He changed my perspective on when to put animals down.

When Oscar came to us he was 11-years old. 

He was with us until he was 19-years old.

And though he wasn’t with us from a kitten, he became an integral part of our lives and it broke my heart when he died.

I still can’t think about him without tearing up, but the pain of him not being here is not as sharp as it used to be.

But let met start at the beginning.

He came to us from a family that were worried he was the sweetest cat ever and was getting bullied by their younger cat.

Their younger child was also treating him badly, pulling his tail and being too physical.

So, he came to us.

The first time he came out of the travel crate, I marvelled.

He was huge!

Bigger than any pet I’d ever had before (to be fair, I’d only ever had females of smaller breeds before him).

Oscar was a moggie/Norwegian Forest Cat cross, which meant he was very floofy.

He was also obese.

The previous home free-fed their cats on cheap supermarket foods.

But, not knowing any better, we fed him the food he was used to.

It didn’t take long before he started getting itchy.

Then he scratched his face completely bloody.

The vet concluded that he’d become allergic to the supermarket wet food and that he was too fat.

And was it any surprise? 

It was full of additives and colours and carbs.

It wasn’t until I fought battle of wills with Oscar that lasted for two weeks that I finally got him to eat vet-prescribed food.

His poop stopped being red and green as the food no longer contained colours.

A few years went by like this, and all seemed well, except for that he was also allergic to pollen and needed antihistamines every time allergy season came around.

We gave him pills, put creams on his face and carted him back and forth to the vet for shots when it got bad.

He was our best friend, always there, always participating in everything we did.

We would have done anything for that cat.

I worked part-time from home, and he was always there to sit with me as I worked.

He made sure I was never alone.

Then finally came the day when he got wobbly.

The vet concluded that his kidneys had gotten worse, but not drastically.

Slow renal failure is normal in older cats.

He went through some infections, got treated for every one.

His teeth were rotten from years of neglect by the previous owners, we went through several surgeries to fix that.

But the big problem was now diabetes.

Getting old, and living for years on food with the nutritional value of sugared cardboard, he now had diabetes.

So began the daily measuring of his blood sugar and insulin injections.

We managed his diabetes well for several years.

He wasn’t in pain, he was eating well, not losing weight, he was active and his eyes had that spark of curiosity.

By the time I got pregnant, he was already old-old.

He took to the baby wonderfully, becoming the most patient feline babysitter I’ve ever seen.

He was my daughter’s first guide to animals.

She learned how to be quiet and respectful around animals.

She learned how to not push to make friends with a cat.

He was the best teacher we could have asked for.

But then over the course of some weeks his condition started to slide.

I knew the end was coming.

A few days before he died, he was sleeping in the hallway, and I suddenly got this feeling like he’d gotten the zoomies and was tearing around the house (which was unusual for him).

But when I went to see, he was fast asleep.

That’s when I knew the end was near.

I cried and cried, mourning a time when he would no longer be with us.

I kept on with his care routine, but I could tell he wasn’t up for it any more.

Then his legs gave out.

He couldn’t get up any more.

His legs wouldn’t listen to him.

Bless his heart, he tried, but his body just wasn’t listening any more.

I got a time at the vet that same day and spent the day cuddling him, horrified at his ice-cold paws.

When the vet finally confirmed he was no longer with us, I burst out crying in a loud, embarrassing tears.

I was heartbroken then, and the world is still a little less bright because he’s not here with me.

When I carried my then 3-year-old daughter out into the cold winter night to go back home sans cat, I pointed up to the stars in the inky black sky and said, “Look, Oscar’s there now, watching over us. He went home.”

Even today, years later, she’ll sometimes point up at the sky when she sees a star, “Look, Oscar.”

After his death I had to do a lot of sitting with my own grief.

It was gruelling.

And often, as I sat there feeling the loss of this one cat in the depths of my soul, I felt distantly guilty over being so upset about a cat.

What would people think?

As I sat with those feelings of grief and shame, a guilt started to emerge.

I began looking back on my last years with Oscar.

And I realised I’d been incredibly selfish.

I’d kept him around because I could. 

Because the vet said we could keep him comfortable.

But while “comfortable” and “pain free” seemed okay at the time, after he was no longer there, I had to wonder.

And the more I sat with that uncomfortable feeling, the more I realised that I should have let him go at least three years before.

Before the diabetes required several procedures per day.

Before his quality of life declined to moments in-between procedures.

If I had been a fair pet owner, I would have called an end before it got so bad.

But *I* didn’t want to let go.

*I* didn’t want to be without him.

*I* selfishly held on as long as I could.

So, after grieving and working through my own guilt about the kind of friend I’d been to him, I decided that while I can’t change how I did things with him, I can make sure I don’t do it again.

And so, I’ve accepted that I have to take responsibility for being a good friend to future animal companions.

A fair owner.

Animals only know how they feel right now, and they either feel good or bad, there is no conceptualising with them.

When feeling bad starts outweighing feeling good, it’s time for me to face reality and do the fair thing: let them go.

If I think medical assistance in dying is something that gives humans dignity, why should I not expand that definition to include animals as well?

Oscar showed me how the quality of life degrades when life becomes about surviving and staying alive — especially with artificial means.

He showed me how he had no choice but to put up with my insistence on that we would carry on, even if it took a lot from him.

After all he gave to me, I was unfair to him.

I will never not feel guilty about being as selfish with him as I was, but I can’t change the past, I can only move forward.

That guilt is now a part of me, because I need to do better in the future, because acknowledging and embracing it is how I can respect everything Oscar gave me.

Forgive me, old friend, I should have done better by you. ❤️

Originally published in Modern Women

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