George Carlin has a bit in which he notes that every pet is a small tragedy waiting to happen. Louis CK has a similar bit where he translates “I brought us a puppy!” into “I brought us crying in a few years!”

Well, Cecilia, the little cat that shows up in my little avatar has cancer. Years ago, it first manifested in a claw of hers that made her gripe and carp whenever we trimmed the nail. Eventually, she yowled and we figured we should call a vet because maybe she had arthritis or something. He put her under and, instead of talking to us after 5 minutes of checking her out, he talked to us after 35 minutes of removing her middle digit on her right front paw. It seems that, underneath her claw, she was growing another claw. “Yep. That happens sometimes,” he told us. “Best to just amputate.”

A year or so after that, she had a bit of a goiter. The doc checked it, said “yep, that happens sometimes.” We drained it and she was in a much better mood.

A year or so after that, she got a similar boil on her lower back, right over her tail, and we figured that that would have to be drained too. The doc felt it, agreed, poked it… and, nope. It was a mass. A small bit of it was extracted and analyzed and, yep, it was cancer. That happens sometimes.

Which led to conversations about what now. Do we want to try to remove it? (We did.) If it comes back, do we want to try to remove it again? (We didn’t.) What kinds of palliative care are we going to explore? (Pilling, unguents, and steroids.) Which mythologies had a God or Goddess of Cancer? If so, what is the name of the God/Goddess of Cancer?

In researching those last two, we didn’t really find anything (which surprised me) but we did find a wonderful little essay called “The Goddess of Everything Else” by Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex. It didn’t really help with the whole “pet dying” thing, of course. But it, seriously, is a lovely little creation myth.

Well, we found that Cecilia HATES being pilled and that didn’t last that long. She doesn’t mind having a painkiller unguent applied to the inside of her ear, where she doesn’t have any hair, and that lasted a bit longer… but we discussed it with the vet and we hammered out that steroids would do a good job of reducing the swelling and irritation but that was because we would be turning off her immune system which was, at this point, not exactly fighting on her side anymore.

We were warned that this would be the last thing we do before the last thing we do.

And so we gave her the steroids suspended in a fish oil and she lapped them up with gusto and her swelling reduced and her irritation went away and much of her old personality returned. She quacks for treats and yelps for food and purrs when petted and she demands attention. Granted, she’s a lot skinnier than she was this time last year and she seems to be a bit more forgetful insofar as she sees us walk to the fridge and her pavlovian response is to ask for a treat… even though we’re walking back to the fridge to put the treats away after giving her a helping into her bowl. (A gentle reorientation of her so that she’s staring down into the bowl generally results in the expected “holy cow! treats!” response.)

And so we enter what might be the last weekend with her before we call the person who comes to the house with some barbituates, a white blanket, and a little card with a poem that talks about a rainbow bridge.

Every pet is a small tragedy. We’ll see if Cecilia’s concludes this weekend or the next.

For what it’s worth, every other part of having her as a cat was really, really awesome. Funny, affectionate, lazy, chubby, overflowing with joie de vivre, gluttonous, and only occasionally surly. This part is really the only bad part of the whole experience. I’ll be the first to say to say “it’s worth it” except that it’s a little tough to speak about it at this particular point in the process.

So we’re going to spend this weekend with Cecilia.

So… what’s on your docket?

(Photo is “Footrace finish line, 1925” from the Seattle Municipal Archives, used under a creative commons license)


Here’s a picture of her from tonight; the last family time she ever spent on the bed.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

Related Post Roulette

35 Responses

  1. Maribou says:

    I’ll say it’s worth it. It’s worth it, it’s worth it, it’s worth it, it’s all worth it.

    And I’ll also say that not everything about her has always been so wonderful up until now.

    When we first got her, she’d been hurt bad by … somebody… in her past. Somebody who kicked with boots. (At first, even the sight of boots could send her scurrying under the couch in fear.) And she had most recently spent 2 months in a cage because she couldn’t get along with any of the other cats at two different foster homes. She tended to lash out.

