Farewell, Britty

Nearly fifteen years ago, Jan decided it was time for him to have some cats of his own. One of his mom’s neighbors was looking after a feral cat who’d recently had kittens and was trying to find homes for them. Jan bought a cat crate (what Sylvia calls “the cat car-seat,” because we use it only when driving the cats to the vet’s office), took it over to the neighbor’s house, and put it down. Two cats walked right on in. Jan figured they’d chosen him, so those were the ones he took home.

As a medievalist, he named them Britomart (after a female knight in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, who, in pursuit of her sweetie, Artegal, proceeds to kick some serious ass) and Beowulf. Not too long afterward, a vet told him that the latter was actually a girl, but the name stuck anyway.

By the time I met Jan, these two cats were well into adulthood. I’d never had cats of my own before, but I took to these two instantly. It endlessly fascinated me how two littermates could have such different personalities. Beowulf always was the crabbier of the two, preferring mostly to be alone and, once Jan and I became parents, usually not in the same room as Sylvia.

Britty, on the other hand, seemed to be part dog at times. She was relentless in her pursuit of food, for example. One friend who watched her for two weeks while Jan and I got married and went on our honeymoon called her “a food-seeking missile”; when Sylvia started eating solid foods, Britty very quickly learned to circle the drop zone under the high chair like a shark.

She was also sweet—oh so sweet. She’d clamor for cuddles and attention. And when Sylvia came along, Britty became her very patient teething ring (ears and tail), occasional pillow, and all-around best friend. We dubbed her “St. Britty.”

A little over two weeks ago, Britty became seriously ill. It happened suddenly: one day her back legs looked wobbly every few steps, the next day they were regularly giving out from under her, and two days later she could no longer walk. She meowed when she wanted something, and we’d carry her to her water, food, and litter box, trying all the possibilities until we found the one that gave her comfort.

Our awesome vet did various tests (diabetes? potassium deficiency? stroke?) but ended up stumped. Last week, a shot of prednisone seemed to work wonders: for two and a half days, Britty was supporting her own weight on her legs and even walking (though still needed help at the litter box). But those glimpses of the old Britty were fleeting, and she lost those gains.

Two days ago, the vet suggested trying another shot of prednisone. If we saw significant improvement again, he said, we could try oral prednisone administered daily. An hour after the shot, Britty seemed to be doing better. She was raising her head and putting some weight on her legs when supported. Jan and I went to bed that night hopeful that we’d see big improvements in the morning, as we had the week before.

But the next day, yesterday, she was once again immobile. And that’s when we knew it was time to let her go.

There are people out there who think it’s wrong to euthanize a pet. I cannot imagine how they can think that. As a pet owner, you are responsible for your pets—responsible for making sure they have a good quality of life and for making the decisions that they can’t make themselves. And if you’re unwilling to assume those responsibilities, then you shouldn’t have pets. Jan and I didn’t want to lose Britty, but at this point it was obvious to us that keeping her any longer and prolonging her suffering would be only cruel.

This morning Sylvia and I said goodbye to Britty. Sylvia understood that Britty was very sick (and over the last couple of weeks had, on her own initiative, written lots of “I hope you feel better soon” notes to her and sang to her several songs she made up on the spot as lullabies), and Jan and I had talked with her about how Britty was going to die and we weren’t going to see her any more. Does she get it? Sort of. Maybe.

Then Jan took Britty to the vet’s office for the last time. He couldn’t stay with her (the vet is leaving town for a week and was overbooked for the day; in order to be able to stay with Britty, we’d have to wait until next Friday), but she’s never been afraid at the vet’s and the staff there adored her, so we knew she’d be in good, loving hands.

The vet called us later. “It went peacefully,” he said. “This is what I would wish for everyone.” The anesthesia he administered to Britty usually takes one to two minutes to have its effect. She was gone in four seconds—a clear indication of just how ill she was. He suspects it was cancer, possibly something that struck her lymphatic system or kidneys; the latter are very close to her spine, and if the cancer spread there, that could explain her loss of limb function.

We miss her already. I’ve held it together pretty well for two weeks, but even though I know that she’s better off now than she was over the past two weeks, I’m weeping as I write this. It’s funny how these little creatures can touch our lives and teach us so much.

We have memories and stories of Britty. And lots of pictures, too. My favorite is this one, taken in October 2005 when Sylvia was five months old.


