Monday, June 11, 2007

Goodbye, Belle

Well, today was a really sad day. When we went camping, we put Belle the cat into the laundry room, because in the past two weeks she has peed outside the litter box three times. Having had several cats in my lifetime do this for various ridiculous reasons, I didn't read anything into this. She was eating, drinking and acting like her little lazy self. Her day consisted of sleeping on the dining room table, or perhaps one of the chairs, purring when petted, and eating. That's it.
She didn't like it when Matt put her in there (big surprise) and we went off on our trip.

We came back, as Rachel already wrote about, on Saturday rather than Sunday, and as I was throwing laundry in I didn't see her, but Julia said she'd opened the door when we got home, so I assumed Belle had run out and was hiding because she was scared/angry at us. Honestly, I was so busy unpacking that I never thought about it again. We asked each other a time or two if anyone had seen her, but in a busy family it's easy to think someone else has, just not me. Late last night (Sunday), we heard a mew and found her in the crawl space in the basement behind the family room. She was lying on some old blankets we use as paint drop cloths, and purred when I picked her up--this should have tipped me off because although she lets me hold her, she's never exactly relaxed when I do so, but I figured she was happy to be found and probably hungry.

She went right to sleep on the dining room chair, and we noticed a raspiness to her breathing, but again, dismissed it. Since we live with Mimi, the incredible asthmatic cat, we don't take a little rasp very seriously. Well, this morning no one could find her. She didn't come to eat, and she wasn't in her usual station on the table. Rachel finally found her around noon, halfway under Emma's bed, which made us happy till we realized that she has also peed on the floor and was lying nearly in the puddle. Never a good sign.

Resigning myself to taking a sick cat and four kids to the vet and paying who knows how much money probably to be told there was nothing a few thousand bucks couldn't take care of, I called the vet, explained the symptoms, and made the earliest appointment available--3:30. This is where it started getting dicey. Her breathing was still strange and hitching, and she was making this little noise that was like a squeak and a meow all together. Hard to describe, awful to hear. Almost like a hoot. She was kind of lethargic, and we put her in a carrier with some water (she didn't drink) and the kids sat around the cage worrying about her.

I was busy trying to get lunch together, calm them all and tell them it would be OK, and in general go in three directions at once. They drifted off to play, Rachel got on the phone, and all of a sudden her noises got louder. I went in to check and her mouth was open, and drool was dripping from her mouth. She wasn't having a seizure, but I could tell it wasn't good. I opened the door and dipped my fingers in the water, trying to get her to drink by putting water on her tongue. She quieted, lay back down, and seemed calm, so I went back to what I was doing.

I came back in to check on her later, and that was it. She was dead. She looked peaceful, though her eyes were open and her paw was in the water. It was hard to tell for sure, but when I touched her I knew. Fast forward about an hour and a half, after I tried to calm my kids, called Matt, called Animal Control to make sure a backyard burial was legal, called the vet to cancel the appointment, and dug the hole. We put her in the side garden (the last thing I wanted was for Sophie to get curious and dig her back up!) by the roses and the blueberries.

Putting her into the hole really tested my courage! I didn't want the kids to realize how horrified I was, so I picked her up using the towel on the carrier bottom like a sling and eased her in--but I had to touch her after all because her foot was jammed and her head at an unnatural angle. I tried to make her look like she was sleeping...with her eyes open. We sprinkled rose petals over her and I asked the kids if they wanted to say anything about Belle, or to her.

Rachel and Julia cried and couldn't talk. Ben was stoic and watchful. Emma then piped up, "I have something to say!" So I asked her what she wanted to say, and her answer: "When can we get a new cat?" Excellent. So the eulogy fell to Mom, so what else is new. I said a few words about what a sweet cat she was, and how we all loved her and would miss her terribly. Then we all put the dirt back in the hole, which was horribly depressing. I usually leave the pet funerals to Matt for this very reason--but we weren't going to have a dead cat around all afternoon, that's for sure. We pressed it down (and boy, I hope I dug down enough...) and then Julia found a pebble that was white with a grayish streak and put it on top, saying that it had a silver stripe like Belle. She got upset when she couldn't find enough rocks, so I remembered we had some small colored stones in the house, and Julia made a cat face on top of the grave out of them, using her stone for the nose. We'll post a photo of it tomorrow.

So, poor Belle. We've only had her for two years, but she was a good cat and part of the family. We'll miss her a lot.


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