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I have been somewhat laying low this week and am slowly gaining functionality again.
On Tuesday morning, June 12, I had to take my cat Barron to the vet. He was acting sluggishly and had something wrong with his eye (gunky and half-closed) so I thought it may have been an eye infection. It turns out that there was something else going on...
Before I continue, I feel that a little background information is in order. Barron is a ginger Maine Coon that was given to me as a kitten. He was fixed pretty early on and over the course of the first 2 - 3 years of his life, grew to be about 20 lbs. He had some traits that could easily be recognized as more common in dogs, such as running to the front door when he hears my car pull up and meowing and circling my feet when I came in. He could also sit on command and was incredibly intelligent. He used his front paws almost like hands, opening cabinets, eating food, drinking water.
Even though I had picked up Barron to be for my son, he and I had a very special bond from day 1.
Last August, 2011, at just over 3 years old, Barron almost died. I was away for the weekend and got a call from my mom saying that he was acting strangely. He has been going to the water bowls and splashing the water up onto his tummy. He was also fairly unresponsive and barely moved aside from this "self-bathing."
At first I thought that it may have been really hot and he was trying to cool down. I do know that my cats tend to get more vegetative in the peak summer temperatures but in the evening they start to get more spry as the temps cool down... but Barron did not. This worried me a little and I started to panic when he crawled under the kitchen counters (kitchen still in slight remodel disrepair.) I couldn't get him out and I was afraid he had gone under there to die.
I somewhat freaked out and laid on the ground crying and telling him to come out. I had tried misting water under there and I tried using a broom to nudge him but he wasn't budging and I panicked. Finally he crawled out and over to me lying on the ground crying and laid down with his head on my hand. I instantly snatched him up in a towel and ran to the only vet that was opened on a Sunday: Banfield.
I brought him in and they did a visual exam as well as felt his stomach. They explained that it seems that Barron had bladder stones and he was unable to urinate and that if they don't give him an operation called a P.U. surgery, he would die by the next day. They brought in an estimate of the surgery to be paid in full for a total of $2,000! I asked if there was any way that I could set up a payment plan because I, being a single parent and student, did not have more than about $300 in my accounts. They refused to work on a payment plan with me and the vet said, rather dispassionately, "We need to look at what's best for this cat. If you can't afford to take care of him then you will need to surrender him." What's best for my cat?! If the only thing standing between him dying and living was $2,000 for a surgery and I was to surrender him then he would surely be dead! How is that BEST for my cat?!
I asked if there was anything I could do for him in the meantime while I tried to find a way to get the surgery for him. They ended up manually extracting his urine via syringe. Once his bladder was empty at $200 he was immediately rejuvenated. He took a swipe at the vet and jumped into my arms, ready to go home.
Once home I started some searching. I spent 11 hours emailing vets as far as 3 hours away, animal charities, ANYTHING that I felt would help him. In all the time I spent I got 1 email back from a charity saying that they would be willing to help but they didn't have any funds available due to a lack of charity donations. The Humane Society kind of shluffed me off and gave me the email for a lesser known charity called the Paw Fund (so I emailed them as well) and that was it. Over the span of this time Barron regressed and started to get lethargic again. He had stopped eating and was starting to splash water onto himself again. I put a little water in the bath tub and took him in there so my other feline companions could have their drinking bowls of clean water. I slept for a couple of hours and when I woke up Monday morning I decided to take Barron over to ARF when they opened. They hadn't been open the day before so I know they wouldn't have been able to read my emails but I figured if I took my wonderful cat in to see them, maybe they would help me. Their website said they had an Emergency Medical Fund for low income families needing help with their pets. It was worth a shot.
ARF had the fund but it was for life threatening non-emergencies... but they made an exception for me. They took Barron from me and told me that they were going to take this 1 step at a time and I could make the decisions along the way. They did a blood test and tested his urine. It turns out he didn't have bladder stones yet but he had crystals in his bladder and a mucus plug keeping him from urinating. His blood work was so off the charts for a cat that technically the vet said he should have been already dead.
Since there were no stones present, they said he didn't even need the surgery that the other vet was going to give him and that they could put in a catheter to help flush the plug or they could euthanize him. One of the risks of doing the catheter was that he may have a stroke or go into cardiac arrest due to shock and his potassium levels shifting dramatically. I decided to take the risk thinking that, I needed to at least try to make him better; I could never live with myself if I didn't TRY.
He took the catheter without any issue and was at ARF for a full week under observation and to get constant testing, making sure that his blood work came back closer to normal before sending him home. In the meantime, I heard back from the Paw Fund. The woman was very nice and she spoke to me over the phone explaining that her organization was very low on funds as well and that it makes her angry that high profile orgs like the Humane Society would just blow me off. They were constantly redirecting animal emergencies to her and it was pissing her off because they were getting donations all the time but were unwilling to help.
Anyhoo, she said that she could come up with $150 to go directly to ARF towards my medical bills for Barron. It was all she could do and hoped it would be enough. Also, I had a friend offer to donate money towards Barron's vet bill and I set up the donation via paypal... It got me to thinking, it wouldn't hurt to try...? I hate asking for money so it was a very big decision to post a donation link on my facebook... and the donations poured in. I was able to raise an additional $300 from sympathetic and wonderful friends! Once all was said and done, the total bill for Barron was just over $300 at ARF. Subsidized and they were willing to make payments on it! I decided that since I now had that from all of those donations I would pay it in full and use the remainder of it towards an extra box, a couple toys and his now, very expensive cat food (Royal Canin Urinary SO.)
Flashing back to this week, since Barron had a history of urinary problems the Dr. decided to extract some urine and test it to see if he was having any other issues in that area before addressing his eye. The urine that came from his bladder was infused with blood which would indicate crystals or stones present... but when it was tested there were no crystals or stones at all. It was a mystery as to why his urine in his bladder was so bloody. Over the course of the day he lost his ability to urinate and started to get extremely sluggish. They said that they could try and catheterize him again but the reality was that he would continue to have this problem the rest of his life. After a few catheterizations he would need to get the dreaded P.U. surgery which will, in turn, open him up to urinary infections. Basically I was looking at an up hill battle that would have him continuously in pain throughout the rest of his life. In the end I decided to euthanize him.
I was able to be with him before, during and after the process. I cried and I felt like a large piece of me died along with him. I never suffered the loss of an animal friend before and I wasn't prepared for how much it hurts. Even now, I still see things of his lying around and get sad. His presence is missed by myself as well as my other cats and my son. When I told Devlin he cried for over an hour straight. I was glad I was able to get the initial crying of my own out of the way so that I could be strong for him when I told him. He is really upset and doesn't want to talk about Barron because every time he does he wants to cry... so we have been distracting ourselves.
In the end I KNOW I made the right decision... but the right decision hurts so very, very much. I've been laying low for a while, away from the computer and trying to focus on projects so that I don't let myself get too glum. So far it's been working but I still need more time. I am waiting for the vet to call me to pick up his ashes so that I can bring him home again. I think that this will hit me in waves and I will grieve a little bit more when that time comes. I just feel like there is an empty space inside of me that aches at the loss of my familiar.