Essay: Euthanasia for Malice

When I first saw on TV at home in France the scenes of the coastal towns and villages in the Tohoku area totally devastated by the massive tsunami immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, I somehow felt as though I was watching a science fiction (SF) movie.  It was because there had been a best-selling SF book by a Japanese author that had been made into a successful movie.  Its story was that the whole Japanese archipelago was at the risk of being submerged by huge tsunamis triggered by horrendous earthquakes caused by unimaginable forces released by the movement of the tectonic plates deep in the ocean surrounding Japan.  Seeing similar and horrific scenes repeatedly shown on other TV channels as well, however, I realized that it was not a movie, but a report of what had just happened in my home country.  At this stage, I fell into a state of shock.

Subsequently, frequent aftershocks as strong as any major quakes continued to hit the area, and pretty strong new earthquakes reported in other areas of Japan away from the epicenter of that of March 11 captured my attention.  Furthermore, a number of volcanoes which had been dormant for years were reported to have begun their volcanic activities, which seismologists were to observe closely.  These pieces of news items made me fear that what had been imagined in the SF book might soon become a reality.  Though living abroad safe from all these frightening events, I, as Japanese, could not help worrying about my homeland every day, which pushed me into depression.

To make the matter worse, the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station followed the earthquake and tsunami, resulting in radiation contamination affecting hundreds of thousands of people in surrounding communities.  At the nuclear plant a new crisis seemed to arise each day, which the technicians and workmen concerned appeared to barely weather.  Following all these events on TV and on the Internet proved to be too stressful that I ended up with ulcers in my stomach.  As time passed by, however, the pains in my stomach gradually healed and I was slowly coming out of depression.

Just when I thought I was getting out of that state, I had to face a new grief.  Several weeks ago, I suddenly had to put Malice, my feline companion for the last nine years, to sleep because of the total failure of his kidneys.  Perhaps, I should not have grieved openly over the loss of just a cat as I understood the sense of a great loss among many people in the Tohoku area who had instantly lost their loved-ones in the earthquake and the tsunami.  Their pains and sorrow, no doubt, would require a long time to heal, but having to put my cat to sleep was a sad and painful event for me.

I adopted Malice from an animal shelter in Geneva after the death of Taro, another male cat I had prior to him.  The latter was a huge Norwegian Forest Cat with a long beautiful coat and a bushy tail.  As Tomi, the female cat I had at that time who is still with me, looked so sad after the latter left us, I visited the animal shelter, hoping to adopt a cat like him as her new companion.  Trying to spot one like him, I glanced at the cats, through the glass doors, that were being looked after in separate rooms of the shelter.  Unfortunately, I did not find any cat as attractive as he was.

A staff member of the shelter opened the door of the first room, where several cats were being kept, and entered with me.  She seemed anxious to have me get closer to them, to have me find one I liked and to have me adopt it.  As soon as I entered, my eyes met with those of a skinny, miserable-looking, gray tabby without a tail.  This proved to be my fatal encounter with Malice, a Manx, however.  I did not find him cute at all, and could not even pay him a word of flattery.  So I immediately turned my eyes away from him as I had no interest in him.  For him, however, it seemed a love at first sight.  In his attempt to draw my attention, he went into action in a hurry.  When I was about to caress another cat, he suddenly jumped onto my shoulder and began snuggling his head against mine.  I was annoyed, but it was too late.  “Oh Madame, he loves you,” said the staff member, informing me of his name.  Having been told of his name, I thought it would be too cruel to reject him.  So I ended up adopting him, though with some reluctance.  According to her, he had been at the shelter for some time after getting rescued around the University of Geneva campus.  He was already more than three years old by then.

I did not know if Malice had judged me as a human being worth trusting from our initial meeting, but he remained totally calm in the basket I had brought from home, without meowing once, as I drove him home from the shelter.  Thereafter, I often took him to his vet or to the pet hotel in the basket, but he always sat in it quietly without any agitation.  Tomi, on the other hand, used to resist violently whenever I put her into her basket and groaned annoyingly and loudly as if she was being ill-treated.

Arriving at our home, Malice proved to be hyperactive and inquisitive.  He easily climbed up to the top of the tall bookcases and the wardrobe, which Taro or Tomi had never done before, and jumped off from them.  I was never bored when watching him move and jump around.  As he had good appetite, his skinny body transformed progressively.  His face, which had initially been a triangle-shaped, gradually became a round, adorable one.  I was amazed to see how much the cat I had initially considered ugly changed to an attractive one.  He was also extremely sociable and friendly to all my visitors.  Indeed, he became an endearing member of my family.

I believed that Malice had been happy and enjoyed excellent health during the first eight years in our home.  However, he began to lose appetite and got thinner.  So I took him for a blood test as I worried that he might be suffering from some kind of cancer.  The result showed that his kidneys were slowly failing, for which he was put on medication.  However, he was so uncooperative when it came to swallowing the tablet.  He resisted it so much that he almost died of kidney failure last September.  I felt that I had done everything I could have done to help him, and I was ready to accept his dying as a result of his rejecting the medicine.  Nonetheless, I took him to the vet again.  She apparently thought that his condition was still treatable, and asked me to allow her to keep him for three days of intensive care, which I agreed.

