Amy, one of my technicians, learned this the hard way when one day he decided to give the lobe of her ear a quick bite and managed to push his canine tooth all the way through the hole for her earrings.
|A favorite resting spot - on top of the phone|
Thomas was not only appreciated by the staff but by the clientele, as well. In fact, it could be said that he quickly emerged as our goodwill ambassador. His love of human interaction made him the perfect greeter at the desk. A client would stroll up to check out and Thomas would hop up on the counter to get their attention. If they came over to him, they were rewarded with a warm hug, some vigorous face rubbing, and if they were not careful, one of his quick nips. Over time, most of our clients came to know him by name and many would inquire about him if they had missed seeing him.
|Enjoying his toys|
|Waiting for his cat treat|
Somewhere along the way the idea of finding Thomas a new home had vanished. He was home, and he now had quite the extended family. And never once was there an accident outside the litter box. He still spent his nights tucked away in my office, but during the day he was free. Megen, one of my assistants began teaching him simple tricks with the cat treats that always awaited him on the back counter. He could sit, lay, spin around and high five on command (given you had a treat suspended just in front of his nose.) Soon cat toys started appearing in my office and at Christmas a small stocking with his name and picture on it materialized with even more gifts. Thomas was living the good life and all was well until one summer when I was away on vacation. I got an email saying that Thomas had been attacked by a dog and had sustained some injuries. One of the doctors had been leading a husky from an exam room to the treatment area in the back. Coming around the corner quickly, she forgot to look for Thomas. Before anyone knew what was happening, the dog had pounced on him. In the end, his gum tissue had been torn from his teeth and he received a puncture on top of his head which later abscessed. That same doctor who had been leading the dog is the one who then surgically repaired his gums, and Thomas recovered quite nicely. However, from that day on he was much more leery of dogs. No more did he charge a whining or crying animal, and he knew to retreat into another room if a large dog were being led through hall. Although he seemed to have learned his lesson, I was still very uneasy about him being out after that attack. Something needed to change, but little did I know what it would mean for me.
|Watching the action in the hallway|
I had often toyed with the idea of taking Thomas home to live with me, but Zoobie, my temperamental cat at home had other ideas. She was quite content being an only child and vigorously charged any cat or kitten I had ever brought home. It was the same with Thomas. As soon as she saw the cat carrier, she began her deep, guttural growl followed by hissing. I let him out and he slowly explored the living room, but Zoobie was in pursuit. Thomas, used to animals making a ruckus around him, ignored her at first. He usually ignored other cats with the exception of a cute little black and white diabetic cat named Bashful that frequented the clinic. With her he was smitten, and whenever her carrier was in the hall, he would parade in front of it purring loudly. There was also a small stray cat I had brought into the clinic one weekend with whom he developed a romantic interest. I had set her down on the floor to walk around, and he followed her from room to room. Finally, just as a tomcat will do during the breeding process, he grabbed her by the neck and practically lifted her from the floor. He was so assertive I had to pull him off before he hurt her. So I was torn between two fears. One was that Zoobie would attack him and they would get into a knock-down-drag-out fight. My other fear was that he and Zoobie would get used to each other and he would try his romantic move on her, and that would also not end well. I tried on multiple occasions introducing them to one another. I would let him roam and Zoobie would always stalk him with me shadowing the pair to make sure a fight did not erupt. One day I got a little over confident and allowed him to go upstairs without following. The next thing I heard was a loud cat scream as Zoobie charged him. Apparently, he had ventured into “her room,” the laundry room where we kept her food and litter box. That was just too much seeing a strange cat eating her food, so she decided to instantly put a stop to it.
|Zoobie- the prima donna looking sweet and innocent|
I was beginning to think there would be no way of taking him home, but someone suggested he could live in my basement. Our basement had been finished a couple years prior, creating a very comfortable home for him. There was a large area in which to roam, the softest carpeting in the house, and lots of comfy furniture on which to sleep. I gave it a try, spending my lunch hours napping with him on the couch and our evenings watching television on the large screen in our theater room just to provide him with the human contact he craved. He seemed content with this arrangement, and so it came that Thomas once again found a new home. He and Zoobie would investigate each other under the basement door, and I still tried letting him out on the main floor from time to time. But they would never become friends. In time they reached a point of mutual acceptance where they could be out together and basically ignore each other, but I never felt safe leaving him out with her when I was gone. Besides, his manners were not always the best and we would find him on counters or eating our houseplants. So the majority of his time was spent in his bachelor pad in the basement. However, I never got over the guilty feeling of keeping him confined in this dark, isolated portion of our home. Thus on Wednesdays, in an attempt to assuage these feelings, I would bring him to work. That is typically our slowest day of the week, so Thomas was free to once again patrol the hallways and cuddle with employees with only minimal interference from other animals.
The years passed, and Thomas thrived in his new home. Most nights we would all gather on the couch to watch television, with Thomas climbing onto my shoulders and vigorously licking my head before finally settling in on my lap to sleep. He loved to meet our children’s friends, although some felt he was a little too friendly for their comfort; his love nips actually scaring a few of those who didn’t know him well. And despite his age, he would still occasionally find a ping pong ball that had rolled from the table and proceed to charge around the basement batting it soccer style. But always, if there were people about, Thomas was a happy cat.
