Saturday, July 14, 2012

The life lesson we hadn't intended

48 hours ago, this post (which I've been working on for weeks now) had a different title and a very different ending.  I've been undecided about whether I should even post this (after all, none of the other Life Stuff that has been going on in my world has made it to the blog in the past several months...) but I figure at this point, perhaps it will provide closure.

A few months before Kiddo's ninth birthday, Hubby and I decided that we were going to give her what she would consider the Best Birthday Present EVER: a kitten of her very own.  Kiddo had been having a pretty rough year in school, and while finances haven't been the greatest (are they really that great for anyone these days?), we decided adding one more cat to the household wouldn't be a strain after the initial adoption fees and vet fees.  We bought a litter box, some dishes and some new cat toys and wrapped them up for her in a box.  Following her first ever slumber party, which ended the morning of her actual birthday, we gave Kiddo the box to open.

At first, she thought these were just props she could use in playing kitty.  (She has several pairs of cat ears and tails and quite frequently pretends she is a cat.  I have even run errands with my kiddo-kitty.  Yes, one does get some strange looks when one is accompanied to the store by a child wearing cat ears and a tail.)  When we told her "well, you could use those to play kitty, or we could take you to the animal shelter right now and you could pick out a kitten" she went speechless.  I didn't think humans' eyes could actually get so large - it was like a cartoon come to life.

Needless to say, she was totally on board with the plan.  We hopped in the car, cat carrier in hand, and drove across the county to the shelter from which we'd adopted our older cat ten years ago.  (I'd called beforehand to confirm that they did, in fact, have many kittens available for adoption.)  It didn't take long at all before she fell in love with a kitten that was loaded up and on the way home with us less than an hour later - an auburn and white DLH that she named Mittens.

Mittens was an awesome fit for Kiddo.  She was a purring machine and instantly bonded with her new human, happy to be held and snuggled to Kiddo's heart's content.  Friends and relatives stopped by to meet the new arrival.  Kiddo introduced Mittens to her cousins in NJ via Skype.  She was happier than we've ever seen her.  It made my heart full to witness her joy and love for Mittens. 


Mittens, who was set up in Kiddo's room in a home base/quarantine situation to start with (before introducing her to our other cat), ate well, drank well, played well, used her litter box.  However, we noticed when she used her litter box for the first time that she had diarrhea.  And the second time.  And the time after that.  For the first two days, it was nothing but diarrhea.  Needless to say, we were concerned.  I called the vet and we brought her in with a stool sample on the third day for a check up.  We were sent home with medicine and the recommendation to feed her only meat baby food, which would be the most easily digested thing she could eat and therefore help rest her digestive tract so it could heal.  The vet wasn't overly concerned - diarrhea in shelter kittens isn't uncommon - and we were confident that a few days of the medicine plus the new diet would do the trick.

But it didn't.  A few days later, she still had constant diarrhea (which required her to be confined in an extra-large dog crate so the mess would stay contained - one that we totally decked out for her, including a carpeted "loft" Hubby built and installed in it, and also required me to bathe her back end to clean her up after she went because her long fur was no match for the mess squirting out of her).

She also started seeming less interested in her food and water, which was alarming.  Back to the vet we went, with another stool sample.  He felt that things could still turn around, since she hadn't been on the medicine for the full week yet, and gave her a hydration treatment which perked her right back up.  We were allowed to bring her home again, with an appointment made for three days' time to follow up.  While she was eating and drinking normally and back to her usual self following that hydration treatment, she still had the diarrhea when we took her in for the follow-up appointment.  That was when the vet decided the best thing to do at that point was to hospitalize Mittens, where he could monitor her more closely and try a higher level of intervention than we could provide at home.  We left the animal hospital with Kiddo in tears, but with the reassurance that things would surely get better and Mittens would be home in a few days.

This began a two and a half week period of visits to Mittens the inpatient - I'd pick Kiddo up at dismissal on school days and we'd trek over to the animal hospital, and on the weekends we'd head over as soon as we'd finished breakfast.  The staff would let us have a room (at first, one of the exam rooms, but then they let us use the shelter's adoption visit room instead, which was large, full of cat toys and had seating for humans) and we'd spend an hour or two (or three) with Mittens.  Kiddo would bring her favorite toy from home and would play with her and snuggle her. 

