Remembering Peaches: One Year Later

cat with grass in planter

Peaches enjoys her snack in the sun © B.E. Kazmarski

One year ago today Peaches transitioned to the next stage of her existence. I don’t really need an anniversary to remember Peaches —I think about her all the time and remember all the sweet things I associate with her: those lovely dilute calico spots like a map of big continents, her petite size, her absolute self-possession and confidence, her bathing on my lap, how she loved me completely with every look and every move. There is something wonderful in the act of choosing an animal to share your life, there is something else when you suddenly discover that an animal in need who you’ve taken in has simply stolen your heart.

I wrote this article a week after Peaches passed as a summation of her battle with chronic renal failure, and those last days through her euthanasia. This might mean a “tissue alert” for those who don’t feel strong enough to read an article where a pet dies, completely understandable if the time is not right for you.

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Today is one week that I said goodbye to Peaches, at about 11:50 a.m., so I am posting this final article in the series chronicling her battle with renal failure and about caring for a chronically ill pet. This article is rather long because it was intended to be three separate articles spread out over time, but we never really know how much time we have. Peaches’ final time was very quick and I know this was partly her decision; I didn’t want to let her go until she was ready, but I also didn’t want to watch her suffer for any length of time.

After Peaches’ last temporary decline she didn’t recover as quickly as she had in the past; usually I could get her to where she felt better in a day, and back to eating regular cat food in two. The most recent recovery took nearly a week, and though she came all the way back in diet and activity she was weaker than before and I knew there wouldn’t be many more little recoveries. We had had a good year, but I seriously had to start preparing myself for what I knew would come.

Peaches let me know on a Saturday she’d arrived at the final stage and her passing was imminent and I had begun this article about that experience, about “knowing when” and giving support at the very end of an animal’s life while not giving in to your own fears. But things move quickly for a kitty the size and age of Peaches, and I truly believe they can direct a certain amount of the process of what happens with their body. Peaches had everything organized, so I had only to be there and follow along, however unwillingly. I had no time for an article, only for Peaches. This article includes that revelation, her transition and the aftermath but it is not full of sadness; Peaches would have none of sadness.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she’s always been with me. We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life as part of my household.

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Knowing When, and Saying Goodbye

cat with grass in planter

Peaches enjoys her snack in the sun © B.E. Kazmarski

Today is one week that I said goodbye to Peaches, at about 11:50 a.m., so I am posting this final article in the series chronicling her battle with renal failure and about caring for a chronically ill pet. This article is rather long because it was intended to be three separate articles spread out over time, but we never really know how much time we have. Peaches’ final time was very quick and I know this was partly her decision; I didn’t want to let her go until she was ready, but I also didn’t want to watch her suffer for any length of time.

After Peaches’ last temporary decline she didn’t recover as quickly as she had in the past; usually I could get her to where she felt better in a day, and back to eating regular cat food in two. The most recent recovery took nearly a week, and though she came all the way back in diet and activity she was weaker than before and I knew there wouldn’t be many more little recoveries. We had had a good year, but I seriously had to start preparing myself for what I knew would come.

Peaches let me know on a Saturday she’d arrived at the final stage and her passing was imminent and I had begun this article about that experience, about “knowing when” and giving support at the very end of an animal’s life while not giving in to your own fears. But things move quickly for a kitty the size and age of Peaches, and I truly believe they can direct a certain amount of the process of what happens with their body. Peaches had everything organized, so I had only to be there and follow along, however unwillingly. I had no time for an article, only for Peaches. This article includes that revelation, her transition and the aftermath but it is not full of sadness; Peaches would have none of sadness.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe Peaches was only with me for five years, and came to me at age 15—it seems as if she’s always been with me. We packed a lifetime into those years, beginning on that day as a senior foster when she decided to start a new life as part of my household.

Being prepared

calico cat on stool

Peaches Wants Attention, Now

One of the most frightening things in life is facing the unknown, and in losing your animal companion you take a big scary step into a lot of unknown territory even if you’ve been through the experience already. You may know your animal companion has a chronic illness and their death is eventual if not imminent, and you will literally have life and death decisions to make about a being very dear to you, but you have no idea where or when or how their loss will occur or what you will have to do. Your companion knows, though, and you only need to use your own human intuition and trust your bond of love.

My self-employed schedule is overbooked and erratic, and while I can often rearrange things and most of my customers understand, there are also plenty of times when I’ll be gone for most of a day and I’m really not sure what I’ll find when I get back. This year has been particularly hectic and the last thing I’d want to do is to fail Peaches at this critical time. Where would I be? Would I be ready?

Understanding the disease and symptoms

I had nursed my Stanley through nearly four years of chronic kidney failure when he was in his twenties and Peaches’ sister Cream just ten months after they joined us, and I had also nursed Moses through old-age decline including kidney failure, so I had an understanding of what was happening to Peaches and an idea what to look for as we neared what would likely be the final failure of her kidneys and her distress once that happened.

photo of calico cat on wooden floor

Precious Peaches

Kidneys in any mammal, including humans, have a tough job of filtering waste from the body’s fluids and producing and excreting what becomes urine. They also balance electrolytes, produce erythropoietin which helps stimulate bone marrow to build red blood cells, and renin, an enzyme that helps control blood pressure. The organs can actually perform all this with only 30% of their capacity, but once they are in chronic failure it’s easy to see what can happen to the body if the condition is not somehow treated on a regular basis; likewise when they have failed you can see how that failure will affect the body with toxins building up in the blood and circulating through the entire body, blood pressure increasing without its natural regulator and the heart and other muscles losing function with the imbalance of electrolytes. It’s paralyzing and painful, and not something you want your animal companion to endure for any length of time.

