Time to Say Goodbye

Pepper looking out a slot in the archive box I was using as a temporary pet carrier
Pepper looking out a slot in the archive box I was using as a temporary pet carrier.

November 28 to December 2, 2020

I drove back to the city Saturday evening, so exhausted my muscles cramped the entire drive home. I had planned to stay at River Song another day, but I’d run out of propane at the cabin. And I wasn’t in the mood for peopling, so rather than head into town to refill the tanks, I finished as many tasks as I could and called it a weekend. I’d go back to the city and spend Sunday binge-watching Netflix. Sounded like a great ending to a four-day weekend.

Pepper Dog Kitty, June 2012
Pepper Dog Kitty, June 2012, taken shortly after she came to live with me. This is the earliest photo I have of her. I suspect she was plotting my demise.

Pepper Dog, my 18-year-old tortoise shell, met me at the door. As always, she was happy to see me. Unfortunately, she’d also thrown up during my absence. A nice trail of vomit led down the edge of my bed and covered my 18V battery charger, filling the plugin socket.

And, a long trail of snot striped down the middle of my bed.

It was the last thing I wanted to deal with after a hard day’s work. Especially after the last thing I did before leaving Thursday morning was clean up vomit. My throw rugs were still in the back of my Sport Trac where I’d left them to dry. At least I didn’t have to clean those again!

I grabbed a handful of Clorox wipes and cleaned up the mess before bringing in my gear and then hitting in the shower. Fortunately, my bed is covered with vomit and snot guards, so I didn’t have to wash the bedding.

Sunday, November 29

Pepper Dog. She loved to sleep on her little quilt at the foot of the bed.
Pepper Dog. She loved to sleep on her little quilt at the foot of the bed.

I slept great Saturday night, a good ten hours.

And I spent Sunday as planned, binge-watching cooking competition shows on Netflix, with Pepper Dog at my side. We just laid around all day. I petted her and told her what a little weirdo alien freak she was as she tried to nip my chin. She cuddled up next to me, content just to be at my side. I called her Pepper Dog because she followed me around like a dog and was always at my side, rarely more than a foot or two away. For some reason, that freaky little creature being loved me.

Unfortunately, as usually happens after I’ve had a long night of good sleep, I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. Some time after 3:00 a.m., I finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by my alarm a few hours later.

Monday, November 30

I remember feeding Pepper Monday morning. I remember she didn’t eat very much, which surprised me. Usually, she eats everything I give her and then bugs me for more. I always tell her to wait an hour. If I let her eat too much, she’ll puke, and I’d had enough of that.

Pepper standing on a log in our yard.
Pepper standing on a log in our yard. October 2020.

Some time in mid morning, I realized she was no longer in the trailer. In my sleep-deprived state, I must have let her out. Only, I don’t remember.

I called for her, and she didn’t come. I cleaned her litter box, filling it with fresh litter, cleaned and refilled her water dishes, and cleaned her food dishes.

Still no Pepper Dog. I headed off to a doctor’s appointment, fully expecting her to be on the doorstep when I got home.

But, she wasn’t.

I spent an hour wandering around the neighborhood, calling for her. Another reason I call her Pepper Dog–she always comes when called. But, not this time.

Tuesday, December 1

Pepper checking out our new home, shortly before we moved in. January 2019.
Pepper checking out our new home, shortly before we moved in. January 2019.

Tuesday morning, and still no sign of her. She had never been away from home this long, and I was really worried. I knew she was old and sick. She spends most of her days now just sleeping like an old person. She rarely even wants to go outside anymore. And, for the past four years, she’s been on quarterly antibiotic shots for a chronic upper respiratory infection.

I spent another hour searching the neighborhood and posted in a couple of social media sites. Several people said they had seen her, but nothing recently. A neighbor helped me search for her Tuesday night, and still nothing.

Wednesday, December 2

She has crabs! Pepper sleeping on my desk. April 2020.
She has crabs! Pepper sleeping on my desk. April 2020.

I’d almost given up hope, and then at 1:25 Wednesday afternoon, I heard a meow at the door. She was home! I opened the door, and she came running in. She looked scared, but no signs of injury. I ran my hands over her body, searching for lacerations and signs of pain, but she looked fine. She jumped up on her counter behind my recliner, and I dropped a couple tablespoons of food in her dish.

I was happy to see her eat. When she was done, she jumped down in my recliner, and curled up for a nap.

I figured she was exhausted and let her sleep. An hour later, I gave her a little more food. I was surprised when she didn’t ask for more, but I just thought it was because she was excited to be home and tired from being gone two and a half days.

Pepper sunning herself in the driveway shortly after we moved to our new place. July 2020.
Pepper sunning herself in the driveway shortly after we moved to our new place. July 2020.

She slept again after that, this time on her cushion on my desk. An hour later, she was still not interested in food. Instead, she went to the other end of the trailer and hopped up on the bed.

Or, tried to.