    I had a scar for a couple years, from where she bit me one day about 3 months into our relationship, in the pad of my thumb. Why? She was pissed off that we had a kitten. (Later she bit the kitten because we got a cat. Still later, she bit that cat because we got another cat – even though SHE LIKED THE LAST CAT A LOT RIGHT AWAY, and was already snuggle-friends with the cat she bit. She never really got to liking the kitten, but she does treat him like family these days, and she treats even the new cats she doesn’t like with a tit-for-tat level of politesse.)

    One time a year or so into our relationship with Cecilia, I was lying in bed listening to Tolkien read his own work, as I wept and grieved my recently dead grandmother, and it freaked Cece out so bad she charged up the length of the bed, onto my chest, and bit my chin – twice – and we almost went to the ER for stitches. (We speculate it was the combination of stentorious male voice and feminine weeping that upset her, but who knows.) I mean, she bit me bad. IN THE FACE. I had a reflex flinch away from her getting near my face for months afterward, even though she was super ashamed and even … if a cat can be such a thing … apologetic, about 5 minutes after doing it, and never did ANYTHING like that ever again. She bit the vet once though. In his super-judo hold. That no other cat has ever broken, including any of our ex-ferals. She’s probably the feistiest cat I’ve ever known.

    Anyway, the point of telling y’all this is, I guess, just to say that of all the cats I’ve ever had, I think she’s been the most work. And I think at times it only kept getting better because it was so *obvious* that she desperately wanted to be kinder than she was. She was never defiant, you know? Only driven. And haunted.

    It’s been years, however, since she was like that. Maybe half-a-dozen? She’s fierce with the new cats she only tolerates, yes, but the claws and teeth stay under control. No harm is done, and everyone is reminded who they better not mess with, and things go back to being serene. Even now, when she’s almost done, she still trundles up the stairs every day so she can sleep in the same room as the elderly alpha cat does, and in the evenings, she lets the alpha and that once-detested kitten (now a braw 8 year old) share her sleeping spaces on the main floor (right next to the boots she once ran from). She purrs while we rub the medicine on her ears. Even though she can’t take more than about 30 seconds of petting or brushies anymore, she walks under my feet and licks my ankle from time to time in the evenings, and she is usually still ready to imprint a stretched out finger with the pheromonal kisses of “MY human, MINE”.

    If one or the other of us comes to sit with her in the living room, by the door, by the boots and library books and mail and other detritus of two busy people who aren’t home as often as we’d like to be, she paces around for a while, asking for one or another treat, eating or not eating them, and then she settles in next to us, purring or sleeping, or just keeping us company. The other day when we were doing that, she fell asleep leaning against me, and I gave her the lightest possible belly rub – probably the lightest-touch one I’ve ever given – and she sighed her contented sigh, and I realized I hadn’t heard her contented sigh for a few months now, and I had to sneak upstairs and howl in the bedroom for a while. Because maybe that was the last of her contented sighs I would ever get to hear.

    It’s so fucking worth it.

  2. Mike Dwyer says:

    Well the one-two-combo of Jaybird’s post and Maribou’s wonderful combo makes me want to go hug all of our pets. What a tribute…

    Murphy, our lab that I have referred to as ‘one of the great loves of my life’ will be 10 next month and is showing his age, not in his features but in the time it takes him to get up after resting or in his reluctance to jump on the bed without me there to give him a little push. I’ve made it my mission to make sure he knows every day that he is the best four-legged friend I have ever had and when his time comes, I hope he feels loved right up to the moment the lights go out.

    I wish you guys lots of strength in the next week. I’m sure it won’t be easy but it sounds like you are both as prepared as you can be, and that’s really all you can ask.

    • Maribou says:

      @Mike, thank you. And thanks for telling us about Murphy.

    • Jaybird says:

      Yes. Hug all of your pets. I suppose I could have also put a little something in here about each of the other cats that make a house a home.

      Angel: The Old Man. The Alpha. He demands brushies and demands treats and demands pets and naps a lot. He is the boss of the house and the other cats do what they can to stay out of his way. Except for Cecilia. The other day they did this thing where we gave Cecilia a nice treat and she ate a couple of bites, stepped away so that Angel could eat a couple of bites, then stepped back to take a couple of bites… and we realized she was sharing her treat. That made us bittersweet about Cecilia but, seriously, Angel is just that awesome. Sometimes he wanders around howling to the ceiling. We’ve theorized that he’s calling for his old friend Baseball, who, in theory, waits at the base of the rainbow bridge for us, and is confused about why Baseball has been hiding all this time. “Don’t be in a hurry to see him again, Angel… we’ll all visit him soon enough,” we tell him. We honestly thought that he would be the one that would next inspire an essay… Anyway.