An early visitation

And as I saw Peaches moving into the end stages, needing fluids more frequently but not tolerating big doses, greater nausea, weakness, the odd temporary seizure-like activity and seeming neuropathy in her hind legs, I also had less tangible warnings.

Peaches' Nap Spot, pencil and watercolor

Some time in September, for three or four mornings in a row, I sensed a kitty walking behind me as I sat on the floor and doled out breakfast. With nine hungry cats all milling around it’s hard to follow where everyone is. I thought it might be Cookie since for her own personal reasons she would often walk around behind me to eat next to the stove. I turned around to see who it was, but Cookie was accounted for, as was everyone else, and there was no kitty there.

I stood leaning against the stove contemplating the visitor while Peaches continued happily with her breakfast. I wondered which of my kitties who’d transitioned might be visiting as that happened now and then, but I felt I’d recognize any of them and I did not recognize this visitor. I knew then that it had to do with Peaches and that her time would be soon, I can’t explain why or say that this has ever clearly happened this far in advance with my other cats, though it has happened on the day they transitioned. I just knew that the kitty was coming to welcome Peaches to the other side, and perhaps to reassure me. I wondered if it might have been her sister, Cream, but the visitor didn’t give me the sense of her; Peaches had 15 years before she came to me and it could have been any kitty from all those years. I remembered that I was visualizing a rather small kitty, perhaps dark in color, putting its tail in the air as it walked behind me and I realized the visitor seemed a lot like Peaches herself and thought it might have been her mother.

The unexpected sign

photo of calico cat

Peaches Wakes Me Up

Peaches had been eating well, was very active and alert and even that embarrassing issue, bowel movements, hadn’t been too much of a problem for the first time in a long time. First thing Saturday morning she was milling around in the bathroom upstairs with everyone else, drinking at all the water bowls and looking at me, blinking, to inquire about breakfast. We all went downstairs together and it still amazed me as it had from the beginning that she ran with the big cats, literally, and tiny as she was and playful as they were she’d never been even accidentally hurt. She had a great breakfast, jumping up onto the food tin then to the table and to her position on the cabinet to pace around making her little “hmmpf” noises that were as close as she ever came to a meow, leaning off the edge with her ears and whiskers at full alert and her big round pea green eyes focused on the can of food, even swatting at it and nearly falling—“Give me that now!” She always ate one good serving then several smaller servings through the rest of the day until dinner (every 42 minutes), coming to find me and lead me into the kitchen if I wasn’t aware her food alarm had sounded.

In the early afternoon she trotted up to the bathroom and curled up in the cat bed, though on a Saturday she’d normally be in the kitchen or she’d follow me around as long as she had patience for it.

Because she was always near me or would come to find me I could easily and frequently check her condition through the day, but by late afternoon I realized she was still sleeping in the bathroom and hadn’t come to ask for food. This meant something was the matter, whether she was experiencing nausea and reflux again or she was constipated again, if she’d vomited and her throat hurt, all symptoms that were part of her advanced kidney failure. This was what had happened two weeks before, and if these conditions weren’t somewhat resolved within hours she would begin to lose ground rapidly, quickly dehydrating, developing greater nausea, physically weakening and losing a little more normal kidney function.

She was very dehydrated and her breath smelled strong, that particular uremic odor that is associated with renal failure in animals as well as humans. I gave her 75cc of fluids—she’d been having some difficulty absorbing 100cc of fluids, and I could give her more later—one quarter of a Pepcid, took her temperature (normal) and invited her downstairs to eat. I preferred to see how they moved when I was trying to assess their condition so I wanted her to walk, to watch her movements and see if she followed her usual routine.

She sat on the landing, a little crouched, and her fur had that peculiar sticky look of an animal who is ill, her eyes not fully open and a little glazed and unfocused. Yes, she was feeling pretty bad, but I’d seen this before and it would just take some gentle nurturing and nutrition to bring her around to feeling well again.

Eventually following me down the stairs and across the living room though not at her usual brisk trot, she hesitated as she passed through each room and again when she reached her little stepping sequence of food tin-table-counter, but eventually made it up and stood and looked at me. This was actually a good sign; even if she didn’t eat, or didn’t eat much, she was showing up which meant she was willing to work on it.

photo of cat on table

Your 42 minutes is up.

I started with the food I’d opened that morning which she’d eaten with gusto a few hours before, but she just sniffed it and looked at me. Okay, maybe it wasn’t fresh enough, next food. I have never been successful with any renal diet so I prefer to feed my usual brand of food, but in Peaches’ condition she often needed something a little more enticing so I had little cans of salmon pate on hand in various brands because that was her favorite. As my veterinarian had always said, eating something, even of questionable quality, was better than not eating at all. Beyond these little cans of food I also had several jars of turkey or chicken and broth baby food, and I also had just enough raw venison, salmon and free-range turkey in the freezer to shave off and thaw in my fingers for small meals. And as supplements to these I had NutriCal, a high-calorie paste nutrition supplement in a tube, and CatSure, a milk-based caloric supplement.

