Steph's second-best friend

Our cat Minky was the first non-reptile pet Stephanie ever had, and Steph and the cat really hit it off. When Minky was a kitten, Steph was fascinated with her, and the fascination never faded. Stephanie sometimes said that I was her best friend, but Minky was her second best friend. And then she'd ask, "Is that crazy?"

Nah. Maybe it sounds crazy if you're not a "pet person," but a pet can be a great friend, and Minky and Steph were great friends. Steph often remarked, amazed, that the cat seemed to sense when Steph was blue, and hung around extra close on those nights. Steph loved Minky for that, among other things.

As I've written elsewhere, it took Stephanie a long while — perhaps a few years — to learn that she couldn't cuddle the cat whenever she wanted. Cats don't work like that. You have to let the cat decide when it wants to be cuddled. Once she let the cat decide, cat-cuddle time came more and more often.

Some days, Minky hid and we didn't see her at all. Other days she tolerated us, but wanted nothing much to do with us. Most days, though, our cat was friendly, almost like a puppy.

"It's the biggest compliment ever," Steph sometimes said, "when the cat jumps in your lap." Our cat often jumped into Stephanie's lap, and sometimes into mine. "Here's this creature," Steph said, "this non-human lump of fur and teeth, that shares our apartment."

A year or so ago, Minky was diagnosed with the same disease that killed Stephanie — kidney failure. Since then, Minky has been taking pills for her kidneys; first it was one pill daily, and eventually the vet doubled the dose. She's also had recurring urinary tract infections, and after the second one I became downright maniacal about keeping Minky's litter box clean — cleaner than our kitchen floors and counters. Her veterinarian explained, though, that the recurring infections really have nothing to do with the litter box; it's a side effect of the cat's kidney disease.

Minky got her fifth UTI infection a couple of weeks ago, so I took her to the vet again. Unlike the other four times, though, the antibiotics only helped a little, and not for long.

A week and a half later, Minky still wasn't eating much and seemed lethargic. Our ordinary vet had no appointments available that day, and I didn't think the cat could wait, so I drove her to the veterinary emergency room in Monona (an upper-crust suburb, south and east of Madison).

They ran some tests, and the veterinarian said that the combination of Minky's weakened kidneys and a severe infection was probably going to be fatal. "I know it's not what you want to hear, but the prognosis is not good."

One option, he said, was that Minky could be hospitalized for a week or so, which would let them monitor her kidney function and her response to antibiotics, and keep her hydrated and nourished. He also said he'd be surprised if she recovered, and that the hospitalization would cost upwards of $5,000. Don't want to weigh my affection for that critter in dollars, but I've spent a couple grand on Minky's appointments and prescriptions over the past year, and I'm silly, stupid, and sentimental enough I might invest another $5K in the cat. But not with such a negative prognosis.

Another option was that I could take Minky home, with an IV and several sacks of fluids to drip into her, and with meds to combat the infection, and more meds to ward off the nausea that's caused by the antibiotics, and more meds to help trigger an appetite. Price: $550, including vet, prescriptions, and supplies. Odds of recovery: About the same, he said, meaning it was unlikely she'd get better.

"Your third choice, and really what I'd recommend, would be euthanasia."

Sometimes I hate hate hate being a grown-up, and this was one of those times. What I really wanted was to talk it over with Stephanie, but there was no-one to talk with except the vet. The vet who sat in front of me, recommending that Minky be humanely killed.

I wasn't ready, willing, or able to do that, so instead we discussed the second option — bringing Minky home with an IV for fluids and a big sack of pills. Here's what was in my mind: Minky had been obviously uncomfortable for weeks, and more uncomfortable for days, and I didn't want to extend her life if it's hellish for her … but I also didn't want to put her down if there was a reasonable hope of recovery.

So I asked, if we did this home treatment regimen, the IV drip and dropping pills into the cat's mouth, and it didn't work, how long would it be before we'd know that it's futile? Doc said, if this treatment was going to be successful, I'd see improvement within a few days. Again he reminded me that he thought a recovery was unlikely, and then he added, "but sometimes I'm wrong."

I was holding the cat as I talked with the vet, and Minky was purring. It's awfully difficult to be pessimistic, when a cat is purring in your lap. So I went with the second option, and brought Minky home with bags of fluids and needles and pills, and a timeline in my mind: She needs to be doing better, or at least eating and not miserable, within a couple of days.

Here at home I gave Minky intravenous drips every evening to keep her hydrated, pinching her fur a little to glide the needle in. Even though the set-up was vaguely similar to IVs Steph and I had handled at home, I still managed to screw it up and accidentally spray the watery solution all around the room a couple of times, instead of into the cat. I gave her the prescribed pills at the prescribed times, watching and hoping for signs of improvement. She didn't seem to be getting either better or worse, though. She was still tired, slow, resting all the time and rarely eating.

A couple of days, the doc had said, so after a day and a half with no noticeable change, it seemed doubtful. My intent was to go to sleep, and if Minky had shown no signs of improvement by the next morning, I'd take her in for euthanasia. I was becoming more and more sure that I'd made the wrong decision at the pet hospital. I'm sorry, Stephanie. I'm sorry, Minky.

The cat no longer had the energy to jump into my lap, but over the past few days I'd lifted her and held her in my lap — often — and she hadn't tried to get away. She wouldn't purr, but she didn't seem to want down, either. She'd just sit in my lap and sleep, so I think my lap is where she wanted to be. I hope my lap was where she wanted to be. I was holding her on my lap, petting her and saying her name over and over as we always did — "Minky, Minky, Minky" — when she died. With just the briefest shudder, she was gone.

I'll miss Minky. She was a good cat, and a good friend, and since Steph died, Minky has been the only thing I've looked forward to at the end of the day. But Minky was mostly Stephanie's cat, so my favorite Minky memories are  memories of Stephanie. I'll miss the cat, and I'll never stop missing Steph.

Am I allowed to be a tiny bit glad that Steph didn't have to see her second-best friend die?