However, time cannot be ignored and eventually his age started showing. His eyes developed the clouded lenses that come with advanced age, and it would sometimes take a few attempts to jump up on the couch. Yet despite these changes, he was still prone to bursts of energy where he would chase me across the basement, grabbing and biting each ankle in turn as I tried to free myself and make it to the stairway. But the thing I noticed the most was that his water bowl was emptying quicker than it ever had, and his litter box always seemed soaked and heavy with urine. Nothing else seemed to change, but knowing his age I feared that he was developing renal failure. I brought him to work and ran some lab work on him. The blood values were all normal, but the urine’s concentration fell into a range that told me his kidneys were beginning to struggle. I gradually switched his diet from his usual maintenance style food to one designed to support the kidneys. Thomas was not impressed. He ate very little of the new food, but would always gulp down a cat treat. Another diet was tried with the same result, and then a third diet. He loved that last diet, but the diet did not love Thomas. He now had horrible diarrhea, and since I was already worried about his losing excess fluid from his kidneys, I did not want to add to the burden on his body. So it was back to the original food and he would just have to get used to it. He reluctantly accepted his prescription diet, but his appetite was never again what it had been before.
|The age beginning to show|
A year later found him pretty much in the same shape as before. He had lost a little weight and was still drinking and urinating excessively, but in every other way he seemed just like his old self. I repeated his lab tests and the results were the same as the year before. On the blood side he looked great, but the urine again betrayed the fact that his kidneys were failing him. I knew one day the tide would change with him, and so it did late in 2011. In the fall of last year, Thomas, who was always a fat cat began losing weight much more rapidly. First the fat melted away and then muscle started to follow. He now waited to be lifted onto the couch with me, and I noticed he no longer walked up on his toes but down on his hocks. About the same time his appetite started fading away even more.
|Snoozing in a patch of sunlight|
By Thanksgiving, he was looking very frail and was moving slower all the time. It became apparent that he was no longer eating his prescription food. I tried a canned version, and at first I thought I had found the trick, but he bored of this after only a few days, and I found myself throwing away more food than he ate. He was down to just licking the fluid but not actually eating anything. After Thanksgiving, I tried a different approach, bringing down some leftover turkey and mixing it with his food, and he ate it readily. So I bagged up all the turkey scraps I could find and each day I would mix some with his food. This lasted for a few weeks, but I noticed a change with even this. Whereas initially, Thomas ate both his cat food and the turkey, he now only picked the pieces of turkey from the bowl. On the very last day of my turkey supply, I noticed he did not even eat this. He was also no longer steady on his feet. Gone were the bursts of energy and in their place was a staggering gait. I brought him an old beanbag chair and he spent his days buried deep within it sleeping. At night he began a mournful cry that sent chills up my spine. I tried to get him to eat anything I could, but when he refused his old diet as well as his treats (something he had never refused,) I knew the end was near.
His last two weeks were basically hospice care. He no longer ate, and his drinking slowly diminished, as well. He became weaker and weaker, and soon he would not even get out of his bed to greet me. I brought his water bowl to him and he drank then settled back in to sleep. When his breath took on the sour smell of uremic poisoning, I knew we were just days from the end. In my head, I knew I should let him go, and that is how I would have counseled any owner, but my heart would not let me do it. I prayed for him to go peacefully in his sleep, but Thomas was a strong cat and would not give up the fight. Finally, on December 29th, I went down to check on him. He didn’t even acknowledge me at first, but when I aroused him he let out a sad, pleading cry. It was as if he were asking me to relieve him of his suffering. I got him off his beanbag bed and stood him up, but he immediately fell against the chair. I could not put it off any more; I needed to let Thomas go. With tears in my eyes I carried him upstairs and lay him in the sunlight of the living room. Even Zoobie recognized that things were different and she sat back and watched. I had brought the euthanasia solution home knowing this day would eventually come. My wife stroked him and talked to him while I clipped the hair from his leg and set the catheter. Thomas never tried to fight it; he just lay on his side. His passing was very peaceful, but it tore at my heart, nonetheless. In my position as a veterinarian I have euthanized hundreds of pets over the years, but this was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a pet owner. I can never again question an owner who falters at the moment of deciding whether or not they should put their pet to sleep.
I wrapped Thomas in a towel and carried him to the backyard where I had prepared a grave. I still had tears in my eyes as I buried him and marked the spot until I can have a grave marker made. He now rests on the back edge of my property overlooking the creek. It is the first spot warmed by the sun in the morning. This spring I will plant flowers over his grave in his memory. I sent Mrs. Burgess a brief note letting her know Thomas had passed and thanking her for the wonderful gift she had given me. My life has been so much fuller because of Thomas. His loss has left a huge void in my life, and the house now seems so empty without him. I open the door to the basement and await his meow, but there is only silence. I’ve not even been able to bring myself to move his beanbag chair. But sometimes, I come across a small clump of his hair and pick it up and touch it, remembering all the times I sat holding him and stroking that fur and wishing I had just one more chance to feel his warm, wonderful hug.
Thomas you were an amazing cat, and I will miss you always!