She had absolutely no interest in the salmon pate, licked a little NutriCal off the tube, turned her back on the CatSure, which really shocked me because she would lap that up no matter how she felt. This was very unusual since she would usually eat just a little of each thing before she turned away, if only to get me to stop pestering her. I was considering what was in the freezer but gave her another try at the food, adding warm water and waving it under her nose.

She turned her head completely away then looked back up at me. “I’m not going to eat any more,” she said, holding my gaze. These were not words, but I understood it as clearly as if she had said it in that particular way my Kublai had taught me years ago.

And just as clearly as that, I knew we weren’t going to turn this one around. She was aware of her body’s own function and knew that to fight it would be pointless. Time was now finite.

I reached out to pet her, to let her know I understood and agreed and would do all I could to keep her comfortable; this I could do before the reality penetrated my shock. Starting at the top of her head and running my hand down her spine had become like petting a picket fence, her hip bones protruded, she couldn’t keep her fur clean any more, even standing she was practically sitting because of the weakness in her hind legs. Up to now she was willing to let my palliative care soothe and heal her body as far as it could be, but she had no interest in suffering or forcing her body to do something it no longer could. In all practicality she would simply wait for the end.

And in that moment I was filled with wonder at the courage of a little cat who could so bravely face this decision and share it with me.

And though I’d been practicing for the past month or so, I began seriously imagining my home, my daily routine, without Peaches. She would be the strong one, but I would be damned if I’d break down and cry every time I looked at her—that would distance me from her and I might not hear some important communication from her. These were our last days, and they would be as good as they could be, I would love her all the more while she was still here. As I had also done during the past few months, I thanked all those who had gone before Peaches who taught me the importance of this.

And though Peaches didn’t like to be picked up and hugged and kissed, I gently picked her up and held her close, burying my face into the top of her head and kissing her little cheek. She was so tiny she was lost in my embrace. She understood and let me persist for a few seconds, then struggled to get her own footing again. We shared a long look.

End of life palliative care

That didn’t mean I’d just let her starve and sink deeper into the pain of her illness. The effects of end-stage renal failure are painful as the toxins slowly build up in the body, so for as long as she would want to get up and go about her day, however minimal, I’d keep her comfortable. That meant managing her nausea with Pepcid and slippery elm bark tea, continued doses of fluids, and even small doses of prednisone to help her manage her pain and move around more easily.

four black cats and calico

The Big Four With Peaches

Through Saturday night and Sunday I regularly offered her the cat food, baby food, raw meat and supplements, but she only licked a little NutriCal and seemed to enjoy it. She hadn’t been able to sleep with me because she was uncomfortable on my bed, and I’d been putting her and Kelly in the bathroom overnight with canned food so they could eat at will and Kelly could keep her company. That weekend I sat with her for a while in the bathroom each night and even put out a little food, though I’m sure Kelly ate it, but I got up early and brought her into my bed for a nap together in the morning, a compromise, but sleeping on me or next to me had always been one of her pleasures.

On Monday I called my veterinarian to report this recent change and ask what her schedule was at the end of the week to schedule an appointment for euthanasia, assuming I’d have that much time. I’d need another bag of fluids to get me through the week, which I’d pick up the next day, and I’d keep in touch with her through the week.

An amazing coincidence of supportive events

It isn’t Peaches’ fault I’ve been keeping late hours and early mornings lately, just an overload of work for which I’m grateful; it’s been a slow year. I was up late Sunday night preparing for the Monday morning deluge of calls and faxes at my desk, and Peaches was on my lap for as long as she was comfortable. I slept briefly, then went through my Monday while keeping an eye on her condition.

I had a display of 14 photos to frame to be hung on Tuesday in time for a Wednesday business mixer at my local public library. I had the frames and went to Costco to get the photos in the afternoon.

I also had an appointment with a new portrait customer who had contacted me through Deb Chebatoris at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation where a few of my portraits hang. The man had lost his two Himalayan half-sisters and finally decided he’d get their portrait done. From what he was describing the portrait would be beautiful, and I looked forward to meeting him and his wife and talking to them about their cats and their portrait and Deb. Indeed the meeting was wonderful, hearing about the two beautiful girls and how they’d been so loved, telling them that I was one of Deb’s families as well, and that my little Peaches, right there on my desk, would soon join the others. Their sympathy and understanding were very comforting.

calico cat

Peaches Inspects the Framing

Then I set up the work table and boxes of frames to let everyone explore them before I began working, sat down with Peaches to finish off a few design assignments before I began framing, which I knew would take me into the wee hours. I could have been doing many other things not so enjoyable that particular night, but arranging my photos, making final decisions on which was in and which was out, and seeing them in their frames as the night went on and visualizing the display was probably the most calming activity for a long night of work and vigilance.

And Peaches was there on my desk chair, watching me and receiving her pets when I took breaks, even jumping from the chair to the table while I was finishing things up to investigate all my tools and rub her little face on the corners of frames. It seemed to me that she wasn’t sleeping either though all the others had long since found comfortable places in the room, but was staying up all night with me. This would actually be our last night together, and I will always treasure the memory of her attention to me, her gentle curiosity, and being a part of whatever I did.

