Tough Life Decisions: Saying Goodbye to Our Little Angel

I am sorry to share some sad news today…

The last week of December was a difficult time for me and my family. In between Christmas and the New Year, on December 28th, we had to say goodbye to our little angel…

My family’s cat, Cleo, was suffering from worsening health conditions.

Cleo’s path through this life was one that really challenged me to think differently. Thoughts surrounding morality, ethics, relationships, health, life itself, among other things all crossed my mind at one point or another while interacting with her.

In Cleo’s final days, due to worsening health conditions, it boiled down to my family needing to make a very difficult and crucial decision for her. A decision that should never be taken lightly.

We needed to weigh our options and consider the possibility of euthanasia.

My Cat Was Diagnosed With Cancer

You see, my cat had cancer.

A tumor the size of a fist was growing in her intestines.

Treatment was unsuccessful and the only option we had left was to try a very invasive surgery. Our veterinarian cautioned us and suggested euthanasia over surgery due to the tumor’s location, the implication on her quality of life, and the likelihood of recurrence.

Watching her suffer was unbearable. In the final weeks of her life, her quality of life was deteriorating so terribly that it was hurting my heart to even watch.

Decisions around euthanasia are terrifying. I believed in my heart it was the right thing to do for her, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s SCARY! To make that one-way, irreversible decision for another living thing that is essentially a member of the family. Where does one even begin?

As the people making that decision, it feels somehow… unfair.

Unfair to choose that for an animal that cannot advocate for itself. Alas, that’s just how it is. In nature, does such an option even exist? Somehow it does seem like the best option when things are getting really bad. To relieve an animal of all its pain and allow it to go on peacefully. Still, how can we make those decisions for another living thing?

Ugh, I hate this… It’s moments like these where life feels so cruel.

Cleo was ready to go on vacation with my sister…

This article from SprucePets helped me understand more about what to expect for my cat with the process of euthanasia.

I had never had a pet pass this way before.

Honestly, this post is a really difficult one for me to write, but I want to. I’ve been putting it off because the topic is still a sensitive one. But I feel like I owe it to Cleo. To acknowledge her and to honor her.

So in honor of Cleo, I want to share her story.

The Story of Cleo

We adopted Cleo ten years ago.

I was in high school at the time and around 16 years old.

Cleo was there with me as I went through high school, college, in between my travels, during quarantine, and any other time I wanted to be with her. My younger sister was in middle school the day Cleo came home.

Cleo was like a childhood pet for us in that sense.

For a brief period of time, she even lived at home with Pepper, our other cat who passed away shortly after we adopted her.

It moves me to tears to think about the pain she went through fighting cancer. Cleo was truly unlike any cat I had ever seen.

A Gentle Giant

She was a Maine Coon; they’re known as the Gentle Giants within the cat world. (A nickname I can attest to them being beyond deserving of.)

Maine Coons are wonderful, wonderful cats. They’re huge, fluffy, and super gentle.

Cleo was a lovely brown Maine Coon with a long, prideful coat of fur that she kept in pristine condition. How she managed all her fur… I’ll never know.

Okay.. it did get unruly at times… but how could anyone blame her? She had such a long coat. That’s where her humans would step in and help groom her like the queen she was.

My Maine Coon was the most harmless cat I’ve ever seen. In fact, we’d frequently joke about it because she was couldn’t hurt anyone or anything even if she wanted to. She was truly harmless in every sense of the word. She was literally afraid of her own shadow and frequently scared by her own reflection.

Our home is a calm and quiet space so we worried for her wellbeing and felt confused by her fearful behavior. Veterinarians reassured us that there was nothing we could do about it and that some cats are just more prone to temperament differences like that, just as all people have individual differences.

Cleo saw her reflection

In the 10 years we had her, she never even once scratched anyone. The only scrapes we ever got were from her hind legs kicking off your chest if you tried to pick her up. She didn’t like being pet or held.

She could not scratch. She could not hiss. She could not meow. She could not purr. She was a unique one.