Without much expectation for his condition to reverse, I returned to the clinic a few days later to see how he was doing.  To my great surprise, he had regained appetite and looked much better with some renewed energy.  He was destined to be in this world and with us a little bit longer.  What I found unbelievable was that he became somewhat submissive when swallowing the medicine, though he had resisted it so stubbornly before the hospitalization.  This was a change in him I very much welcomed.  As a result, he gained a bit of weight again, and I was certain that he would be with us for a few more years.

However, he became thinner once again earlier this year, though his active, inquisitive and sociable traits remained the same as before.  He continued to cooperate when taking his medicine, so I was not worried much.  But when I took him for another blood test in late April, the result turned out to be the worst I could have expected.  The vet told me that his kidneys had nearly stopped functioning and that there was nothing more she could do to help him.  She thought he was already suffering and recommended that he be put to sleep as soon as possible.  She even advised that it be done that day.

Indeed, Malice’s appetite had diminished considerably by then, but he ate a bit of tuna sashimi the evening before.  At least, he did not appear to be suffering enough to have to be put to sleep quickly.  Besides, before euthanizing him, I also needed some emotional preparation to face it, so I took him home, asking her to give me a few days to reflect on it.  At home, I could not help crying loudly as I pitied him.  Tomi was surprised to see me sob openly, but he sat calmly as if he had been aware of his predicament.  I sometimes called his name to observe his reaction.  Whenever he heard me call his name, he looked toward me, but no longer came closer as he had done before.  Even then, he did not appear to be in pain, and I thought he would be with us for a few more days.

The next morning I called an old friend in Jakarta who had studied veterinary science, to ask for her advice.  She knew Malice had a kidney problem.  When I described to her his condition, she felt he was already suffering.  “Have a big heart and let him go as soon as possible,” was her advice.  Having been told of the reality of the state of his health, this time by my friend, I judged that I no longer had time to worry about my emotional readiness in this case.  So I called the vet immediately to inform her of my decision to have him put to sleep the soonest.  She said it was the right thing to do and asked me to bring him at 5:30 that afternoon.

I had a little more than six hours till the final moment for Malice.  I wanted to spend the remaining time with him in such a way not to have any regrets afterward.  When he was sitting quietly on my bed, I stayed close to him, sometimes talking to him.  I also sat on the sofa, holding him in my arms, reminiscing with him all the wonderful moments we had shared together.  He did not eat at all that day, but came to the bathroom where I was weeping quietly.  As he used to love to lick the water dripping from the tap in the bathtub, I turned it on for him and shut it quickly.  Seeing water dripping, he entered the bathtub and drank it.  He still had enough strength to jump into the bathtub.

Time progressed and 5:30 was approaching quickly.  When thinking that Malice’s life would soon be terminated, I could not remain calm.  I shed tears out of his and Tomi’s sight.  Just around 5:00, I decided to take a few photos with him for our last memento.  When I saw those pictures later, his face indeed looked like that of a suffering cat.  Finally, it was our time to go to the animal clinic.  These six hours seemed to me incredibly long but also short.  After letting Tomi spend a few minutes with him, I put him in the basket and left the apartment.

I waited for the final moment for Malice as I sat in a room in the clinic, holding him in my arms and caressing him.  He was quiet.  The vet had already explained to me over the phone how euthanasia would be administered.  First, she would give him a shot to put him to a deep sleep, after which she would use another syringe to stop his heart and lungs completely.  At last, the time for the first injection arrived.  In the past, he used to hiss at any vet holding a syringe each time I brought him there for his annual vaccination or blood test.  This time, however, he accepted the needle silently while being held in my arms.  I had been worried that he might resist the injection at the final moment, but his calmness gave me a huge relief.

A few minutes later, Malice fell into a comma.  The vet then took him to the room next to it and took the final step of euthanasia.  A moment later, she placed his lifeless body back in my arms, saying that he had just left us.  Feeling immense sorrow, I remained there for some time, weeping while holding his body which was still warm.  Looking at his peaceful face, however, I was convinced that having put him to sleep then was right.  The sadness and pain of losing him will not disappear quickly, but those nine years we had spent together had been precious.  I am grateful to him for having fallen in love with me at the first sight and having trusted me for all these years, despite my turning away from him at our first encounter.

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This entry was posted in animal behavior, Cat, Euthanasia, Memoir, Nostalgia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Essay: Euthanasia for Malice

  1. Shizue, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. Loosing a pet that has been a good companion for many years is hard. I am glad for you, however, that you had those precious hours to say good-bye to Malice. As I mentioned to you this morning, Bagha died of a heart attack but I still had to make the decision to end his suffering — he was still alive by the time I got to the vet, but too far gone. I had a few minutes in which to make my difficult decision.

    After Bagha died I literally did not stop crying for days. There is no shame in mourning a pet in my mind, even if it is indeed “just a cat”. Our sorrow is the measure of our love for them. But it is true that people who are not “pet people” might have trouble understanding this.

    Thanks for sharing Malice’s story with us. He had a good life with you.

  2. Pingback: Essay: Euthanasia for Tomi | Shizue Tomoda

  3. Pingback: Essay: On Euthanasia | Shizue Tomoda

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