Life is not fair. Ok, I get that. I also understand that many, many people out there are going through worse, and I comfort myself with that. Thinking that way works for me, most of the time, until I look into little Jethro’s sea green eyes. You see, my kitten has FIP. My tiny, perfect, three pound, ten week-old baby is dying.
Jethro was what we called my “warranty” kitten. Last December, we brought home a kitten for our youngest daughter and almost immediately decided that Jack needed a playmate. Our three older cats were in no way, shape or form interested in playing with Jack so we brought home Charlie. The two kittens took to one another as if they had been litter mates and the house rumbled with tiny paws rampaging on the landings. Charlie had cerebellar hypoplasia and ran into a few more walls than Jack but he never seemed to notice and they had an immediate bond.
Within a week of coming home with us, Charlie stepped into my heart as my “baby.” I gave him a bit of milk one day and, when I picked him up afterward, he got sick, all over both of us. I quickly used a warm wash cloth to clean him up before cleaning myself. That incident, with me substituting a wash cloth for a mother’s tongue, must have signaled to Charlie that he had a new “mommy.” Charlie began a nightly routine of nursing on my pink, fuzzy robe. Two or three times a night, I would be awakened by tiny claws kneading at my neck. Charlie filled a void in my heart left from years of infertility. Charlie needed a mommy, and suddenly, I had a “baby.”
Everything seemed fine until Jack was ready for “that” surgery. I wasn’t surprised that Charlie spent most of his day relaxing while Jack was away, after all, it’s no fun “ninja-ing” all alone. When Charlie didn’t resume his normal activities the next day, we took a trip to the vet. “Fever of undetermined origin,” said my vet. “Could be as simple as teething, could be a sign of something worse.” We started antibiotics. Charlie got better. We finished antibiotics. Charlie got worse. After a couple of rounds of this, Charlie went to a kitty neurologist for a consult. A new medication seemed to help briefly, but in the end, Charlie lost his life to FIP. I was devastated.
Despite Jack’s obvious loneliness, I couldn’t bring myself to think of another kitten. Then there was a posting on the CH kitty site about a kitten in Seattle needing a home. He looked remarkably like Charlie and even shared a distinct, heart-shaped marking. We decided we would take him. He passed away before he was ready to go to a new home. I told myself that he was blessed to have found such loving caregivers.
My oldest daughter volunteers at the shelter we got Jack and Charlie from and their policy is that if your kitten doesn’t make it, they will give you a new one. Several times, I went to the shelter just to hold the babies, but no one touched my heart like Charlie had, until Jethro. Tiny, with a purr like a lawn mower, Jethro sat in my arms and purred up at me, nuzzling the underside of my chin. I sent a text to my husband with his picture and the caption, “Can I goes home wid you? I is a very good boy, I likes to be holded.” That first night, Jethro slept by my chin, just where Charlie used to. I felt the hole in my heart begin to heal.
We soon discovered that Jethro had an incredible talent for loving people. He went from person to person in the house giving love and affection to each one. He and Jack slept together in my quilting hoop and once again the house came alive with the sound of “ninja-ing” at night.
“Definitely FIP,” my vet said yesterday. “A few days, maybe a week.” After telling me what to look for as signs that the end was drawing near, my vet gave me his sympathies and a request to call on Monday. He understood my desire to hold on. Jethro is not in pain, he told me, anymore than you are when you have a slight fever. As long as he’s eating, not isolating himself and not struggling to breathe, he’s ok.
And so the watch begins. I take seriously my responsibility to help him avoid any real pain. When I see the signs that he’s beginning to get close to pain, I will bring the vet out here to release him. Just like with Charlie, I will hold him in my arms and talk to him as he crosses over. I will watch his eyes grow dim and then dark and I will tell him how much I love him. Then, when I’m ready, I will hand him over to the gentle vet who will take him to the pet mortuary. And I will watch her drive away with a piece of my heart.