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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: November 30, 2010--February 23, 2012

Tuesday, November 30, 2010:

That lovely creature on the left, the one getting the furry eyeball from Cora, is Dinah the cat. (You may ignore the rubbish surrounding them; this picture was taken in the midst of a decluttering process that I assure you has left our house looking less like a featured case on Hoarders and more like, oh, the set of American Buffalo. No miracles were performed, in other words, but it's a start.)

Dinah came to live with Bev and me about a month ago, because Bev's sister, Audrey, relocated to their parents' house, and their dad is severely allergic to cats. Dinah had, in fact, lived here for a couple years with Audrey and Bev before I knew any of them--and we are still unearthing the hairballs to prove it--so Dinah settled back in quickly and wasted no time getting reacquainted with Bev. She warmed up to me quickly as well, cautiously nuzzling my leg while I'd sit here doing my transcription work, then hopping away after I scratched her head a couple times, and then circling around and doing it all again. She wasn't much interested in exploring the house beyond this room, or at least she didn't want us to notice she was exploring. A couple times, when Bev and I were sitting on the couch watching some terrible thing (Bitchin' Kitchen, say), I'd notice a shadow bolting through the hallway and then slinking back moments later, relieved to have confirmed that the kitchen still stood. More often, though, if she was on a trajectory to leave the computer room, she would decide at the last second that it was more interesting to rub her face all over the door jamb, and would then toddle back in here and fall asleep next to the heat register or sit on top of my Casio and stare out the window. She was very full of herself and adorable.

You have noticed, I'm sure, that I am speaking of Dinah in the past tense. You know where this story is going, and, baby, it ain't "happily ever after." (Shut up, I am too allowed to write like a member of the Rat Pack.)

On Sunday, Bev and I noticed that Dinah was doing a lot of panting and hadn't been eating, so we agreed that I'd take her to the vet the following day just to make sure nothing was wrong. (Our local vet clinic is not open on Sundays, and Dinah didn't seem like she was in any sort of distress that would necessitate a visit to the emergency vet. She was still prancing around, purring as she submitted to head scratches, and foppishly twitching her tail.) So yesterday morning I called the vet and set up an appointment for the afternoon. At that point, Dinah was hanging out under our bed, on a spare pillow. Not unusual, apart from the continued panting.

When the time came to head to the clinic, it wasn't much of a struggle to get Dinah into the kitty carrier. I'd had no prior experience inserting a cat into a travel crate, and many of my friends' cat stories led me to expect a battle (I'd donned a long-sleeved shirt to guard against my forearms being whittled to the bone like a frenched rack of lamb), but although Dinah clearly wasn't crazy about the idea and let out some frustrated mews, it only took me a couple minutes to coax her inside. As I carried her to the car, I could feel her trying to get settled in the carrier, and I spent the seven-minute ride to the vet apologizing to her for the stress and reassuring her that I wasn't trying to be mean at all, but was taking her someplace to help her feel better. The upbeat, calming tone was for her. The words were for me. Obviously.

When I arrived at the clinic and lifted her tote out of the car, though, she wasn't moving or breathing. I could see through the carrier's mesh window that her mouth was hanging open, one white strand of saliva trailing from her paw to her fang, and her green eyes were frozen open and staring at nothing, pupils enormous and terrified. I dashed inside and the receptionist hustled me into the surgery prep area behind the examination rooms. I didn't watch as the vet hoisted Dinah from the kitty carrier and performed CPR. Instead I stared at a very woozy Alaskan husky waking up from anesthesia at my feet. After a couple minutes, the vet put down her tools, turned to me, and gently started into the list of efforts they'd made to save Dinah, which it seems is the accepted method of getting the message "We've done all we can do" across in as professional a manner as possible.

The vet told me that Dinah's panting was likely a symptom of the final stage of heart disease, and her heart had finally given out in the car. She said, "Cats are so sneaky" about hiding signs of illness that the vet herself probably wouldn't have been able to spot anything wrong if we'd brought her in before the panting started. I assume that was her way of telling me that there is nothing we could have done differently to prevent Dinah's death. Maybe she was telling the truth or maybe it was a white lie. I appreciate the effort either way. I don't fully believe it, though that doubt is clearly not a constructive way of thinking. After all, it happened the way it happened and there's no getting her back with a promise to be more perceptive this time around. Even if my best efforts to take care of her weren't good enough, it's probably best to believe that nobody's best efforts could reasonably have been. Maybe it's self-deceiving, maybe it's not, but it's the perspective that makes the most sense for purposes of mental self-preservation. I'll try.

I paid the $35 cremation fee at the front desk, where the sweet receptionist started crying and offered condolences. I mostly held it together until I got to the car, and I managed to stave off the full-on Losing My Shit stage for seven more minutes, until I arrived home.

During the computer room clean-out process that Bev and I undertook as our weekend project, we put together a nook in the closet that we thought Dinah might have enjoyed as a hangout. I folded a piece of foam batting into a little tube in which I thought she'd have fun napping, if she felt like fantasizing about being a Japanese business traveler. Bev painstakingly arranged various boxes and shelves into a series of steps leading up to a comforter on which Dinah could perch and survey the room if she wasn't in the mood to deal with the dogs. (Bubba in particular wanted so desperately to be her friend that Dinah visibly felt like he was coming on a little strong. They would have become good friends in time, but if Bubba were a human, his initial response to your OKCupid profile would read, "LET'S MOVE IN TOGETHER!!!") I sat in here yesterday, staring at the unused little kitty sanctum we'd constructed, and bawled. Dinah was 13 and had lived a full and exciting life--with Audrey, she'd done stints in Boston, Cleveland, and Mexico, which I have to think made her pretty worldly by feline standards--but she was new to me, and all I could think was how tragic it was that she never got to experience this ramshackle little playground in the closet.

Bev tells me that, even though I never had a chance to become as close with Dinah as I hoped to, the little fluffball must have liked me a lot already: "If she didn't like you, you would have never seen her. She was good at not being found when she didn't want to be found." I'm glad we got to be buddies quickly, and she spent so much of her time in this house sleeping in a posture of pure decadent sloth that I am sure her final weeks were mostly happy ones.

But I still feel like I failed her. She was only here for a month--I've had rhinoviruses that I spent more time with than I got to spend with Dinah--but it was ample time for her to become so important to me that her absence makes me like the world significantly less. On top of that, I'm never going to shake the frightened rictus on the face that was no longer looking back at me when I peered into her carrier in the parking lot. Regardless of whether there's anything I should have done differently, it's impossible to see that expression on the empty face of an animal you love and not feel like a monster because she died feeling that way while she was in your care.

I'm so sorry, Dinah.

1:20 PM.

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