More design work the next day, then I fed them dinner before I packed off to hang the photos. Peaches still went into the kitchen for dinner, up on the tin, the table, the counter, even though she didn’t eat. Before I left I put her and Kelly into the bathroom, knowing I’d be gone for hours and she was just weak enough that I didn’t want to risk a fall.

The beginning of the end

calico cat in bed

Peaches in Her Bed

When I returned home around 11:00 that night I could see the change had come. Peaches was curled in the bed, but barely lifted her head when I came in. She made brief eye contact, but put her head back down, breathing easily but with no intention to get up. The final process had started and I had only to be with her, watch and wait for signs.

I left the bathroom door open and sat on the floor next to the bed, petting her in the dim light I kept in there at night. The others wandered in and out and sniffed her and with the exhaustion from several late nights I dozed off and on, leaning against the wall, my hand on her shoulder. At one point she woke up, got up on very wobbly legs, peed on the rug in her favorite spot, visited the water bowl then wandered out the door. With me close behind she visited the water bowl on the landing, looked down the steps, wandered around my room, then stood looking into the spare bedroom, my studio, where she’d started out here, then went back into the bathroom, curled up in the bed again and laid there, not sleeping, just breathing and blinking her eyes, and never left the bed again. I would guess she was saying goodbye to her house.

Had it been daytime I would have called my vet right then, and I considered her condition and a drive to the emergency clinic, but decided that unless she showed some extreme symptoms she was better off here, and I would stay with her. Having been with the others at this point, she could go for hours or even days like this. Cookie curled on my lap and purred, touching my face to comfort me. At one point I went to lie on my bed and came back to find her the same.

My veterinarian’s hours for phone calls begin at 9:00 a.m. and I was waiting for that hour when I noticed that Peaches’ breathing had become more rapid and shallow, and her tail, which had been curled in the bed was now leaning out of the bed, stiffly twisted with the tip twitching.

I had learned from my veterinarian that these sorts of things were sometimes the only signs of pain we might see, this and the rapid, shallow breathing meant she had reached a painful state. I paged my veterinarian, who, though her van was in the shop, agreed to stop by around 11:00 or so that morning as she’d still be doing her calls.

three black cats

The Guardians

Then I called Deb, and while I always kid when I call her—“Don’t need your services today, just calling about the website” or some such—“Deb, it’s Peaches’ time,” was all I could manage. I gave her the appointment time and couldn’t say any more. “So it’s finally the day,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m glad I could be here for you.” I had started to cry at having to say it out loud, and I just whispered I’d see her later.

I couldn’t imagine how this would be without her and my veterinarian both standing as my main supports.

So now it was a matter of hours, though as Peaches’ condition progressed I could feel her slipping away. I continued sitting with her, little by little preparing myself for the day; I noticed that she already felt cold, a certain sign her kidneys had completely failed as her body temperature dropped.

I left briefly to e-mail Judi that I couldn’t be at the shop for my Wednesday hours. I called a friend and asked if he could finish the final details I’d left for hanging the last two photos as I’d run out of wire. I let my friend Maggie at the Library know someone else would be finishing things up but I’d still be there that night, and what was happening. I posted a quick post on my blog and Facebook, all the while crying, hoping I’d get it out of my system so I wouldn’t cry in the room with Peaches.

door with patterns

Patterns of Light and Shadow

Then I sat with her for the last time and all the other cats except Mimi came in and checked on us, the three boys standing guard outside the door, a little confused and concerned. I watched the shadows of leaves on the wooden door right in front of me, light and shadow and shape ever changing. Watching it greatly comforted me, and it seemed to describe what was happening with Peaches just then.

My veterinarian arrived and came upstairs. We shuffled around in the tiny little bathroom, and Peaches opened her eyes one last time and looked in my direction as she administered the first injection. When it had taken effect we moved Peaches to my bed where Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine supervised the second injection, and she was gone in just moments. We sat with her for a short while, then Mewsette kept watch as I walked them out the door.

two cats

Cookie Sees Peaches Off

I returned and sat with Peaches, joined by Cookie who curled up next to her. All the others, again except Mimi, came to see her. Soon enough it would be time to drive to CCPC, and after all the late nights and vigilance and emotion and crying I was suddenly famished and had a comforting bowl of oatmeal for strength.

Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation

I visit Deb’s place so often as we work on projects together, but when I am there as a customer it’s quite different. Deb is her quiet comforting self, willing to sit for a while as I stroke my beloved companion for the last times and tell her stories. But even though I’ve now lost 13 cats and visited Deb six times before Peaches, and I knew Peaches wasn’t in her body anymore and I’d done my best to prepare myself, I still know that when I hand Peaches to Deb it’s the last time I’ll see Peaches, and this truly feels like the final moment. After this, I’ll only have my paintings, sketches, photos and memories, and while they are many, giving up that physical connection for me is the hardest part of letting go. I’m so glad I trust Deb as I do. I left Deb joking that she had now received seven of the thirteen pets I’d lost and she was “winning”.