      Tiger: This guy is the guy who stole Maribou’s heart. He was never my favorite of the three kittens we fostered during the summer of sixteen cats (that would have been Socks), but he was 100% and totally Maribou’s. He’s grown on me. He’s the one who plays and stretches and learned to be a magnificent citizen from Cecilia and Angel and Baseball and is exceptionally polite. It’s to his detriment, though, as we adopted another cat who was some mixture of abused/neglected and channels that into being a bully. Tiger is the cat that he bullies. This makes us sad. But we do what we can to make sure that everybody has their boundaries. Especially by making sure that Tiger knows that he gets more treats than anybody but Cecilia.

      Momo: This is the guy who was some mixture of abused/neglected. We’re working on him. He’s learning. He’s started doing this thing where, as I lie on my side and fall asleep at night, he walks up to my hand floating out there and nuzzles it in order to be petted. I wake from my half-sleep and pet him for a some few minutes until he gets overstimulated and he bites me, then I withdraw my hand and he lies down and falls asleep next to me. (Maribou can pet him once, maybe twice, before getting bitten. I can pet him for one, maybe two, minutes. So he’s kind of *MY* cat and my stories will have more rose-colored tint to them than Maribou’s.) In a strange irony, Momo looks just like I imagine Socks would look like today.

      Alice: “We’re going on vacation. Can you board Alice for us?”
      “We’re back! Do you want to keep Alice? We’re pregnant.”
      “Um… what?”
      We kept Alice. She is the smallest full-grown cat we’ve ever seen. When we first got her, she ran from us and hid from us and would only come and visit if we sat perfectly still… at which point she *LOVED* being petted. Now? We suspect that she’s going to be the Alpha after Angel goes to visit Baseball. She runs the place with an efficient yowl and swipe, which is funny, because, seriously, she is the smallest full-grown cat we’ve ever seen. She also looks uncannily like Tiger. Just half-sized. We wonder if that confuses the other cats.

      Anyway, we hug them all regularly because they are family too. It’s just that you get all maudlin over the one you’re going to be losing any day now.


      All that to say: Yes. Hug your pets. They’re wonderful.

      • Maribou says:

        I would note only that Tiger does not stay out of Angel’s way. Angel is actually Tiger’s uncle (we think – he helped raise him when they were both among our then-passel of backyard ferals anyway), and they are friends. Angel intervenes with Momo on Tiger’s behalf, and the two of them often lie curled up together. When Tiger was a kitten, they would play in such a way that they LITERALLY rolled up and down the staircases… like a cartoon. Nowadays they still play, though the play:sleep ratio has shifted significantly.

  3. aaron david says:

    Wishing the best Jaybird and Maribou.

    I get to take my old lady cat in to the doctor this morning, as she hasn’t eaten in a couple days, and as she is only 4 lbs to start with, well thats a problem. She has been my cat for 15 years, a while longer than I have known my wife. I am a little worried, but I am sure it is going to be OK.

  4. North says:

    I feel for you guys; cats are little precious people. I hope she passes gently.

    • Jaybird says:

      She’s feisty as heck. We suspect it might not be this weekend at all. (We got a special treat of some duck in gravy and she hoovered it up like nobody’s business. So we might have detoured into the whole “let’s feed her wild fowl” portion of palliative care.)

      Thank you.

  5. Joe Sal says:

    Kindest regards.

  6. Damon says:


    I’m sorry to hear about that. I’ve had to put down two cats so far. Two more are getting old. (They were not all obtained at the same time). The ex wife has the older one, Reilly, he’s 17 ish. And I’ve got Patience, who’s 13 ish. They are interesting animals. There is something about giving a cat belly rubs…and the way they stare at you…. Best of luck with her.

  7. Chris says:

    Ugh, that sucks, man. I hope you, Maribou, and Cecilia have a wonderful weekend together.

    • Jaybird says:

      It does but it’s part of the deal. Thank you.