Mittens remained steadfastly loving and happy and active, but still had the bowel issues.  She got to the point where, despite being on steroids and a special hypoallergenic diet, she was just leaking constantly.  She'd run around the room playing with Kiddo, and I'd follow behind with a wipe to clean up the floor behind her.  It was a daily, ongoing heartbreak.  Every car ride home was full of questions and tears.  When will Mittens be better?  Why can't God fix her (Kiddo had not only been praying at home, but asking for prayers at church as well)?  Will she be home by Tuesday-Thursday-Friday-the weekend-next week?  No one could say.

The vet did everything in his power.  There was no cause he could come up with; she had no parasites, no illness, even the food allergies we suspected turned out negative.  Nearing the end of the second week of her hospitalization, he came in to talk to us as Kiddo and Mittens were playing in the visitation room.  He was blunt - he was nearing the end of his capabilities, and Mittens would need to be referred to a specialist for further investigation of the cause.  He suspected that it was a congenital defect.  He was willing to try one more thing - a different drug - in combination with the special diet, but if that didn't improve things (and he was no longer optimistic that they would improve), then she would be deemed "unadoptable" and she wouldn't be able to come home.  Kiddo was shattered.  (And of course, no child with an adoption story of her own - as Kiddo and I both have - wants to hear the word "unadoptable" either.  Ever.)  He suggested that Kiddo just pick out a new kitten and give up on Mittens.  Well, that wasn't happening.  Kiddo was determined to stick with Mittens until the very end - an end she still believed could be a healthy kitten coming home again.

We went on like this for another week.  The daily pilgrimages to the hospital, the bittersweet happiness in spending time with Mittens, the crushing sadness in the car ride home afterward.  We tried to prepare Kiddo for the probability that Mittens wouldn't come home.  The hospital has a few "hospital kitties" who were deemed "unadoptable" but who have a happy life there and are well cared for.  We talked this option up to Kiddo - that Mittens could be a "hospital kitty" and while she felt that was unfair, we just fervently hoped that would be the outcome, as opposed to her being put down.  Kiddo had us promise that we'd go and visit Mittens if she did become a "hospital kitty" who lived at the vet's.

Over the weekend following the talk with the vet, Mittens seemed to be improving.  Hope!  More than a glimmer - it seemed like the "last resort" drug was actually working!  She wasn't leaking anymore, and her stool was still soft, but not watery.  Then, when I took Kiddo over there the following Tuesday (the penultimate day of school), major heartbreak.  The vet tech on duty told us that Mittens was back to the leaking, watery, "spraying everywhere" diarrhea.  The vet had officially declared her unadoptable.  I had this conversation with the vet tech out in the hallway, as Kiddo played blithely on with Mittens in the visitation room.  I texted Hubby.  It was time for Kiddo to say goodbye to Mittens.  The vet tech said we could choose another kitten - a healthy one - to bring home instead, as they still had many, many kittens who needed homes.  I went back into the visitation room.  Kiddo could see the look on my face and knew it was bad news.

That was the hardest thing I'd ever had to tell her - that she needed to say goodbye to Mittens, because Mittens wasn't going to be able to come home.  Once the vet tech collected Mittens and took her out of the room, Kiddo and I sat and cried together.  Absolute heartbreak.  I asked Kiddo if she would want another kitten, because this was totally up to her - she could choose one now, or at some other point, or not at all.  She decided to look at the other kittens who needed homes, so we saw six other kittens.  The sixth one looked like Mittens (although they weren't related) with the same dark fur and white belly and paws.  Kiddo sat with the kitten, played with her, and thought about it.  She decided she would like to bring this kitten home.

So, home we went with a new kitten, whom Kiddo named Socks.

Socks has a distinctly different personality than Mittens - much more mischievous and less snuggly overall, but still loving and happy to be with Kiddo.  She quickly decided her favorite sleeping spot was right smack-dab on Kiddo's head.  Kiddo nicknamed her TTT for Teeny Tiny Troublemaker, as well as "the IBK" (for Itty Bitty Kitty).  Socks was just 8 weeks old the day we brought her home.

Kiddo told me that night that she was confused.  She was so sad about Mittens but happy about Socks.  She didn't know which feeling was "correct" and she didn't want Mittens to be sad that she was happy about Socks, and she didn't want Socks to be sad that she was sad about Mittens.  We had a lengthy talk about how it is okay to feel both things at once, to be both sad about Mittens and happy about Socks.  We talked about how you don't stop loving someone just because they aren't with you any more.  We continued to pray that Mittens would have a happy life, even if it was as a hospital kitty and not home with our family.