Time on my hands

cat reflected in table

Peaches Reflecting

One of the aftereffects I will always remember from my first losses is that void which had been previously filled with physical and emotional caretaking. It’s only then we realize how much time we were spending doing something for our pet, thinking about them and just being with them, and suddenly the object of all that good intention is gone to be filled with our thoughts and memories, and often that’s when the true sadness starts unless we find some way to deal with that void and turn our thoughts to good memories and positive things. I left everything around the house as it was for a few days, but I wasn’t here much, finding reasons to be out more than usual, and adjusting to the change in my household a little at a time. I was also pretty stiff after sitting on a cold tile floor leaning against the wall for many nights and needed some physical activity to loosen up.

Mealtimes are always worst after a loss, but with Peaches’ constant joy at the event all the years she was with me they were suddenly very quiet so I decided to thaw and feed the meats in the freezer and get some special canned food to fill the silence.

Not feeling guilty about care and cleanup ending

At the end of your companion’s life, along with whatever palliative care you are offering and time you are generally spending with your companion, you’ll often find yourself cleaning up a lot of little messes that are a result of their physical condition. It’s easy to feel frustrated with the amount of time you’re spending, the things that aren’t getting done, the things being ruined, extra money you may be spending on special food that’s wasted, and a long list of other things that may even make you resentful, which in turn makes you feel guilty. This intense caretaking isn’t meant to last forever, it’s physically and emotionally exhausting and while you win small battles you know the end is that your pet will die.

Peaches never practiced proper litterbox etiquette; I always got the feeling her sister dominated Peaches and the food bowl and litterbox, so Peaches responded by not eating much and not using the box. Though she certainly learned to love her meals, she never got with the litterbox habit, using the basement floor for solids and any floor for liquids no matter how I tried to reconfigure the litterbox to meet her specifications. I always had little surprises and was always washing rugs, keeping anything important off the floor. When she went into kidney failure everything went out the window and I was constantly cleaning up, period. I actually said to Peaches, “I won’t miss this when you’re not here any more,” which didn’t make any apparent difference to her but certainly made me feel better, especially as I stepped into another little puddle, or worse…

I finally washed the rug that had been in the bathroom and replaced it with the “good” rug I’d packed away for most of this year. I also put a rug in front of the kitchen sink again, a new one I wasn’t going to use until the coast was clear.

Since then

calico on bed

Peaches Napping

As another part of the set of nurturing circumstances around Peaches’ transition, I was actually looking forward to the business mixer that night because I’d see so many friends, all of whom knew me and my cats and Peaches, and all of whom would be compassionate and understanding. Normally, I’d be at my desk or in my studio, alone but for my other kitties, but sometimes we need the company of members of our own species, and this was one of them. I also had the excitement of my photo exhibit to help fill some of the void. While it may have seemed like an inconvenient time with all that was going on, I thanked Peaches for choosing to leave at a time when I’d have all these comforting circumstances to help ease the first hours my grief.

The next day back in the office, I stood up from my desk in the middle of the afternoon, took two steps and stopped, trying to remember why I’d gotten up, then I remembered that for the past several months I’d now be following Peaches’ lead into the kitchen after she’d walked all over my desk and stared deep into my eyes to tell me it was time to have another little snack, or if she hadn’t alerted me to my oversight I’d go look for her, curled in the cozy bed in the bathroom. I took a moment to picture her walking ahead of me certain I was following, around the cabinet, up on the food tin, on the table, on the cabinet, her own routine which she followed every day until her last, then waiting at the corner of the cabinet for me to serve the next meal. I walked to the kitchen doorway and looked at the spot on the corner of the cabinet where she’d be looking right at me, usually flanked by Kelly and Cookie waving their tails, her tri-color partners in crime, but the cabinet was empty and the kitchen was quiet and still. I savored that moment too, remembering how close we’d become and how we’d worked together for her health and comfort, how completely she trusted me, and how lucky I was to have received her unquestioning love and trust. I wanted so badly just to touch her, but I could feel her there in that moment and I accepted just that.

calico and black kittens

Peaches teaches the kittens what it's like to be ignored.

Peaches dominated my lap and my desk for even longer than she’d been in kidney failure, and except for Cookie it took a day or two to realize the space was open. Everyone has been reshuffling since then, parading across my lap and filling up my desk, and everyone has started seriously playing and galloping around the house.

Because Dickie also went with his mom just a few weeks ago it’s difficult to remember sometimes how many cats I have. I am down to seven, I never got accustomed to saying “eight”, and I’ve actually caught myself saying “nine” still.

And the color composition of my household has changed too. With her pastel peach and gray and white fur, Peaches was truly the light of the clowder; now I have five black cats and two torties, and it’s a little dark in here. Where we had been the “Tri-color Trio” with Cookie, Kelly and Peaches, we’re also back to just my tortie girls, the “Two Torties”, as we were for years before Peaches came along.

Memories appear everywhere

calico cat with plant

Peaches Prepares for a Nap

I browse my photos every day to use for my designs and fill photo requests, and I encounter photos of Peaches all the time as I browse. It’s good to see her around the house, looking amazingly young for her years or doing something I’d forgotten she did.

I was in the grocery store this past weekend. I’m not the biggest grocery store shopper and remembered that the last time I’d been there was the weekend previous to stock up on baby food and Peaches’ favorite treat foods, she’d still been alive and not yet let me know it was time. I didn’t need to go there but I walked to the pet food aisle and looked at each of the foods that had been her favorites, remembering her and echoes of others for whom I’d made the special shopping trips.

