Yesterday I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, as a lot of you pet owners will attest to, I’m sure. My 18-year-old cat, Winter, had been sick for a while, but he was holding his own for a number of months. And then the last two weeks, I could begin to see a change in his symptoms, and I knew it was time to really dig deep to do the right thing for him. So now June 8 will be forever etched in my life as the day that broke my heart.
I found Winter at my mom’s fifteen and a half years ago. We were having a yard sale and I was in town for the weekend. This beautiful gray and white cat showed up out of nowhere, friendly as could be. I picked him up and it was instant love on my part. I fed him over the next two days, made a bed outside on the back patio (mom wouldn’t let him in the house!), and just enjoyed playing with him. The time for me to head home finally came, and I couldn’t leave the little guy behind. “If someone comes looking for him,” I told my mother, “let me know and I’ll bring him back.” No one ever did.
It was the hardest time deciding what to name this cute kitty. I went round and round on a couple, but I always came back to Winter. He just looked like winter with that snow-and-cloud color all over him. So, despite objections from some family members, I stuck with Winter and it was the perfect name for so many years. He came into my life at just the right moment. It was Thanksgiving weekend 1997, a month after he came home with me. I’d made the hour trek back to my mom’s to celebrate with family, but before I left I said goodbye to not only Winter but also my 13-year-old tabby, Kiddo. Little did I know how final that goodbye would be. I returned home on Sunday, opened the garage, excited to see my two furry friends, only to find Kiddo lost to me forever. As a neighbor helped me bury the big guy in the backyard, that’s when I heard this hesitant meow from the patio. “Winter!” I held on tight, and he was the balm to my soul – the first of many in our years together.
Over the years Winter made me so happy, annoyed me, caused me to laugh out loud a number of times a day, and brought joy to every aspect of life. He was there through the good times and the bad, would play games with me when things were going well and would lie beside me if I cried about one thing or another. He loved being outside, I’d chase him around the yard, and he’d bound up trees. He became a night owl just like me. When I finally decided to turn the light out and head to bed, I’d step out to the front yard to call him in, usually finding him sprawled under the next-door neighbor’s truck at 2 a.m.
We ended up moving from that neighborhood to one where I didn’t know how safe it would be for him. A busier street, something he wasn’t used to, was just beyond the back fence. But Winter was a fearless soul. He explored, marked his territory, and got along quite well. Cars were never for him, inside or out, so I found I didn’t have to worry about him jumping the fence just when a fast-moving auto came barreling along. Then we had to move again.
That was December 2010. Work had become too much for me due to my rheumatoid arthritis and I filed for disability. Living on a fixed income is not one bit easy. Then my mom started having health problems, so we came up with an arrangement that worked for both of us and I moved back home. Back where it all started for me and Winter. Again, I worried at first about him roaming around, but this time it was in the country. Coyotes, possums and the like run around at night out here. So the night owl kitty had to come inside much earlier than he wanted to. But we adjusted and things moved right along. Even my mother, who is not an animal person, was finally bewitched by this lovable cat. Even when he found the most unusual places to sleep in her house!
Then maybe eight to nine months later I noticed Winter had lost some weight. Over the years he’d been one of those animals who regurgitated now and again, something I never thought much of, especially after talking to friends whose cats did the same thing. But now his vomiting seemed to be getting more frequent. Frequent enough, along with the weight loss, that I took him to the vet in January 2012. Testing was done, allergic reaction was diagnosed, meds were given. Nothing changed. More testing. A different diagnosis. A round of different meds. No results. Then his appetite slacked off. He lost another couple of pounds. He hated the medication I had to give, made him mad. Suddenly he wanted to stay in the garage all the time. He never went outside anymore, one of his favorite places.
All this time, in the back of my mind, due to the symptoms he had, I think I subconsciously knew what we were dealing with was lymphoma. The vet could only verify that through biopsy, something I couldn’t afford on disability. So we kept trying medication to stimulate appetite, giving him special foods, anything that would possibly help. Nothing did. So the doc, with an educated guess, confirmed my fear that cancer is what was taking the life right out of my best friend.
Winter had good days. And he had bad. The bad became worse two weeks ago when he would growl at me every time I picked him up. That would last two or three hours, and then he’d saunter into whichever room I was in, looking for attention, something to eat, he’d purr, and rub against me. The old Winter had returned. The next episode was a week later. But the next after that was only two days. And it happened again in another two days.
Which leads us into this past week. Another two days go by with the same results. Too many huge factors were working against this big-hearted cat. Age, physical condition, and financial on my part. It’s like the cosmos lined up against him from the start. Of course, such things happens to older cats, and Winter was nearing 20 years. He had a great life. He gave me a great life. So he deserved better than to be here just because I had a hard time making the decision to end his suffering. I wavered only a little. The substitute vet said perhaps I should wait until Monday when the regular doctor would be back. But nothing would change in two or three days, and my Winter would still be getting worse.
So yesterday with a lot of tears and reassurances to him that everything was okay, Winter slipped into the summer of his life where he can run and play to his heart’s content, where he will always have hardy health, plenty of mice to chase, and all the cheese he can eat. He loved cheese.
Thank you for letting me tell you Winter’s story. It’s helped this pet owner and animal lover, who’s never had to go through such tumultuous decision making in her life, get over that first hurdle of grief. Yes, there’s more days of tears at more remembrances here and there, but I know it will get better and my heart will heal. I hope to have another pet some day. After losing two and not being able to help either all that much when their time came, the old heart needs a rest. But I know one day the perfect new friend will pop in just when I need it, much as Winter did fifteen years ago.