      • Michael Cain says:

        My wife’s Tibetan Spaniel is up to about 16 (plus-or-minus; she’s a pound dog and all we had was the vet’s best guess when we got her) and is getting pretty gimpy and somewhat deaf. Had to build a ramp so she can get up and down to her guard post in the living room bay window. She’s still capable of spotting a squirrel at ridiculous distance and giving it what for. This will probably be the last dog — if a new one were to last 16 years, there’s some chance that we would go before the dog.

  8. El Muneco says:

    I’m late to the party, and I usually don’t join in, but I hope your family enjoys the time you have left, and that it lasts as long as you still all are enjoying it.

    It’s that time of year that “missing pet” signs are going up on lampposts, and it crushes me how few of them ever actually make it home. For years, our building had an outdoor cat called Sage. Fiercely independent, prone to putting on weight but never let it slow her down, always happy to visit those of us who were subjects in her domain. One day last year, she never came home.

    Here’s hope for all the hugs while you still have time.

    • Jaybird says:

      It always sounds so silly and hokey to talk about stuff like the importance of living in a state of non-directed gratitude (as opposed to, say, constant irritation) but pets do such a great job of helping with that.

  9. Kazzy says:

    Homemade pizza last night. 10K in JC followed by boozey brunch. Not sure about the rest but I’m clear of my apartment for the weekend which means no chores until Sunday PM. Wahoo!

  10. Miss Mary says:

    I’m so sorry, but I’m glad you’ll be together.

    Junior has gifted and talented testing this morning. I’m uncomfortable that as soon as he checked in they gave him a scantron. In kindergarten! Clearly a 20 minute scantron test can not show how gifted and talented a kindergartener is! Give the boy 20 minutes in a sandbox with some markers and paper. He’ll blow your mind.

    No second job this weekend!!! After I donate platelets and clean the turtles aquarium, I think I’ll do something fun to celebrate.

    • Jaybird says:

      While we can have debates over whether it’s better to be in a place that cares about such tests versus in a place that deliberately does not care about such tests, it’s probably better to be in a place that cares about such tests than a place where it doesn’t occur to anybody whether anyone should care about such tests.

      All other things being equal.

      And no politics, of course.

      (And thank you)

  11. Maribou says:

    Cecilia came up on the bed this morning for the first time in weeks! And she was so happy to have made her way up there, she even stuck her tongue out a little bit (one of her more endearing habits).

    I’m glad she’s so stubborn :).

    In other news I have a coffee date with a former student (now DOJ employee) this afternoon, and we are going to gaming tonight, and a baseball game Sunday. But otherwise we’ll just be at home. With the kitties.

  12. I’m really sorry to hear about this, Jaybird and Maribou. But just know my thoughts are with you.

    My weekend is kind of ho hum. My spouse is away in Wabashenapolis today and much of tomorrow. So that’s kind of sad. But a friend is in town and tonight we’re going to see some other friends who are in town but who I never see.

  13. Saul Degraw says:

    My girlfriend’s parents are visiting from Singapore. Tomorrow night, my parents will meet my girlfriend’s parents for the first time.

  14. Boegiboe says:

    I hope the weekend went well. It’s great she’s still enjoying you guys’ company and pushing herself (e.g. jumping on the bed). Silly was 15 when she died last year; you guys will remember her from your visit, I’m sure. She spent her last few days in a sunbeam, holding court with whatever two- or four-legged visitors wanted to talk to her. Cheers to our fuzzy friends!

    • Jaybird says:

      We’re now wondering what day it will be, as it seems like it will be any day now… (And, as it did not happen, the weekend was quite nice).

      Yes, I remember Silly fondly. Demanding pets, but not *TOO* many pets. I hope that Beaux and Sebastian are well!

  15. Maribou says:

    We had a really good weekend, all seven beings who live in this house. And we had a pretty good Monday.

    Tonight when we came home, Angel was lying with Cece in her hidey spot (which he hadn’t been doing all along). Then, she couldn’t eat anything for supper, no matter what we tried. And we knew it was time.

    We took one last set of family pictures (like the one I just added to the post), and had cuddles and brushies, all together on the bed.

    And then the vets came, and were kind, and gave us all the time we needed – given that there is NEVER enough time –

    And now there are only six of us who live here.