I can replace my rugs and tile and other items around the house and gladly, because I can never replace the relationships that changed my life. What they gave me is worth more than anything I own, especially their daily inspirations. I will be painting Peaches for a long time to come.


Farther Along the Path

 

Path-PeachesCloseup

I feel like crap. Can't you do something about it?

 

This past weekend I thought I might be saying farewell to Peaches very soon. She wasn’t eating, was occasionally vomiting and was one moment constipated and another with uncontrollable runny diarrhea, her sub-q fluids pooled up in her right front leg and paw for nearly 18 hours and I could hear gurgling in her abdomen that made me think I heard the toilet running.

But instead of reading the “I am preparing for my transition” which I expected, her expression read, “I feel like crap. Can’t you do something about it?”

Peaches may be 20, weighing in at 4.8 lbs. at her last exam, a little wobbly, pretty deaf with bad eyesight and sometimes confused, but she is one feisty, resilient kitty. Determining her state of mind at this point is a little different from others I’ve known, having only known her for the past five years. Most of the cats I’ve had previous to this I’ve taken in as adults, but I’ve still had more years of a relationship and can draw on that to help me read where they are now.

 

catphoto-peaches

Peaches, Feline Photographer

 

Peaches chose to have a new life

Peaches has a very direct personality, though, and once she decided—yes, she decided—to become a member of this household (“This will do,” she said to herself) I got the feeling she had also decided to make a change in her self. The woman who had given her to me told me that Peaches had always been shy and fearful, was rarely seen by guests and her sister seemed to dominate her. The Peaches who emerged from the spare kitty room, however, was social with all the other kitties, friendly with guests, and devoted to me, curiously exploring her surroundings and enjoying every moment of every day. Once the Fantastic Four came along with their energy and lust for life, she ignored their childish taunts and found a use for them in keeping her warm and comfortable as they cuddled around her. This was not a tiny, fearful senior kitty.

So I don’t think Peaches feels she’s ready for any transition but wants to enjoy this incarnation a little longer. My job is to help her stay as healthy and comfortable as possible until she’s ready to move on. I trust her to let me know.

Caring for the geriatric chronic kidney failure kitty

To say I’ve been preoccupied with Peaches lately is to make a great understatement. A cat who is dealing with chronic kidney failure can’t really maintain her own internal balance and to a smaller or greater extent needs assistance from her person. In order to keep kidney function as stable as possible, that balance includes not only hydration but also diet, activity level and, well, I’ll say “output” because “elimination” sounds a little too grim. One element too far away from center can throw the whole body off, and if it persists for too long balance sometimes can’t be restored.

I work with my veterinarian in all my observations and decisions regarding Peaches, and the poor woman will often get several calls in a day or several days in a row as I’m working with a condition, but she always patiently returns my call and helps me to the next step when I need guidance beyond what she’s already taught me. She usually uses observation and physical exam for diagnosis and avoids testing where the condition is obvious. Where Peaches is concerned, we don’t test for kidney values since I can’t imagine taking blood from little Peaches as often as we’d need to, and her skin is so thin now that I have difficulty properly inserting the needle to administer fluids let alone my veterinarian extracting blood from her tiny veins. These levels can fluctuate even through the course of a day and observation of her physical and social activity is usually an adequate indicator of her current condition because I adjust her treatment as I see a change.

 

peaches and giuseppe

Giuseppe comforts Peaches.

 

Assessing with both physical and social cues

Every day begins and ends with an assessment of Peaches’ condition and in between are constant checks of how she’s doing, what she’s doing, if she’s hungry, if she’s not, if she’s produced anything or not, whether she is active or not, all determined by the actual activity and social cues—if she looks comfortable, if she’s curled normally or sleeping in her normal spot, if she went back upstairs for her morning nap in the bathroom, if she joins me at my desk and so on. Cats are masters at hiding things and simply dealing with sometimes horrible discomfort, so the social cues are just as important as the obvious physical ones and are sometimes an early clue to a later change in her condition.

As I had written earlier, she was greatly weakened by our infestation of fleas, resulting in greater anemia. We resolved the fleas, but rebuilding her strength with diet and fluids took a while. Peaches has always been troubled by constipation and any vitamin supplement exacerbates this so the process of rebuilding her strength and a putting a little more meat on her bones was an especially slow process.

The most Peaches ever weighed while with me was six pounds so reducing by 1.4 lbs. was significant. When I carry her I tell her she just feels like a handful of dryer lint especially considering her dilute calico fur, but her fragility is almost frightening, her bones feel rubbery and birdlike and there’s not enough of her to fill both of my hands.

A few weeks ago she began an odd seizure-like activity in which it seemed her right hind leg had just given way unexpectedly and she stumbled sideways and fell several times. A physical exam didn’t find anything, and the stress of putting little Peaches though diagnostic tests would likely not have found anything, or found any condition we could do anything about. I continued to observe her, but it simply stopped after about a week. It was likely neurological and related to her weakened condition and I’ll still be looking for it as her condition continues.

