Granny Weatherwax was euthanased peacefully at home on Wednesday 21st January 2015. She was the gentlest auld girl, with the most affectionate headbonk ever. She is much loved and much missed.
Sleep soft, dear friend.
My website was acting the maggot at the time and I wasn’t able to add a memorial for her. The recent passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series which starred Granny’s namesake, has prompted me to gather some photos together and remember my lil ol’ lady cat who lived well past her sell-by date in my care. And to say how sad I was to hear that Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, had his final encounter with Death – the legend lives on.
Way back in September 2011 a friend called, concerned about a raggedy cat that had turned up in her shed. When she brought said cat to the vets we were confronted with an elderly, skinny, skanky, FIV+, nearly toothless mess of a cat. As if that wasn’t enough, blood filled one of her eyes, we thought probably from a blow to the head, maybe an RTA. She was super affectionate, most grateful for any attention, making us think she must belong to someone. But no microchip. And no-one came looking. She was healthy enough to neuter, but when the vet went in he found the job was already done. (Note – if for no other reason, microchip your cats to save needless operations like this one!) So she definitely had had a home at some point.
Fachtna, our vet, reckoned she was an elderly ten-year-old – though it was difficult to tell with so few teeth! And she came home with me to recuperate and, we hoped, flourish. But she didn’t. For a couple of months, although she gained a bit of weight, she remained skanky, disoriented and in not-great health. She knew what a litter tray was, but had trouble using it properly. We didn’t expect her to last very long at all. She started going downhill, despite her meds, and one Sunday, as Granny lay in her chair, unmoving, I called Jen in to ask if I should take her down to Skibbereen that day or would she be okay till Monday, when the vet could come and euthanase her at home (I prefer an easy way out at home for my companions where possible – I’d prefer one for me too!). Jen reckoned Granny wasn’t in any pain, but was definitely on her last legs, so we made an appointment for Monday and I tried to make Granny’s last night as comfortable and loving as possible.
Unbelievably, the next day Granny perked up a bit – like she’d heard us discussing her and wasn’t having it. When Fachtna arrived, she ran away – and we decided that, perhaps, it wasn’t her time after all. She still wasn’t thriving though.
But we had a breakthrough when she was given meds for her stiffness – suddenly she was a changed cat and made progress in leaps and bounds. This adorable girl had a new lease on life. She still didn’t get the hang of the litter tray, but at least moved her accidents from the kitchen to the hall door and obligingly used newspaper laid down for her.
No point in trying to rehome a cat like Granny – still not expecting her to live very long, litter training problems and FIV+ status. So Granny settled in, a comic figure with her tongue poking out all the time – no front teeth to keep it in. In time she thrived, dribbled and found her niche in the household. She’d sleep by my head, purring gently and I’d sometimes wake up to find her perched on my chest, with a string of dribble heading towards my nose. Not the best wake up call. But reminiscent of my first stray FIV+ adoptee, Thomas O’Malley in London in the 80s/90s, who used to do the same thing. Tom was diagnosed five years after he found me and lived two years past his sell-by date of six months. I learned a lot about FIV thanks to him – not the imminent death sentence suggested at the time. And my affection and hope for Granny was possibly multiplied by the association.
She finally started using the litter tray after six months – we reckoned it took that long for her brain to recover from injury. But it took her two years to figure out how to use the cat flap. I don’t show cats how to use it as a rule, the logic being if they can’t figure it out themselves, they’re not going to be safe outdoors. I didn’t think Granny ever would.
A year passed and Granny was a fine figure of an older lady, somewhat portly and as gentle and affectionate as ever. Then Larry the Snotrag arrived. More snotty than we’d expected, and resistant to antibiotics – Larry’s infection we now realise with hindsight, affected my resident FIVs. Granny, Dave and Scrabble all came down with pneumonia. Dave, my big, butch black beauty, went downhill quickly and died shortly after. Turned out he had picked up FeLV somewhere along the line and was especially vulnerable. At the same time Granny was put on a drip at the vets, but didn’t respond to treatment. She was given 24 hours to live for the second time in her stay with me – basically, the vet thought she wasn’t going to make it but, since she wasn’t in pain, gave her 24 hours in case she rallied. And for the second time, she musta heard the discussion and decided it wasn’t her time.
My wee two-year-old Scrabble recovered from the pneumonia, but her lowered immune must have increased her vulnerability. She soon showed symptoms of FIP and died a few months later. I was heartbroken.
