Matisse, the cat, was born in a Mexican pot in the front yard. He lived his life in the back yard, sleeping in the studio with his brother, Magritte. When they were young, the stripes on their heads very clearly resembled the letter ‘M’, thus the names.
A year ago we discovered Matisse had cancer on his back leg. We discussed options with the vet, none of which were cheap. She told us that we could treat him, but it would involve surgery and even then it would depend on which direction the cancer was growing. If it was growing toward the body, then she’d have to refer him to a specialist, which would cost even more. After some deliberation I asked if removing the leg would effectively remove the cancer. She thought for a second and said yes, it would. So, I suggested that she operate, and if it were growing toward the body, then she could remove the leg. She agreed that this would be a good plan.
A couple of days later we brought home a tripod. The cancer was growing toward the body, but she said that removing the leg did remove the cancer, that it hadn’t spread beyond that point. Our instructions were to give him medication if he was in pain and to make sure that he practiced walking every day. I wondered how we’d know if he was in pain, but when it came time, it was fairly obvious.
As for walking, he did a little in the studio where he lived, but after a couple of days I couldn’t coax him to take any steps. He didn’t look like he was in pain; he just wouldn’t try. So, I took him outside into the back yard. I thought being in his grass and in the sunlight in his yard, he might cheer up and want to sniff around. Barry was very much against the idea of taking him outside, but Barry tends to be (in my opinion) a helicopter parent. What Matisse needed, I thought, was something to interest him. So, with Barry watching me like an skeptical first-grade teacher, I carried poor little Matisse outside and sat him gently in the grass. He blinked and I could see his nose engaging with the scents of the outdoors. I pet him for a few seconds, then pulled my hands away to see if he would try to take a few steps. Then, with Helicopter Parent watching, our just-out-of-surgery, three-legged cat RAN across the yard and under the other studio. Out of reach. Leaving me alone with Copter Parent to explain myself.
We got him out from under the studio (with a long pole, which Barry castigated me for all over again) and Tripod ran in an arc around the yard, heading straight for the opening to go under the house. A tomcat that had taken up residence in our back yard headed him off. (None of us is sure why. One just doesn’t run in the presence of another cat.) After all that running, Matisse huddled in the grass and I was able to pick him up and take him, under Barry’s critical gaze, back into his studio home and set him down.
There were other episodes of Earnie being a bad uncle. I decided to let him walk around outside again – this time while Barry was out of sight. Matisse hobbled a little bit in the grass, then made a beeline for the house and was under it before I could react. I sat on a chair, drinking Topo Chico on ice, watching the opening for him to re-emerge. When Barry came out, he knew what was going on without my having to confess my sins. I don’t typically just sit, staring at the house. But, in my own defense, I thought it was important to keep the poor cat’s spirits up and let him get used to getting around on three legs. I mean, he had been free to go under the house before the operation. Surely, he’d be okay under there and come out when he got hungry. He did come out eventually, and Barry finally got comfortable with the idea of him being outside again. There is not much point in saving his life if we keep him cooped up and don’t let him live it happily.
And, he was happy for about a year. Then, a few weeks ago he went under the house again and this time wouldn’t come out. Barry had to crawl under there to get him. Again we took him to the vet. This time they said he was beginning renal failure. So, from that point on he lived inside, sitting in his window watching the world that he didn’t have the energy to participate in any more.
On the day before Christmas Eve, we got home and Barry went to feed the cats. He came to me looking shaken, saying we needed to go to the emergency vet clinic, that Matisse had taken a turn for the worse. I went into his studio and Matisse was in a heap on the floor, meowing in distress. I put my hands on him and he calmed down a little. Barry came in and I left them together while I gathered an old town and the kitty carrier. I opened the carrier, wrapped Matisse in the towel and set him in his bed. Then we loaded into the truck and set out on a Sunday evening to make the now-familiar trip to the after-hours vet clinic.
I put my hand under his head and front shoulder to help him breathe and so that he could feel me with him. Along the way I had Barry pull over into a gas station parking lot to visit a little with Matisse. It didn’t seem like he had much time left. They did visit, but after a few minutes Matisse was still hanging in, and we knew he was in pain, so we continued on the route to the clinic. When we were about halfway to Round Rock, I told Barry that I thought Matisse had left. He wasn’t moving any more. With my hand propping up his little body, I could feel when he breathed or twitched, and I didn’t feel it any more. Barry pulled off the highway – this time into the parking lot of a human emergency clinic. Matisse’s spirit had left him, Barry agreed. We sat together for quite a few minutes. Matisse had been ours since the day he was born. We’d raised him, fed him, held and cuddled him for eleven years. We’d nursed him through the amputation, and now we saw him on his way to the next life.
I don’t like to see animals suffer; that’s why I wanted to take him to the vet. I’m not against euthanasia when the animal is suffering. That being said, I feel rather strongly about letting nature take its course when possible. The body and spirit are joined, and there is a process to go through. When we intervene too much, we confuse the body and spirit, and what should have been a straight-forward process of the body shutting down gets confused. Dying is not pretty, but giving birth is also not for the delicate. They are both a part of life, though, and important in their own ways. Human life spans are much longer than dogs’ and cats’. When you have pet cats, you know that you are going to lose them. It brought me some peace to know that I was holding him when he finally left. He knew and trusted me, and I like to think that I helped him through a difficult time. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Okay Matisse, my friend. Go peacefully over that rainbow bridge. We love you.