We used to say she was born without a “purr box” because she really was a very silent cat. She’d occasionally make a chirp or trill noise but really, that’s about it.

She was not a lap cat whatsoever. Too independent for close contact. She had a very timid, reserved temperament. She was easily spooked and very anxious all the time if she wasn’t left alone.

In college, I wrote a blog post about how I thought my cat had some type of cat Generalized Anxiety Disorder because she was truly a “scaredy-cat” in the most literal sense…

Even though she kept to herself most of the time, I learned to appreciate that about her. She wasn’t that crazy type of cat that would go missing only to be found in some unusual new spot or that would weave between your legs while walking or stroll across your keyboard as you were typing.

No. Not her. She was predictable.

Very predictable. She was a cat who loved routine. Super forgiving and easy to please. She’d just pick one of her three favorite spots, sit there to observe from a safe distance, and only retreat to her “safe spots” at first sight of a vacuum or stranger approaching the door.

We’d always laugh or just give each other that smirk knowing full-well that she was never ever in harm’s way, but we wanted her to feel safe so if that’s what it took for her to feel secure… to hide… so be it.

& that was our Cleo!

A gentle spirit who meant no harm or ill on anyone or anything.

Our Connection

Having such a hands-off cat didn’t come without its challenges.

In Cleo’s younger years, I used to feel resentful that she never wanted to play with me. We didn’t have the greatest relationship for quite a long time. I loved her very much, but she was a one-person cat and she genuinely loved my father more than anything. Me? Meh, pretty sure she could have done without me. Hahaha. At least, that’s how I saw it.

I could pet her for maybe 3 seconds and she’d simply stand up, turn around, and walk the other way…

I wanted her friendship so badly. If only I knew then what I know now. I do wish I viewed my relationship with Cleo much differently earlier on. I believe we misunderstood each other’s intentions and interacted the wrong way for a long time. It wasn’t until I came back from my travels that I started to interact with her differently that she and I finally began to form a stronger connection together.

For example, I learned she disliked being pet by hand, but if you used a wire brush… well, then she’d be in heaven and would start drooling uncontrollably.

Over the last 2-3 years, I’d say we had finally gotten a lot closer as friends. I learned a lot of those small details.

Being as naturally fearfully as she always was, I think I was looking into her eyes way too long and causing her to see me as a threat when really I was just admiring how beautiful I found her. That’s just one example but as people… I think we forget how different types of animals all perceive us differently. It’s like how they say you should never smile with teeth to a dog or stand taller than a bird. We, as people, are huge creatures and we can look a lot scarier to smaller animals than we may even notice.

Every species is different. Every individual is different.

Cleo: 1 Year Old

Cleo’s Health

Unfortunately, Cleo was born with many health issues from Day 1.

We found out from our veterinarian at a very early age that she had numerous things going on with her health even as a kitten.

We’d treat one thing only to find out she had something else going on. It was a constant battle.

The Adoption Story

I later found out a story regarding Cleo’s adoption. My sister had gone along with my dad to the animal shelter to pick out the cat they’d ultimately end up taking home. Supposedly, Cleo was inside of a cage with 5 male kittens (all her brothers). The male kittens were all rolling around and playing together while Cleo was hiding in the dark at the back of the cage by herself.

My little sister insisted on picking Cleo to take home because she wanted to adopt a female cat so she could have a “sister.”

Well, with that information, it really connected a LOT of dots for me later on…

Anyway, Cleo was very easygoing.

She was an introvert for sure. A bit less outgoing, but not too different from me! 🙂

Cleo’s Happiness

Last year, I discovered Cleo really liked catnip mixed with silvervine!

It turns out most cats really love silvervine because it triggers some type of whole-body relaxation for them causing them to roll around on it and rub their heads all over. Catnip-like euphoria without all the rambunctiousness. Cleo liked it very much. I want to think it helped mitigate some of the pain from having cancer.