Not the end, just a really upset stomach

This past weekend, the nausea associated with kidney failure had finally gotten the best of her, though it took me a while to determine this. The reflux was likely burning her throat and causing a stomach upset that made eating out of the question, resulting in all the gurgling noises I heard, and her continued lack of eating made the condition worse as her stomach became completely empty and the constipation turned to a frequent diarrhea, dangerously dehydrating her. She was rapidly losing any nutritional and functional balance and, uncontrolled, this could easily weaken her enough that balance couldn’t be restored, and I could easily lose her to this downward spiral. While it might have been a virus of some sort, treating the symptoms she responded readily pretty much ruling out a virus.

I always have on hand a mixture of allopathic and naturopathic, pre-packaged and homemade treatments. The first thing to tackle was the reflux, so out came the Pepcid, one-quarter pill dissolved in water and put in her mouth with a syringe to neutralize the existing stomach acid (I always picture putting out a fire). A little later this was followed by a strong lukewarm tea made from slippery elm bark to coat the mucous membranes of her mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach which were probably raw from the reflux. In the meantime 50ml of sub-q fluids; though 100ml is usually the minimum therapeutic dose, this is all she can absorb at one time at this point, and I could give her another dose a little later once she’d absorbed these. I want her to be well right away, but I have to relax and space these treatments so I don’t upset her either with my handling or my own fears.

 

calico cat looking up

Can I come out now? I feel better.

 

Though stewed pumpkin helps elimination problems of both constipation and diarrhea, Peaches can’t eat enough pumpkin to make a difference, so I was hoping that treating the major symptom would help to resolve the others. Still, a little of this and a little of that. I keep CatSure on hand though it’s heavily milk-based because Peaches will usually lap up a little bit. The extra fluid doesn’t hurt, nor do the extra carbs to give her energy and perhaps a little weight as she metabolizes it, but the recommended amount is way too much. I also have Nutri-Cal which she enjoys and which has the side effect of also helping to settle her stomach and coat those raw mucous membranes, though I sometimes need to take it up in a syringe to get a bit in her mouth.

Neither of those is a substitute for real food, though, so next is a fresh jar of baby food, chicken or turkey with broth.  Her interest in this shows me her progress, and once she’s eating her baby food with some enthusiasm I offer little chips of raw salmon or venison which I’ve thawed in my fingers. If she gets to this point I know we’re on the way to recovery. I have to be careful with the amount of raw meat, though, because it’s difficult for her to digest, but as long as she can digest it, it’s like a direct injection of real and fresh nutrients. I also have canned cat food on hand in addition to this. Since she seems to love salmon they are usually salmon-based varieties, and while I try to keep with grain-free organic brands of food, usually Wellness, I’ll admit I’ll feed her whatever it is she wants to eat if that’s what she wants at the moment—eating something is better than not eating at all if that’s the choice to be made, and my goal is to get her back on the best diet she can possibly eat and digest.

Imagine the reaction of the rest of my household as I pull out all the appetizers and entrees for Peaches! Oh they’d love some CatSure, they certainly wouldn’t let any go to waste like Peaches does! And the NutriCal, just a taste—please! Baby food, oh the smell is heavenly! I do usually hand out raw salmon and venison; I actually try to feed it to them as often as possible though it’s difficult for eight cats.

I’m extremely careful with the canned food though, especially the non-Wellness varieties. I’ve had several male cats through the years who suffered from persistent urinary tract issues, and aside from a raw diet, Wellness was the only food that kept them consistently clear. Jelly Bean is very sensitive and a very clever food thief and had apparently been stealing more of Peaches’ food than I knew, especially the non-Wellness varieties, because he paid for it in some extreme urinary distress, also this weekend! That’s another story, but all of it together kept me pretty busy checking litterboxes and conditions.

It takes time, lots of it

And all of this means time spent observing often to the exclusion of other things, late nights and early mornings, leaving my desk repeatedly during the day, following Peaches around while I’m on the phone with someone, postponing appointments and scheduling around how she feels. Some days not much gets done, but Peaches is taken care of.

 

calico cat

Peaches checks on me.

 

Peaches, though, is quite well right now. I’m working upstairs this afternoon and she just came trotting up the stairs, output some positive stuff in the bathroom and came to check on whether or not I intended to feed her any time soon or if she was expected to starve.

As the end inevitably draws closer, love, don’t fear

I have always found it ironic that, as one of my kitty’s lives apparently draws to a close, we grow ever closer, communicate more clearly, share deeper expressions even as we are certain we’ll soon part. While I think of all my other cats through the day, I am constantly aware of Peaches and her condition, and I think she is of me. At this point, as Peaches and I walk a little farther along the path together, we grow close in a way that wasn’t possible earlier because we know what is ahead. The trick of it is to use that knowledge for good and not ill, for our mutual wellness and not to give into sadness and the fear of loss but to celebrate each other for as long as we can.

Peaches may last quite a while longer, but this last waltz, the quick changes in health, the need for greater care, constantly looking for the sign from Peaches, while they are the sweetest time we’ll ever spend together are indeed the most difficult. And again, I thank those who’ve gone before and taught me what to look for and what to do, and not to fear but to love.

Right now Peaches is sitting on my keyboard shelf demanding food. I’m so glad we have a little more time.

______________________________________

You can read more about Peaches’ condition in these articles:

Get Well Wishes for Peaches

Peaches Says, “Thanks for all the good wishes, they worked!”