The following week, I had to bring Socks to the vet for her spaying surgery.  (This is a condition for adopting from the shelter.)  Kiddo was understandably nervous, but the next day, we picked Socks up and she came home with a shaved belly but otherwise no worse for the wear.  (She also was the first cat I've ever had - and I've had dozens - who actually liked taking medicine.  Then again, she is one of those "OMG it has been FOREVER since I've had any food and I'm STARVING - FEED ME NOW!!!!!" kinds of kitties, so perhaps the medicine was just another kind of "food" in her opinion.)  When I went to drop Socks off (without Kiddo in tow), I inquired about Mittens.  I feared the worst - to learn that she'd been put down - and was happily surprised to hear that she was once again improving and might even be cleared for adoption again.  !!!  I shared that news with Hubby and that night, we decided that if Mittens was made available for adoption, we would adopt her again.  We were prepared to have a special needs kitty, after all, we have a special needs kid.  I let them know the next morning that we wanted Mittens, and over the next week we kept in touch with the staff, hearing nothing but cautiously optimistic news.

Then, this past Monday, I got a call from the hospital.  The unbelievable had happened - Mittens was better and cleared for adoption.  She still had softer than average stool, but it was no longer diarrhea and there were no hygiene issues.  If we were still interested, she could be ours!  I gleefully texted Hubby the update and we did internal happy dances all afternoon. We told Kiddo the news that night at dinner, and she was flipping out.  If one kitten was the Best Thing Ever, then two kittens?  Wow!!!!!  She could hardly fathom!  The next morning, Kiddo and I went over to the vet's and she was reunited with Mittens while I did the paperwork for the adoption.

Once the paperwork was complete, they put her on the schedule to be spayed on Thursday and then we were going to be able to bring her home today (Saturday).

Kiddo spent the next 48 hours in a state of elation.  She talked endlessly about how she was going to have TWO kittens.  She preemptively nicknamed them "Double Trouble" and told everyone - and I mean everyone; the check-out lady at the library, the cashier at Wegmans, random passers-by in the locker room at swimming lessons - the story.  It was fantastic to see her excitement - an excitement that Hubby and I shared.  Plans were made for how Mittens would spend the first week sequestered in Kiddo's room while Socks would continue having the run of the house (much to our older cat's ongoing chagrin).  We already had the special kitty litter to use during her post-surgical recuperation.  The shelter staff had sent us home that Tuesday with two bags of the kitten chow Mittens had been eating, so we could acclimate Socks to it (we'd decided that what one cat in the house ate, all of them would eat, because this is a house, not a feline restaurant).  We were set.  There was much rejoicing on Facebook when I shared the good news.  I'd decided I was going to go ahead with my long-overdue return to blogging post, A Tale of Two Kitties.  I had been reluctant to post it when it was a story about how Kiddo's heart had broken with the Mittens saga, but who doesn't love a story with a happy ending? 

My phone rang as Kiddo and I were driving home from a friend's house on Thursday afternoon.  I saw it was the vet and picked up, expecting it to be the update on how Mittens did with the surgery.  It was, but not what I'd ever wanted to hear. 

The adoption specialist, who'd been one of the primary staff members we'd been dealing with since the morning of Kiddo's birthday back in May when we first met Mittens, was on the line.  She was crying.  I knew before she even said it that the really, really worst, the unimaginable worst, had happened.

Mittens died during surgery.

I was in tears.  I tried to stay calm and quiet, because Kiddo was right there in the back seat.  We pulled into the garage and I turned off the car as I listened to the news.  Kiddo noticed I was crying and asked me what was wrong.  I got off the phone and turned around to face her.  I pulled her into my lap and told her.

I didn't think heartbreak could get worse than what we'd already gone through.  Of course that wasn't the case.  Now today, instead of driving to the vet to bring Mittens home, we are going to pick out a memorial stone for her to put in our garden next to the memorial stone for Swimmy, Kiddo's goldfish.  I realize that in the grand scheme of things, this is a small tragedy - a kitten who lived less than four months.  But to Kiddo, this is a very big tragedy indeed.  She loved Mittens with all her heart, and this loss is as big to her as it could be. 

 This is the MIttens angel Kiddo made, to remember her by.

Mittens the awesome kitten, March 26 - July 12, 2012.  Rest in peace, you are forever in our hearts.


Debi said...

awww needed to be in is therapeutic...RIP Mittens

Andy said...

I hope you found some closure in sharing the whole story. My heart aches for kiddo. How is she doing?

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Givinya De Elba said...

Oh Heather. How heartbreaking for you all, especially Kiddo. Thinking of you.

Allegro ma non troppo said...

That's been a rough ride. May Socks live to be 20!

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