My cat's last days

Pierre lived for 18 years. The first two of those years he was the pet of an elderly lady who had named him Kim but found she couldn't handle him being under her feet. She took him to the SPCA, where he waited just one day for me to arrive and be fixed with his slightly wall-eyed gaze. The rest of his life he spent with me.

I've blogged a bit about Pierre. The way he chose me rather than vice versa; how he got his name; the way he shredded my chair and puked delicately on the carpet; his regrettable habit of dribbling; the gross things he used to bring inside.

He was my meant-to-be pet, a skinny blue towering figure for 16 years.

I like to think that his last years, especially, were good years. Sure, he slowed down, and the day came when he could no longer climb in the bedroom window from outside. I'd have to look out for him, sitting patiently and nostalgically under the window, waiting for someone to let him in.

But those last couple of years were a kind of Indian summer for him. My partner and I bought a house with a huge section backing on to paddock, and with a vast sunbaked deck and low, low window sills. It was heaven for an elderly cat.

Pierre lived for 18 years. The first two of those years he was the pet of an elderly lady who had named him Kim but found she couldn't handle him being under her feet. She took him to the SPCA, where he waited just one day for me to arrive and be fixed with his slightly wall-eyed gaze. The rest of his life he spent with me.

I've blogged a bit about Pierre. The way he chose me rather than vice versa; how he got his name; the way he shredded my chair and puked delicately on the carpet; his regrettable habit of dribbling; the gross things he used to bring inside.

He was my meant-to-be pet, a skinny blue towering figure for 16 years.

I like to think that his last years, especially, were good years. Sure, he slowed down, and the day came when he could no longer climb in the bedroom window from outside. I'd have to look out for him, sitting patiently and nostalgically under the window, waiting for someone to let him in.

But those last couple of years were a kind of Indian summer for him. My partner and I bought a house with a huge section backing on to paddock, and with a vast sunbaked deck and low, low window sills. It was heaven for an elderly cat.

He caught a few field mice and (yes, I know I'm meant to condemn this) a bird. He'd sit safely on the deck, watching our neighbour's chickens strut around, or ducks waddling in for a feed of bread.

Something to do with the semi-country lifestyle, and maybe a change of food, filled him with energy. In his last two years his blue coat became as thick and soft as it had ever been in his life, and his eyes were bright.

We moved again, to an even bigger section, with enough sunny spots for Pierre to spend the whole day warm.

A scruffy ginger tom already considered our property his territory, and there was a fight: the two cats did battle in front of the barbecue, leaving a scatter of tufts. Most of the tufts were blue but I smiled proudly to see that a feisty few were ginger.

Pierre became largely a house cat after that, but joined us outside whenever we gardened or sat on our terrace reading the paper.

A Kent fire built into the house's old chimney was another boon for old Pierre. He'd lie in front of it, or under a chair off to the side, stretched out a yard long.

Pierre's health went downhill quickly and steeply. He went off his food, and that lustrous blue coat turned flat and dull. A visit to the vet to remove a tooth seemed to perk him up, but only for a couple of days.

His organs were packing up. Our vet started making expressions and sighing sounds that we didn't like to hear but that didn't entirely surprise us. If you're a pet owner, you've probably heard the same kind of sighs and had the same sad, resigned reaction that we had.

In the last days Pierre spent his time under that chair to the side of the fire, though it was summer and the fire was unlit. He'd scarcely eat or drink, but still when I approached him he'd look at me mistily and purr.

He still loved being stroked.

We knew it was nearly over when my partner pulled Pierre's lower eyelid down and saw how pale, not pink, the tissue was underneath.

The next day, while my partner was at work, I picked Pierre up as gently as I could to avoid hurting him, and placed him in his pet taxi. Usually he'd fight, splaying his legs out like a cartoon cat, but this time he just went in quietly and lay down.

As I drove the five minutes to the vet, Pierre made no sound.

The vet took me into a back room, off the consulting room. I put the pet taxi on a table, opened the top and gave Pierre some strokes. There was no purring, but he seemed to respond and know it was me.

Then it was time to take him out and lay him on a towel on another table. Pierre's eyes were open but he was still.

The vet explained to me what was happening; he warned me that after the injection took effect, Pierre might breathe once - a reflex, he said.

I had my hand under Pierre's head and with the other stroked the fur on his side. The vet squeezed the syringe and a moment later said "he's gone".

Actually, you know, I think he was gone already, maybe a couple of seconds before the injection. As though he knew that was his moment, and no injection would hasten it.

And I'm glad the vet gave his warning, because Pierre did gasp, just once.

I stayed watching Pierre for a few minutes, and something happened that I didn't expect. His flat, bedraggled fur seemed to rise and fluff a little in the minutes after his death. I know it's probably some morbid process connected to dying, but for a while he looked like his healthy old self, with the burden of illness lifted.

That's where I left him, stretched out, a yard long, on a towel that had probably performed that grim service a hundred times before as a hundred sad people went through the same ritual of regret mixed with relief.

I related all of this, with all the details, to my partner when he came home. We both sat on the bed, thinking about needle-clawed, loud, dribbling, puking, magnificent Pierre.

Well you may have your own pet-ghost stories, and maybe this isn't one. But we both watched as the bedroom door suddenly open wider - as though Pierre had pushed through, returning home and looking for someone to please, please feed him.

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