Meantime, Granny, although over the pneumonia, still wasn’t thriving. More trips to the vet to discover her gum problems (common with FIV) were giving her pain. Removing her remaining teeth was the only solution. With her fragile health, the operation might well be too much for her – but without it her quality of life was heading for zero. Again, she didn’t rally – two weeks later another 24 hour call was given. And within 24 hrs Granny had decided her time still hadn’t come. Her will to live was absolutely amazing.
But within weeks Granny was sickly again. This time it was heart problems, not uncommon with the elderly. She was put on a drip (again!) at the vets, but remained lethargic and unresponsive – and she wasn’t eating. Again the vet staff weren’t hopeful. But, as always, when I went in to visit her she perked up, giving gentle nuzzles and headbutts in her own sweet way. And when I brought special, delicious food treats she ate for me. Only a little at first, but then with more appetite and enthusiasm.
She returned home on a regimen of daily heart tablets and, despite her improvement, I resigned myself to saying goodbye to her in the not-too-distant future. Thankfully, she was the easiest cat to pill and would open her mouth when I tapped the pill-pusher to the side of her face, and swallow genteelly. I’m kicking myself for not getting a video!
Yet again Granny surprised us all. It was over a year, just round about Christmas last year, when she started going downhill again. This time we knew her time had finally come, as it does for all of us. Everything was falling apart and nothing was going to put it back together. We tried, of course. But we knew even Granny couldn’t get past this. So, as always, I concentrated on making her final days comfortable, loving and full of delicious snacks and affections. And on Wednesday 21st January I sat beside her with love as Teresa gave her an easy journey out into the light, in the comfort of her own home.
I’ve seen so many animals pull back from the brink of death. Granny was one of the most determined. As a result she’s my poster cat for giving living creatures a chance to rally from disease. She was given 24 hours to live four times – and four times she rallied. We never expected her to live very long – and she thrived and survived, purred, dribbled and headbonked her way through over three years of fulfilling life. She enjoyed sunshine and snorgles and seemed so grateful for the time she had and any affection she was given. I’ve found the same in so many rescue cats – I can’t help but feel they recognise their luck and are grateful for it.
At the same time, it’s so important not to leave any animal in pain when there’s no hope. And the balance is so difficult to deal with. I’ve heard people say ‘You know when it’s their time.’ and I can’t agree. I haven’t a clue. On the one hand, I’ve had kittens die without warning (from FIE) – on the other there’s Granny recovering from near death four (count them!) times. And so many others fight for life, and win, against the odds. You can see some of their stories here.
At the end of the day I rely on the advice of the vet staff. They’ve more experience and training than anyone. All the vet staff at the Veterinary Clinic, Bantry, have been so good through the years and I am most grateful to them for their compassion and care with my companions – and myself!
It’s nearly always possible to find homes for the animals that visit here – but the more sick, old and disabled are the ones that stay. As a result, around two of my friends die every year. And it doesn’t get any easier. But the pleasure they give me while they’re with me more than makes up for the grief I feel at their passing. The young ones break my heart altogether, dying too soon. So unfair. But there a great pleasure to be had in friends like Granny Weatherwax – a good life, much longer than expected; shorter than it should have been through FIV, but a good age reached just the same. It’s such a good feeling to know I helped that happen. Helping animals recover from hard times is so rewarding – I can’t express. If Granny’s story persuades just one person to take in an old, disabled or ailing cat, it’ll make my year.
It’s taken me two months to write Granny’s memorial. It’s been incredibly difficult to write. Perhaps because Granny’s been with me so much longer than most and has purred and dribbled her way deep into my heart. Now I have something to remember her by. And remember her I will, with affection and love, and hope for so many others like her. RIP Granny Weatherwax, you were one in a million.
Poem For Cats
And God asked the feline spirit
Are you ready to come home?
Oh, yes, quite so, replied the precious soul
And, as a cat, you know I am most able
To decide anything for myself.
Are you coming then? asked God.
Soon, replied the whiskered angel
But I must come slowly
For my human friends are troubled
For you see, they need me, quite certainly.
But don’t they understand? asked God
That you’ll never leave them?
That your souls are intertwined. For all eternity?
That nothing is created or destroyed?
It just is….forever and ever and ever.
Eventually they will understand,
Replied the glorious cat
For I will whisper into their hearts
That I am always with them
I just am….forever and ever and ever.
- Terry Pratchett, the legend
- Granny’s Arrival
- Granny’s Progress
- Larry the Snotrag
- Scrabble In Memoriam
- The Ugly Side of Animal Welfare and the Rewards
- The Mercurial Retirement Home
- Summer 2013
- Summertime & the Living is Easy
- Granny’s Galleries