You never know how a day is going to go when you wake each morning. Usually, our days are uneventful, perhaps even routine. Sometimes we are aware that something we have to deal with is going to be different and perhaps difficult. But there are always those days where things happen beyond our control, and we are left standing like a deer in the headlights.
I was at home searching online for good animal related quotes when the phone rang. Missy, one of my veterinary assistants, was on the other end of the phone line, and then the words were said, "Raven just died."
"I'll be there in a minute." The moment I hung up the phone, Raven's name came bellowing out of my mouth amidst sobs and tears. I hopped into the shower and let the water wash the tears away in what could be a world record for fastest shower. I got dressed, shoved my three dogs into the car, and drove quickly to the clinic.
I walked into the office to find my staff all crouched on the floor next to Raven's lifeless body. All of their eyes were red and puffy. I walked toward them and blurted out, "I'm sorry guys" then I flopped on the floor next to Raven, clutching her head and white ruffed mane. Her warm soft Collie fur soaked up my tears, and softened the sounds of my sobs. "I let you all down, I'm so sorry."
I couldn't let go of the thought, that if I had euthanized Raven prior to this experience, then my staff would not be suffering through the experience they were currently in.
When I first adopted Raven from Minnesota Wisconsin Collie Rescue she was seven years old. She helped me foster orphaned kittens. I would feed them, then place them next to her and she would lick them clean and stimulate them as though they were her puppies. She did a much better job mothering many litters of kittens than I could ever have done without her.
Raven had a way of pushing into your legs when you pet her, like a moose rubbing its mossy antlers on a tree. Perhaps it was her way of expressing her appreciation. This morning, she pushed into Missy's legs, and Missy responded with her usual touch of love. Missy sunk her fingers into that thick Collie coat and scratched Raven's back and rubbed her legs. As usual, Raven pushed her head into Missy's legs. Suddenly, Raven slumped forward into Missy's legs, in an unusual way. Missy called for help then found herself supporting Raven's head so it wouldn't hit the floor harshly as Raven's body slowly sank down to the floor. As quickly as that, she was gone. There was no lingering, no suffering, nothing that could have been done. She was just gone.
I knew her time was coming. She was blind, and almost completely deaf. She was urinating in the building, not knowing where she was when she was outside. She lived at the clinic her final years because going back and forth to home and work became risky and confusing for her. She could no longer judge the distance into or out of the car. One time she jumped the 14 inches out of the van, and smacked her nose on the ground so hard it split open. Her incontinence also became easier to clean at the clinic with linoleum than with the carpet at home.
She had a recent history of seizures. I brought her out of her last one a few months ago. I had her on a doggie "DNR" (do not resuscitate) order in my head. I knew, rather, I had decided that if there was another sudden health crisis, such as a seizure, or if there were other signs of decline, that the time to euthanize her humanely would be at that time. There would be no more outstanding efforts to save her if her body let go any more. But I could not make the decision to euthanize her in her current state, although I know others may have.
Making the "decision" about Raven was difficult because she had a good appetite and still enjoyed attention. She had eaten a full meal this morning, just an hour prior to her death. She did not seem to be in pain, but I knew her quality of life was very limited.
Raven enjoyed her "Missy rubs" each day. She usually ate substantial meals with vigor, although she had her off days. She also had a best friend with her twenty four hours a day. Her friend's name is Mama Cat and she was a rescue we took in along with her four kittens in July of 2008. Mama Cat went up for adoption after her kittens were weaned and her vet work was complete. But we noticed something that quickly removed her from the adoptable list. Each morning, or after lunch, it was a common occurence to enter the clinic only to find Mama Cat snuggled up next to Raven, both of them sound asleep. Our entry would waken Mama Cat, who would rise and stretch when we arrived, but Raven, with her hearing difficulty remained sound asleep. Often we found ourselves hunched over watching Raven's chest rise and fall, just to be certain that she was still breathing, and she always was. Once this bond became evident, Mama Cat belonged to Raven, or vice versa.
Raven snoring while Mama Cat rises to welcome us back to work.
When Raven would walk around the clinic, Mama cat would walk right between her legs, rubbing her ears and face on the soft undercoat of Raven's belly. If Raven stood still, Mama Cat would rub her way from Raven's belly to her nose purring the entire time. None of this seemed to bother Raven.
We have our silly stories together. She was so silent a passenger in the car, that I would sometimes forget she was with me. One time, I dropped my van at the auto shop for an oil change. I walked to work, and as I walked into the door, my heart stopped in realization of something! Raven was still in the car! My employee drove me to the auto shop. The car was high on the lift, and the repair crew had no idea why I ran into the building insisting they bring the car down. When I opened the hatch, Raven popped out as though nothing had happened. Back to the clinic we went, Raven trotting on her lead, leaving the guys at the shop with a story to take home that night.
With Raven gone, we wonder what to do about our sweet Mama Cat. Should we continue to let her live in the clinic? It's not a bad life by any means, but each animal we place into a home, provides an opening for another cat into our rescue. Should we list her for adoption? Perhaps there is a family that would give her as much love as we do, and Raven did.
Our memories and feelings of Raven are so intertwined with Mama Cat. In the past weeks, Mama Cat has been interacting with us more than she ever had. I believe she knew changes were coming. I believe she knew Raven's time was coming.
It was hard enough letting Raven go, I am unsure as to whether we can let Mama Cat go. I know it is in her best interest to be in a home and family setting, but perhaps we will give her and ourselves some time to grieve.
Leaving the clinic tonight, and not needing to make sure Raven's food was in it's proper place, or that a light was left on so she could "see", was more than a bit sorrowful. These actions become automatic, and will take time to dissipate. Each time it happens will be a reminder of our loss. We will be reminded again in the morning as we seek out Raven and Mama Cat. My thoughts are with Mama Cat as I write this hoping she is nestled comfortably somewhere, without her partner of the last three years.
Despite the fact that Raven no longer lived in my home, or slept on my bed, I knew she was always there. Like a warm blanket, or a soft shoulder, she was there. And that is what Mama Cat, my staff and I will miss.