Death is hardly the most cheerful topic to be writing about on the first day of a brand new year, but as the saying goes, it comes to us all eventually. And for my 19-year-old Aggie-cat her time to depart this Earth is rapidly approaching.
For most of us there’s often little choice in the when, where and how we leave this world, and too often for many it is sudden, brutal, and painful. Most governments are still tip-toeing around the admittedly enormously difficult subject of euthanasia for those suffering with acutely painful symptoms of terminal illnesses, yet we don’t think twice about euthanasing our companion animals, believing it to be the best and most humane option.
Those who work in palliative care say we have more control over when we draw our last breath than is generally recognised, and will offer numerous stories of patients who seemingly and knowingly choose to expire either when all the family members are present, or else when they are completely alone, because said members have nipped out to grab a cup of coffee, go to the loo, or duck outside for a smoke. I totally get that, and I maintain my mother chose to delay her departure for a good 24 hours after I arrived in the UK from Australia because she was enjoying the conversation around her bed, and didn’t want to miss any of the gossip.
But to return to Aggie, we’ve been counting down her final hours now for eight days. That’s when she stopped eating. For the first day or two I could put it down to the undeniably hot weather – we all tend to eat less when it’s hot – but by Day Three it was apparent there was more to her refusal to eat than just the heat. She’d decided it was time to go.
By Day Four she’d taken up residence in the bathroom – not one of her usual favourite places – appropriating the bathmat, and content to just sit quietly, undisturbed, and sleep, interspersed with the occasional stretch, a change of position, and to drink some water. Any need for her litter box ceased. Which was just as well since it was some distance away, in the garage!
And the bathroom is where she’s remained, patiently waiting for the end. Or that’s how I see it. There’s no indication she’s in any pain, or is suffering in any way. If this looked likely then of course I would have taken her to the vet – Christmas or no Christmas – but she truly appears to be calmly and serenely waiting for the end to arrive, quite content to let nature take its course. No fuss. No dramas. No fighting the inevitable. Just a recognition and an acceptance that her time is up and she’s ready to go.
For all our intelligence sometimes animals manage these things so much better than humans do.
God bless. I will miss you little Aggie-cat.
According to the vaccination certificate we received from the RSPCA when we adopted her, Aggie puss turned 19 at some point during March. She’s understandably slowed up a lot, and these days spends most of her days – and nights – sleeping. She certainly poses no threat to wildlife or birds any more either, content to watch them from the window, in the sunniest spot she can find, while she muses perhaps upon her more agile youth, but she remains as glamorous and glossy as she was when we brought her home.
Aggie was 18 months old when we adopted her, and rejoiced in the name of ‘Biddles’ – a name that didn’t suit her at all, and one we immediately ditched. We knew from previous experience a name would manifest itself eventually as a result of her own personality and behaviour, but it has to be said Aggie (or Agnes) has subsequently become the official, and certainly the most respectable of the many alternate monikers, my partner in particular, uses.
Despite the appealing show she put on for us at the RSPCA, Aggie was a bit snooty at first when we got her home. I suspect she’d been over indulged by her previous owner – a youthful twenty-something apparently, whose job involved an unexpected move to New Zealand for an unspecified time. She’d left the cat in the care of her parents, and I’ve often wondered if they ever confessed to their daughter they’d surrendered Biddles/Aggie to the RSPCA shortly afterwards. Or offered another explanation for the cat’s disappearance.
It was a stay in the RSPCA’s boarding kennel facility* that cured Aggie’s initial aloofness. Despite the excellent care she received there while we were overseas, my theory was always she was so horrified to find herself back at the RSPCA she felt she’d better change her tune when she finally arrived back home. Certainly she looked relieved to see me when I collected her, and ever since has been remarkably friendly, affectionate and placid. For a cat.
It wasn’t all lazing about being waited on hand and foot though – which is arguably what she’d been led to expect and deserve. Aggie had a job to do living with us, and it was keeping the rodents under control on our semi-rural property. It was a job she swiftly took to with typical feline skill and enthusiasm and her tally of mice, rats – and young rabbits – mounted steadily. Possibly because there were enough rodents to keep her occupied Aggie never – thankfully – seriously turned her deadly hunting instincts towards birds.
These days any of those residual hunting instincts are limited to seeking out the sunniest spot in the house, so she can enjoy the warmth in her ageing bones. Or else snuggling up as close as she possibly can to the heater. How many more summers and winters we’ll have Aggie is, of course, unknown, but hopefully come next March we’ll be celebrating her 20th!
* Tasmania’s RSPCA no longer offers boarding facilities for cats and dogs.