Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I have never seen an animal come so close to death and then come back.

Last night, about ten-twenty, I was in the kitchen fixing dinner for myself after a long day of cleaning house. Sunspot was sitting on the counter near the telephone, having turned her nose up at a small piece of hamburger I had offered her. Her appetite had been slack all day but most of the cats weren't eating very hearty due to the hot weather.

In an instant, as if hit by lightening, Sunny was sprawled on the floor, eyes wide and staring, claws dug into the carpet. She was breathing shallowly and fast.

I ran into the laundry room and got a soft blanket to place under her and moved her near the telephone stand, positioning her on her side. She mouth was open, gasping for air as her sides worked rapidly. Her back legs were limp and cooling. I didn't know what happened but I knew it was some sort of cardiac/circulatory accident. Cats don't have heart attacks as such but she was showing symptoms very similar to those Rosie did as she went into heart failure during her last moments.

I lay down beside her, trying to speak comfortingly to her, stroking her and telling her it was alright--she could leave if she wanted to, that she was a good kitty. Every now and then, Sunny would give a deep gasp and I would think, "That's it--it's over," but she kept breathing, struggling for air. After about a half-hour, I called the emergency vet number and talked with Dots. She agreed that it sounded like heart failure. She was going to be at the clinic in a half-hour to handle an emergency case from Ninilchik and said that Sunny would probably pass before then but that she would be there if I wanted to bring her in.

Okay--I had that option. Did I want to stress Sunny with that final car trip? Would she linger on for hours, struggling for breath, until she was too exhausted? I hate these decisions. I hate having to say to a veterinarian--make my cat dead, please. Was she suffering? I looked into her eyes. So far, she hadn't made a sound, but I noticed her pupils were less dilated, her eyes moving, following the motions of the other cats as they passed through her field of view. She looked at me with awareness. Her mind was still there--still intact. Are you ready to go? I wondered. Do you need to be released?

We had been lying on the floor together for an hour. The rapid breathing had passed and Sunny no longer had to gasp open-mouthed for air. Her back feet were less cold than they had been and she even raised her head a bit and looked around. The phone rang--it was Dots, checking to see what was going on while she waiting for her emergency case to arrive. As I spoke with her, Sunny stood up and moved a few steps away before lying down again. She looked almost normal--just weak. Whatever it was had passed for now. Dots agreed and suggested that I dose Sunny with a children's aspirin, if it didn't stress her too much. I told her I would check in with her in the morning and went to tend Sunny.

She took the aspirin fairly easily. I washed it down with a spritz of water from a syringe.

She was too weak to jump up to her usual resting place, so I settled her underneath a chair in a quiet location and watched her for a while. She seemed settled, so I took my long-delayed supper and went upstairs for a bit. When I came back down, she had moved to the foot of the cat tree, ignoring the fresh sheepskin and clean woolen blanket I had made available to her. Strong-willed as always. So, she was apparently moving around alright under her own power. I went back upstairs for a while. When I checked her again, she was on the second shelf of the cat tree. By morning, she was up in her favorite spot in the window.

So, I took her in to see Dots this morning. Her blood pressure was good and there didn't appear to be any enlargement of the heart. Dots couldn't hear her heart very well as she wouldn't quit purring. Dots thinks that she "threw a clot" that blocked the femoral arteries and caused a drop in blood pressure and all the symptoms that I observed. Such events are usually fatal but somehow the clot dislodged or dissolved and Sunny bounced back. I have never seen an animal so obviously dying turn around so dramatically, but Sunny seems to be feeling pretty chipper today. She is tired and a little weak from the ordeal but she was alert and interested during our car trip and when we got home, she jumped up on a chair and then onto the desk to eat.

This is the first salvo of her last battle. She will be nineteen if she lives until October and she won't survive for more than another year or so. She is very lucky and very strong--I hope her recovery means she will be with us for some time yet to come.

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