She also LOVED chicken-flavored Temptations purrrr-ée treats.

She would grab the pouch with her paws and down the whole thing as fast as she possibly could.

Highlight. Of. Her. Day.

I’d never seen her so passionate about anything, ever.

This treat was truly the most glorious thing in Cleo’s eyes. A favorite, for sure.

We tried to make her happy since her cancer had been getting more serious.

We supported her and made necessary changes around her home so that she could live more comfortably. Seeing her lose weight, become so frail, and appear more sickly with each passing day was really sad and stressful for all of us.

We were constantly worrying, checking on her, looking after her, etc. There was something happening with Cleo pretty much daily by the time December rolled around. It was hard to watch.

For my dad especially, wow, I know it had to be really hard on him. I don’t think anyone was as connected with Cleo as he was.

Decision Day

I was out when my dad got the phone call that the veterinarian had an appointment open up for Cleo to come in. We were already waiting for that call because by that time in late December, she was in dire need of something. Most vets were backed up and we needed help badly.

My family called me to let me know what was happening. I rushed home to be with them so we could all say what would ultimately be our final goodbyes to Cleo.

My sister had YouTube cat meditation music playing throughout the house and I walked inside to Cleo kneading a blanket laying right on top of the sofa where my dad would usually sit to watch TV.

That day, those memories, they really hurt to revisit. They’re still so so sore.

Part of me thinks they always will be. Cleo was too pure and undeserving to suffer at all.

The love she had for my dad especially… The bond they shared. Man, I think it hurts my heart to think about their connection more than anything else. I know they were so tight.

That final day in late December, Cleo could barely keep any food down. She stopped eating and drinking. She was barely still with us. In and out.

We noticed she responded a bit when she caught a glimpse of me taking out a Temptations treat so we all took turns giving her one final chicken creamy purrrr-ée pouch because of how happy the treats made her. Then, with the calming cat music playing on surround sound, we allowed her to walk around the house one last time before going to her appointment.

Very strangely, she jumped up and climbed into our sink… and all of us laughed. In the 10 years she was with us, NEVER ONCE did she ever once go anywhere near the countertop or sink… or show remotely any interest in the sink (and running tap water is something Maine Coons are actually known to enjoy!)

It was the most peculiar behavior for her, but we enjoyed that Cleo could make us all smile that final hour when all our hearts were so heavy and hurting.

With Cleo in her crate lined with the softest scarves, we drove her in my sister’s car to go to the vet for her appointment. We took my sister’s car since the drive would be the smoothest that way and road trips always did cause Cleo a lot of stress. Cleo was a rockstar and never cried once. Instead, she stared into my dad’s eyes the whole drive looking for reassurance that she was safe.

This was not her carrying crate, but she liked laundry baskets more so I’ll show this instead.

Due to COVID, the facility told us we weren’t allowed inside their clinic so they needed to take Cleo in on her own. That was a really terrible moment. Saying a final goodbye out in a cold parking lot. Though, I have to say… I think having the memory of being inside the facility with her would have been more traumatizing in some ways.

I can’t shake from my mind this moment when I looked in through the glass door and I caught a glimpse of them taking Cleo out from her crate. They lifted her up with her belly out to carry her to another room and Cleo and I made eye contact for a split second before they turned the corner to go to another room. That was the last time Cleo ever saw me.

The confusion and fear I saw in her eyes, ugh, it really leaves me feeling so unsettled. I’m still coming to terms with the idea that we did the right thing and that there was nothing else we could do to help her.

It really was not an easy decision.

I don’t know how to feel.

I really hope it actually was the right decision for her well-being. So she won’t be suffering anymore.

I know my family and I will miss Cleo a lot.

Rest in peace, Clee.

9 Comments

  1. I have only had to make that decision once but it was agonizing. I do still believer it was the kindest option available for my cat. I know you were doing what was best for Cleo. It will forever hurt, but she is no longer suffering and that is the sweetest thing to do for her. This was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful cat!

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