Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guilty Conscience

I love animals. I love them all, but none more than my gorgeous, fluffy orange kitty, Tigerlily.

Today I'm feeling like I failed her. Well, let's be honest. I'm feeling like I killed her.

She's been our cat since she was 6 weeks old. We adopted her 6 years ago this month. Jonathan was less than thrilled with me when I brought her home, and I understand why. We agreed to get a cat, but he didn't agree to getting one with a respiratory infection, an eye infection and a horrid case of the fleas. The nurturing side of me couldn't help myself when I went to see her; I wanted to rescue her and give her a loving home, plus she was so darn cute and exactly what I'd spent years looking for: a long hair female orange tabby.

I took her to the vet and in a month or so she was perfectly healthy and spunky, and the cutest kitten I'd ever laid eyes on. Her personality soon came out; the spunk could turn into ferocity sometimes. She was very unpredictable and had a feral streak in her. Not most people's ideal house cat, but she was my pretty girl and I loved her.

A year or so after we moved to Seattle, she began having what's known as "inappropriate elimination" trouble. In layman's terms, she was peeing places other than her litterbox. The main target was the guest bed, which was typically her territory, and I think she didn't like when people came to stay with us and kicked her out of her favorite lounging spot. Then she began peeing on the carpet right outside the guest bathroom. I tried all kinds of methods of getting her to stop; pheromone spray, a variety of carpet cleaners, squirting her with the water bottle, cleaning her litterbox every time she used it, even sprinkling pepper in the carpet. Nothing worked.

When we moved to our first house I had an unrealistic hope that we could move away from her problems and she wouldn't do it anymore. At first I was right! For several months there were zero problems. She used her litterbox exactly as she did before the issue started. Gradually, Jonathan and I began to notice a slight odor coming from the living room. We both got down on our hands and knees and sniffed every inch of the carpet, but neither of us could find a fresh spot. The previous homeowners had a cat and I suspected that it had urinated in the living room, but they deep cleaned the carpet and the smell came out. For a while anyway, until it began seeping up through the carpet again. Not long after, we discovered a fresh marking; Tigerlily was at it again.

For the past year+, it's gotten worse and worse. Once again, I tried everything I could. I had great results at first using Oxyclean and covering the spots with foil to keep her from going back to the marked areas, but then she just went on peeing on different spots. It got so bad that I couldn't keep up with it anymore. By that point the carpet was destroyed, the pad was certainly destroyed, and we're 99.9% certain that all of the subflooring is destroyed as well. Our living room has been unusable for a very long time (thankfully we have the family room downstairs) and the smell rears it's nose-wrinkling head sometimes so bad that even opening windows doesn't seem to help. She was also sometimes defecating on the carpet. We love to entertain people in our home and all but stopped because we were ashamed of that room and never knew if the house would smell or not. We still haven't been able to do anything with that room because the flooring has to be changed before we can put it together. I hated the situation, but she was my girl and I loved her too much to give her up. I held out hope that everything could be fixed. Then a new problem arose.

Since Caleb was born, she seemed to do pretty well. She would curious about him, generally keeping her distance but still curious. He looooved her though. She started to warm up a little, coming up to check him out and even letting him pat her a little. She gradually became aggressive though, hissing and swiping at him (thankfully she's declawed in front). Then one day, he crawled across the hall from our room into his, and shortly after I heard a shriek followed by a loud wail. I found Tigerlily sauntering out of his room and Caleb clutching his arm, sobbing. Pulling up his sleeve, I found that she bit him, hard enough to draw blood even through his long sleeve shirt. I felt horrible for Caleb and so betrayed by her. How could she hurt my baby?? Jonathan had long wanted to get rid of her but he knew I was very attached to her and felt I would resent him if he gave me an ultimatum, so he didn't. After this incident, I ran out of excuses for keeping her. For the sake of my son's safety (and my marriage, my husband was running out of patience), the time had finally come to find her a new home; namely, one with no children.

This decision was a very painful one to make. The process of finding her a new home was slow. I had to come to terms with the fact that she would be leaving our home before I could actually begin the search. I admit I dragged my feet a little and tried to postpone the inevitable. I called all the no-kill shelters and posted on all the websites with listings for animals for adoption. All of the shelters either weren't accepting pets, or wouldn't accept my pet because her behavioral problems made her unadoptable. I was too scared to call any of the shelters that practice euthanasia. I couldn't stand the possibility of her being put down. (Edited to add: During this time she bit Caleb again, which reaffirmed the decision that she needed a new home.)

After weeks of searching, Jonathan finally came to the end of his rope. I had two more weeks to find her a home before we took her to the Everett Animal Shelter, which was my absolute last resort. (I want to make it clear that I have no hard feelings or resentment toward him for this. He gave me way more time than I ever would have given him if our roles were reversed. He pointed out during one argument about her that I never would have put up something for as long as he put up with her, and he was right.) I tried my best during that time but I couldn't find a home for her. So today, we packed up her kitty litter and food, I held her in the car, and we drove to the shelter.

