Here is some of what I know of Milo kitty, who died on January 24th.
He was found in a roofing warehouse by the man I was later to marry. He was a kitten but not feral, and very much in love with the other cat in the house, Gibby. Milo was named after Milo Aukerman, and also the cat in the movie Milo and Otis. (Gibby was named after Gibby Haynes.)
I met these three, Milo Gibby and Moses, something like six years later. Gibby was very much an alpha cat, and Milo was happy to follow him around. They were all living on a quiet street in Wedgwood next door to a house with yard overgrown to the point of being jungly. The cats spent a good deal of time over in that yard. I have a picture in my mind of Milo jumping up on the log-post fence and disappearing into the mass of rhododendrons and blackberry bushes and long grass on the other side, not to reappear until hours later.
Shortly after we moved to our house in a nearby neighborhood, Gibby died of a sudden and acute case of we know not what. That was over 10 years ago, and ever since then, Milo has been an only cat. He made the adjustment admirably — instead of following Gibby around, he would follow me or Moses around. He took to sleeping on a pillow between our two pillows. He made friends — kind of — with the neighbor cats. He ate, played, slept, and purred, he did his business outside bless his heart, and just generally was right up there among the best cats ever.
A few months ago he started to lose weight and fur, and he seemed less energetic than usual. In the hopes of helping him gain back some weight, we started feeding him wet food regularly for the first time in years, and oh my heavens, that wet food gave him a new lease on life. He LOVED it. But it didn’t seem to help him gain weight.
He also stopped going outside to do his business, opting instead to use the dining room floor, the kitchen floor, the hallway floor or the bathroom floor. (All those years of reading Sars’s advice to cat owners with litter box problems, thinking smugly that our cat was so superior, came back to bite me.) We set up a litter box in the laundry room but he didn’t use it much. We finally set up a box in the dining room, and he would use it sometimes, but there were still several times a day he would use the floor. We went through a lot of floor cleaner and paper towels.
He had some mouth bleeding one day, which was really scary, and so we took him to the vet. Found out he had hyperthyroidism and some kidney issues, and some sores on his tongue. The vet prescribed daily fluid injections (at home, yikes!), some pills, and chamomile tea to rinse his sore mouth. The injections were, of course, the most challenging for all of us, but all of it was really uncomfortable for him.
Eating was becoming more difficult for him. He couldn’t use his tongue very well, and so he had to kind of just bite the food up out of the bowl. He would do that until all that was left was flattened down food, and he would have to stop. Then one of us would come over with a spoon and push the food back into as tall a pile as possible, and he would have another go. Once he was really done, he’d try to clean himself but couldn’t do a very good job. I took to wiping off his face and front legs regularly with a damp cloth, but it was tough to keep up, especially if I had to be out of the house for any significant length of time.
Our little messy-faced boy.
Then came Christmas. We typically go to Oregon for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Always in the past, we had been able to leave him at home during trips like this, and a neighbor friend would get him fed and watered. But we couldn’t ask a friend to give him pills, tea rinses, and saline injections (can you imagine?) so we brought him to a cat boarding place that our vet recommended. The vet at the boarding place examined him and discovered a cancerous growth in his mouth.
I hate cancer.
He did well that week at the cat hotel. He apparently ate a lot — the very kind tech I talked to there said that every time she went past his enclosure he had food on his face again.
The day we brought him home from the boarding place, I spent a good deal of time with him on my lap, and made sure he was as comfortable as he could be. Skipped my morning walk, left the house untidy, and just sat with him. It was good. In the weeks that followed, we all tried to do as much Milo-doting as possible. Clara was especially lovey-dovey with him. But he just kept getting more and more uncomfortable.
Finally we had to make that one bad hard decision. Milo was put to sleep at the vet on a Friday afternoon. Moses took him while I kept Clara with me at work and Muriel was at school. We told the girls that night that he had died.
I’d never been a decider in a mercy killing situation before. I’d been there alongside others but never one of the ones in charge.
I’m still having trouble with the guilt. We killed him. We took his life away. Who are we to do that?
I think part of the reason I am having a problem is that he had a better day on his last day. He had lots of attention and lap time that morning. And as I was leaving to go to work, I offered him the chance to go outside. I had been doing this every time I saw him show any interest in the door: open the door, say Milo, want to go out? and watch him turn away and come back inside. On his last day, I showed him the open door and he turned away as usual. But it was a beautiful day, not horribly cold, sunny. So I carried him outside and set him down on a deck chair. He right away started sharpening his claws on the wood — hadn’t seem him do that in such a long time! It was so good to see. He sat in the warm sun. I wanted so badly to stay with him, and wished so hard that I had thought to carry him outside weeks ago.
It was very hard to drive away then.
A little while later, after I’d gotten to work, Moses reported that Milo had come back inside to eat, but then had gone back outside, of his own volition, and spent a good deal of time out there in the sunshine. I’m so glad he got to do that.
But it makes me think maybe he had more life to enjoy. Maybe we made the decision too soon.
It’s been two weeks now and I am still struggling with this great sadness and guilt. Earlier this week was maybe the hardest, which, well, I had thought it would get easier every day. It did not. But then yesterday I woke up feeling a lot more like myself, so it looks like I’ll be able to claw my way up out of this hole completely, eventually.
Milo was never mean. You know how some cats have a natural mean streak? You’re petting them, everything’s fine, then they suddenly turn on you and bite and scratch? Milo never once did that, not even when the little ones were not being quite gentle enough. His M.O. was either Run Away Now, or Don’t Let the Small Humans Get Anywhere Near You in the First Place. And he never ever intentionally hurt any of the Big Humans.
I still have the faintest of marks on my forearm where he lost his footing and scratched me, a few days before he died. I want it to stay visible forever but it will be gone in a few days. I’ve let go the idea of making it the design for my first tattoo.
There aren’t enough pictures of him. What I wish we had now is a video of Moses playing with him on the back lawn, letting him chase a long stalk of grass. He was like a kitten then, and very fierce. Cutest hunter cat in the history.