For those of us with pets there will probably come a time when we have to make that awful decision: is it time to put them to sleep?
Faced, for the third time in my life, with this decision, I decided to see if the Internet could help. As luck would have it, I found two sites with advice that did actually help. A driving factor for me, I now realise, was that I wanted to pick the perfect moment: neither too soon nor too late.
HHHHHMM: Dr. Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The five H’s and two M’s are: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best). If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable.
Olive, who won’t now be turning 19 in a couple of weeks, scored poorly on this test. She was in pain with arthritis and the pain medication didn’t seem to be helping a whole lot. She lost a lot of weight very rapidly and couldn’t seem to drink enough water. She was showing signs of dehydration and hygiene became a problem. Her mobility was very poor.
On the other hand, her coat was shiny and soft and she would motor to the front door to be let in every morning. She wanted just as much attention as ever.
The web pages helped me make the decision to take her in to the vet to be put to sleep.
Two other things caught my eye too. Page 1 of the same article refers to
the gift of a peaceful passing. As I struggled with deciding the right thing to do, that phrase was a good reminder to look at things from more than just my own point of view.
The second thing was this, in a different article, Ten ways YOU know it’s time to euthanize your pet:
… while it’s all about what’s best for your pet, your feelings count, too.
I had tended to put my own feelings aside: I wanted what was best for Olive.
I actually started writing this post on Thursday, just after I’d rung the vet to make an appointment for Friday. I wasn’t quite sure I was doing the right thing. During Thursday Olive declined rapidly, though in true Olive fashion, she wouldn’t give up. Eventually, at 7pm, I called the vet to come and put Olive to sleep at our house. By then there was no doubt it was the right decision. I couldn’t bear to see her body struggling along, although it seemed Olive had all but passed away. It was clear there was no hope of any kind of recovery, and waiting another 15 hours for the scheduled appointment would just be torture for all of us.
I first came across Olive when she was playing in the portion of Wellington’s Town Belt right next to where we lived at the time. Our new neighbours had brought her from the SPCA. Some time later the neighbours announced they were moving overseas and we arranged for Olive to come and live with us. That was around 2001.
Olive turned out to be quite a needy and demanding cat, who knew exactly what she wanted. She would persist, and persist, and persist in striving for her goal. If she wanted you to pet her (head only, and definitely not along her back) then she’d paw (claws out) at you until you gave in. She’d cry all night (with the loudest cat cry in the world, I believe) if she was shut in the other room.
One night she jumped up at the door handle all night in an attempt to swing the handle down to open the door.
Once we moved to the beach I set up a comfy outside house for all 3 cats with warm beds, food, water and a run. This was partly to do with logistics around 2 dogs who chased the cats mercilessly. In the morning, when I let the cats out, Olive would head straight for the front door. Then she’d roam around, getting a drink (obviously lounge water was far superior to cat palace water), and trying to climb on the kitchen bench. I’d eventually get her settled on the chair beside me, by patting her with one hand, while using the other to catch up on emails and Twitter. Then maybe I’d get breakfast or a cup of tea. The moment Olive saw I needed both hands for eating she’d get back to pawing at me, or trying to climb on my lap. If I put her outside for a bit of peace she’d sit at the glass door miaowing piteously and scratching at the glass.
Olive was an intense presence for the 15 years she lived with us. Her passing brings a mix of sadness and relief. Now she’s resting quietly on a small hill where the land’s previous owner buried her two cats, in a small grove of young cabbage trees, one newly planted in her honour.