16 Responses to “Farewell, Britty”

  1. MACon 15 Mar 2008 at 10:43 pm

    My heart is breaking for all of you. I still miss my beloved first cat, Ptolemy. We went through several rounds of fluid injections (like dialysis but administered under the skin) as his kidneys started to fail. We hoped to hold on to him a little longer, but at some point we knew that he was ready for us to let him go.

    Marsha, your opinions about euthanasia are spot on. Caring for an animal means giving that pet your love and loyalty. And that love and loyalty are returned over and over again. And our pets also favor us with their trust. You honored Britty’s trust in you even to the end in allowing her to slip away peacefully and painlessly.

    I know that all four of you — Marsha, Jan, Sylvia, and Beowulf — will mourn Britty in your own ways. Know that you are all loved and thought of.

  2. Chrison 15 Mar 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about Britty. *hugs* all around. I love that amazingly zen monkesque photo of Britty and Sylvia…

  3. Meion 15 Mar 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I’m so sorry you had to make such a decision; while I do think it was the right thing to do, I’m sure it was still very hard.
    Please know I am thinking of you and your family.

  4. annon 16 Mar 2008 at 10:11 am

    i am so sorry to hear about Britty. i know how difficult it is to have to make that decision, much less lose your beloved pet. As i read your message, I remembered all my wonderful pets that I have lost, recently and long ago. It brought a tear to my eye missing them but also a feeling of joy remembering all that they gave me in their lives. I hope you can let the joy come through more every day. Britty obviously had a life to be celebrated.

  5. Sarahon 16 Mar 2008 at 11:10 am

    I’m so sorry about Britty’s illness and your loss! I’m wishing you comfort in the midst of your loss.

  6. Bethon 16 Mar 2008 at 12:25 pm

    As tears stream down my face, I’m remembering how Britty chose my lap a few weeks ago. I enjoyed setting my knitting aside and petting her. I could tell she was not feeling well and she was felling comfort in my arms. I wish comfort to you and your family.

  7. LIndaon 16 Mar 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I’m sorry for your family’s loss. In addition to being wonderful companions, with their passing I think of them as “bookmarks”. I can always remember events in reference to the pets that were part of my life at that time. It’s wonderful that you will have those memories, especially with baby Sylvia. lw

  8. Deborahon 17 Mar 2008 at 6:30 am

    I am so sorry for your loss! I know how hard it is to lose a pet that you love and adore. Just like losing a child. Britty is definitely in a better place prancing around looking down on her family. Have peace in knowing you did the right thing. Big hugs!

  9. Katie Jon 17 Mar 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I’m so sorry Marsha. Tears roll as I think about sweet Britty and how much she’ll be missed. I’m thinking about you.

  10. Sonyaon 17 Mar 2008 at 4:38 pm

    That is one of the hardest decisions to make. I am glad that Britty had you. Wishing you all the joy and happiness that memories will bring.

  11. Kiranon 17 Mar 2008 at 9:57 pm

    So sorry about your old friend. That was a tough choice, but no question the right one. Sorry that Sylvia is experiencing a loss like this at such a young age too.

  12. Frankon 17 Mar 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I’m very sorry to hear about Britty. We had to make a decision like this ourselves last year and I know how rough it is.

  13. Valeryeon 17 Mar 2008 at 11:47 pm

    I can’t help noticing all the loving messages sent to you. Testament of your Karma. You’re so kind to all of us… it all comes back to you when you need it the most. I hope you are all coping well, especially Sylvia. x

  14. Barbon 18 Mar 2008 at 2:18 pm

    I found your blog by following a comment you’d made on Boodely’s knitting. And the first piece I read was this loving story of your beloved cat. It was beautifully written and clearly expressed your love and sorrow. Peace be with you.

  15. Angie and Aaronon 18 Mar 2008 at 11:50 pm

    You guys I am so sorry. I am sitting here in tears over this. I will always remember Itty Bitty Britty Kitty. She was so sweet and did love her food. I still remember when she ate most of a bag of cat food after breaking into your pantry in your old place. She was totally stuffed and still trying to shove one more piece in her mouth. She was a great cat and I know she will be very much missed. Our love and sympathy to you all.

  16. Pixieon 22 Mar 2008 at 7:57 pm

    My deepest condolences. Though this is the hardest decision for a pet owner to make, I believe in my heart it is the final way to tell our pets just how much we do love them and care.