She didn’t quite make it and hung with her body halfway on the bed, kicking with her back feet to climb the rest of the way up. I put my hand under her rear and gave her a boost.

I was a little worried. She wasn’t interested in eating anymore, and now she was having trouble jumping up on the bed, something with which she’s never had an issue. This cat was a fearless climber.

Still, she showed no signs of injury or trauma, and she was drinking plenty of water. And, she had had a little bit to eat. I decided to just let her rest. But I noticed she could no longer curl into a tight ball.

An hour or so later, she jumped down and went to sleep in the recliner. And couldn’t manage to get in it by herself. She sat there for a bit, trying to clean herself. She was clearly in pain.

She's no longer able to curl into a ball.
She’s no longer able to curl into a ball. In the six hours she was home, she declined rapidly.

I checked the time. The veterinary clinic had closed by this time; I’d have to call them in the morning if her condition didn’t improve over night.

Around 7:00 p.m., she came to join me on the bed. I watched her jump, and her little legs lifted her no more than four inches off the ground. Her front claws barely caught the edge of the bedspread, and she hung, looking up at me, with a bewildered look on her face. She couldn’t understand what was happening to her.

I lifted her up beside me. I felt so bad for my little friend and wished I’d taken her to the vet as soon as she got home. She curled into a loose C shape and went to sleep again.

A short time later, I looked over at her. A clear puddle of liquid seeped out beneath her tail. She had lost control of her bladder.

This couldn’t wait until morning.

My dear, sweet friend.
My dear, sweet friend. She loved me like no one else ever did.

I gently picked her up and put her in the cardboard archive box I’d been using as a pet carrier. She looked at me, puzzled, but didn’t protest. I put her on the front seat next to me and searched my phone for the nearest veterinary ER.

They admitted her immediately. The technician who met me in the parking lot said when an animal loses control of their bladder, it’s critical. Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t go in with her, so I kicked back in the driver’s seat, covered myself with a sleeping bag, and opened up a book on my phone.

About an hour and a half later, the vet called me and told me to go home. It would take a while to get the test results, she said. As soon as the results were in, they’d call me to come get her.

I picked up a box of tiny tacos for dinner on my way home. My poor little Pepper Dog Kitty would probably need access ramps built tomorrow so she could reach her favorite places while she recovered from her injuries. I thought about how I might build them while I took a shower and relaxed, waiting for the vet to call.

At about 11:00 p.m., the vet called. Pepper had had a stroke. Unlike humans, who usually have strokes in their brains, cats often have them in their spines. That’s why she had lost her ability to jump. And, it affected her bladder control. She could no longer urinate on her own and would need round the clock care and regular manual bladder manipulation in order to pee. Moreover, since her kidneys were failing, these manipulations would need to be done frequently, at least every two hours.

What a goofy little face!
What a goofy little face!


There was more.


Her lungs were full of clots.


She had heart disease. Something was enlarged; I don’t remember what.

After 18 years, my little friend’s body was failing. The vet started talking pulmonary specialists and teaching me how to empty Pepper’s bladder for her, but my mind went numb.

She could not be fixed.

My little friend’s body was failing, and nothing was going to stop that.

Pepper stalking deer.
Pepper stalking deer.

We might be able to buy her more time. A few more weeks or a few more months, maybe. But what kind of life would it be for an animal? She wouldn’t understand what was happening. She would be miserable and sick.

I couldn’t do that to my little friend. Pepper Dog Kitty was the happiest creature I’ve ever known in my life. She was always happy and sweet and loving. I would not be her cause of misery.

It was time to say goodbye.

I drove back to the ER. This time, they let me in. They took me to a special room and brought in my little friend wrapped in a blanket. I cuddled her and stroked her little head. She sat quietly and afraid while I told her what a good friend she’d been. I told her I loved her and that I was sorry it was time for her to go. I spent about 20 minutes with her, and other than turning to look at me once, she sat still. I couldn’t get her to stop shaking. She was so afraid. This was not like her.

I couldn’t see prolonging the inevitable. I buzzed for the vet. Pepper flinched as the anesthesia hit her veins, but was otherwise still. She slumped forward a bit, burying her nose in the blanket. I was crying so hard at this point, I couldn’t see anymore.

Pepper head butting my nose.
Pepper head butting my nose.

After a few minutes, the vet said she was gone. And then she left me alone with Pepper’s little body. I stayed probably another 20 minutes. I couldn’t stand the sight of my friend’s lifeless little body. My dear, sweet little friend was gone.

Her little body will be cremated and her remains returned to me in a cedar box. I will put them in the corner on her counter, on top of her little quilt, until I retire and return to the house we used to share. It was where she lived most of the time we were together, so it’s most fitting she be buried in her back yard.

I am so grateful I spent Sunday with her. If I hadn’t run out of propane, we wouldn’t have had that time together. And I’m grateful for the six hours we had on Wednesday. I talked to her and cuddled her while she sat in my recliner. She purred and head butted me and let me know how much she loved me.

She was a good friend. I miss that freaky little alien weirdo.