When we walked in I felt stoic and numb. She was quiet and fairly calm in her carrier. I had Jonathan do the talking because I couldn't bear to say it. When we told her why we were surrendering her, she said, "So, you're here for a euthanasia?" .......I stared at her in shock. She said that Tigerlily's behavioral problems make her unadoptable for them, so that's all they can do with her. She was so matter of fact about it that her words and attitude felt cold, even though they weren't really. I turned and stared at Jonathan. He said, "We don't have any other options." My mind was reeling. I knew he was right, but I couldn't believe that the only choice we had left was to put her down. She wasn't sick, she didn't maim anyone (yet), she wasn't a wild homeless animal. She was MY PET. We couldn't take her back home, though, and there was nowhere else to go. In my head I was protesting, but I agreed to it. I couldn't hold back the tears anymore and struggled to answer the woman's questions with a shaky voice, all the while staring at Tigerlily and opening the carrier to pet her long, soft fur. The woman shocked me again when she asked if we wanted to come back for her ashes. I asked her if we could take her back home. She said sure, but seemed surprised that I would ask. A couple other women came out to take Tigerlily back. I asked if we could go back with her and they said no, only vets do that. I stroked her fur for the last time while she was alive, closed the cage, and told them to go ahead and take her. Turning around and walking away, I finally fell apart.

It took a while for them to come back out. Another couple came in with a cat to surrender, who also was was urinating on their floors. From what I could gather they went ahead with euthanasia as well. I barely overheard the same woman tell them in a low voice that they were in the process of a euthanasia with another cat and saw her gesture toward us out of the corner of my eye. I tried hard not to judge them for not being more upset about putting down their cat. Something like this should be devastating, and they didn't seem devastated enough to me.

Finally someone came out and handed Tigerlily's crate back to me. I couldn't believe how heavy it felt. She was covered in a towel. The tears slipped out again as we walked back to the car. When we got there, I took the top of the carrier off and pulled back the towel to see her. They arranged her in there so it looked like she was sleeping. Her eyes wouldn't stay closed, though, and that bothered me. I held her on my lap as we drove home, petting her as if she were alive, wishing that this day could not be happening.

We got home and Jonathan put Caleb down for a nap while I went out side and sat on the deck, holding Tigerlily in the towel on my lap, still petting her and cuddling her. Jonathan dug a hole to bury her in the corner of the yard with some bushes. When he was done, I carried her over, said goodbye, and handed her to Jonathan to put her in and cover her back up while I went inside. I couldn't stand to watch. My stomach turned as I dragged myself upstairs and into bed to grieve in private. I told Jonathan yesterday that I would need some alone time after we dropped her off. That was assuming that we were dropping her off alive, not bringing her home dead. I needed the alone time even more now.

It's been a little over 4 hours since we got home. I don't feel better at all. If anything, I feel worse. It seems so wrong, to euthanize a pet for behavioral problems. I know that man has dominion over all the animals of the earth, but I don't think animals are so worthless that inappropriate behavior equals a death sentence. I'm grappling with the guilt of allowing someone to put down my cat; even worse, having to pay them to do it. I feel as though I murdered her myself. I wish I could fast-forward a few weeks, or a few months even, to when I won't feel so bad. I keep glancing out the window into the corner of the yard where she's buried, trying to wrap my head around the fact that she won't come when I call her anymore, I won't see her lounging in the sun by the back door anymore, she won't be eating the food or drinking the water that's sitting out, or using the litterbox that's still set up. The whole process felt so rushed, like I had barely enough time to actually think about what that woman was telling me or consider the ramifications of our decision. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, not like that. I didn't really even say goodbye before they took her. I wish I'd had some time to sit and hold her again, to pet her and talk to her and cuddle her alive.

I know the sadness will eventually get better. I can only hope that the guilt does too. I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that as an animal lover, I euthanized my perfectly healthy cat. Lilies are my favorite flowers, and there's a beautiful orange species called a Tiger Lily. My mission this week is to buy one and plant it on the spot that she's buried.

Missing you lots already, pretty girl.


Stephanie said...

I'm so sorry Jess. I'm crying with you.

Andrea said...

Dearest, sweet Jessi,

Nothing can prepare us for the death of a beloved family member, being with or without fur. You gave Tigerlily love and your complete patience and when she "fell into a deep slumber" she knew you loved her.

That little darling boy of yours realizes your complete sacrificial love you have for his safety and care. Your first thought was to keep him healthy while doing everything you could to find a home for your furry girl. It's painful to make a choice such as the one you were faced with today, but that is your first experience with what is to come in motherhood. You will make some tough decisions later on and trust me there will be some doozies; you just experienced the first.

I am convinced that Tigerlily knew you did everything you could to locate a new home and prevent the pain you are feeling now.

When I had to put down my dear Ruth, I too could not watch as John lowered her beautiful body into the ground. It hurt for a LONG time, it still does. I often tell Hawkeye what Ruth would or would not do in a situation and the tears still come. But I know now, it was the right thing to do and it helps that my dear sweet huge pup is nearby and not in ashes.

I love you sweet girl and I pray that God gives you comfort.

Anonymous said...

Sweetie, I am so sorry. And I KNOW exactly how you are feeling....that's how I felt when we had to put Milli down. The guilt feels awful, but it does go away. And you had no choice - you did what you had to...Caleb needed to be safe and Tigerlily really couldn't be trusted with another family.

Give yourself a chance to loved her and your loss of her leaves an empty space in your heart. But time will heal it and you have that precious baby boy of yours to help.

I love you and cried with you as I read your words. Thank you for being so transparent with your heart.

Love, Mom