How Peaches Stole My Heart

A Day in the Life Of a Senior Kitty and Her Mom

It’s Peaches’ 100th Birthday!

Bastet and Freya, Do Us a Favor


Bastet and Freya, Do Us a Favor

peaches with facebook messages

"Thanks everyone!"

Peaches says thanks for all the good wishes this afternoon! She’s looking pretty relaxed after she spent some time reading them.

Her mom decided to take action and write a letter about Peaches, but deciding which omnipotent being would receive it was a quandary. Appealing directly to one who either was a cat or who likely lived with cats would probably be more successful than appealing to one of the other beings who had more general interests.

So we’ll see what happens.

Dear Bastet and Freya,

As the main cat goddesses, I’m appealing to you on behalf of Peaches. I’d like to know if we could have a little more time together. I have many reasons for wishing this—the anniversaries of several losses happen around this time, things are changing in my business, other things are happening, and I’m just not ready yet—but most of all, Peaches and I just haven’t had enough time together. I know she’s 20, but she’s only been with me for five of those years, and Peaches and I don’t feel we’ve done all we can together yet.

Peaches has seen me though quite a bit in the five years she’s been with me, including the losses of six other feline family members, and that including her sister. She’s also been instrumental in contributing to my work as a painter, a photographer, a writer and a merchant. I’m just beginning some new ventures, and since Peaches is responsible in no small part for getting me to this point, I want Peaches with me on the rest of this journey, still inspiring me every day with her sweet, gentle demeanor and petite beauty.

Please see if you can do something about this. Peaches and I have an agenda, and I think you’ll be pleased with what we do with the extra time you’ll give us.

Bernadette and Peaches

If only it was that easy. We never know when the time will come, and it may not be immediate for Peaches, but I feel it will be soon.

We’re not sure what’s wrong, but she’s just felt tired and had little appetite since last Friday morning. Usually, especially if it’s her renal failure, I can turn her around from this in a day or two with some aggressive fluid therapy, special foods, and a variety of naturopathic and homeopathic treatments. But this has been nearly a week and I’ve needed to resort to some steroid use to make a change.

We’ve always suspected she had something deep in her right ear, a polyp or infection, that affects her balance and breathing and swallowing. She’s often shown irritation in that ear, scratching it and shaking her head, but the stuff that builds up down in her ear canal never tested positive for anything, and short of an MRI no one can see anything. A polyp or infection can flare up and in that tiny sensitive area wreak havoc on balance and swallowing especially, but disappear just as quickly. However, now that she’s a little weaker she just may not be able to compensate, and the condition itself may also be growing more aggressive.

She was on the bed with me this morning, then left and came back, thinking I’d follow her the first time, very normal. She’s been eating but swallowing is a little difficult and sometimes distressing. She’s walking around but with stiffness in her hips and hind legs, and she’s not jumping onto things as she was even yesterday; she’s capable, but I don’t think she can see well and doesn’t want to take the chance. Confusing and distressing to me, she’s kind of wandering, walking from one room to another, considering the basement, circling the table in the kitchen, as if she keeps forgetting what she’s doing.

peaches at the gate

Peaches checks the gate.

Peaches at the fence

Peaches at the fence.

And strangest of all, she wanted to go outside through the basement door. She’s never even acknowledged that there is an outdoors unless I’m in it and she wants me to come inside from it. She walked around the yard but the grass wasn’t comfortable, but she kept heading for the gate, then along the fence, to my side yard, even walking into an overgrown area at the end of my lettuce bed. I turned her around or I’d have had a difficult time getting her, and she walked back to the gate and eventually back to the basement door and we went back in the house. Perhaps she was actually looking for the way back into the house, and perhaps she was looking for something else; my intuition tells me it was the latter. It may be the “outdoor remedy” that has helped to heal and comfort many other of my cats—simply being outside livens their senses and brings back their emotional immune system.

If Peaches is anything, she is definite in her decisions. There is no equivocation that she does or doesn’t like something, or does or doesn’t do something. She lost her person, she came here, and she accepted the new home as her own and me as her person. I don’t even remember a questioning sniff or expression.

peaches behind monitor

Peaches gets up behind my monitor--a good sign!

Her health condition has been the same. She goes day to day then suddenly she’s in kidney failure, or she had no need for fluids and suddenly she’s dehydrated, or she’s been “going” fine then she’s constipated. I’m pretty perceptive, having been trained by the lives and losses of many other cats, but Peaches gives no warning, compensating as cats do until they can’t.

And even without renal failure and other conditions, I can’t avoid the fact of her age and that sometime soon we would have to part. As I’ve learned before, I’m not afraid of losing her, only of not listening, seeing, hearing what I need to in these last days, weeks or months, and of not honoring her needs and doing my part for her in her transition.

peaches and giuseppe

Giuseppe comforts Peaches.

Right now she’s actually sleeping comfortably on my desk and I can be happy with that. Giuseppe, her protector, carefully curled himself behind her.

robin fledgling

Robin fledgling.

And I need to move the injured fledgling robin to a safer place. It was nestled in the grass while Peaches and I were walking and held completely still as we approached, but I could tell it needed assistance. Sometimes an injured animal is part of the process or a sign. I’ll see if I can do this right.