FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitus) in mid June this year. She had the wet form, which is terminal. She was given meds to maintain her quality of life, but went downhill on Friday. She was euthanised this Saturday morning. Just over two years old, her life was way too short and she is so sorely missed.
Scrabble came to me in late September 2011 with her five siblings, the Dunmanway Mountain Crew, aged around four months. Their farmer had taken them to Riverview to be killed by vet as his method of controlling his farm cat population (it goes without saying TNR is a more humane and effective method). Riverview called me, and the Crew came back to mine. The family were all fluey on arrival but all responded to treatment except Scrabble who couldn’t seem to throw it off. A few months later I still hadn’t found homes for them, despite their beautiful white and grey markings and their snorgalicious personalities – so off to the UK they went to find their forever homes. But I felt Scrabble was too sickly and she stayed behind with me.
Poor wee thing, she was the least friendly of the family when they arrived – positively grumpy and a tad hissy – and her markings didn’t help her aspect by making her look cross, regardless of her mood. Released into my permanent population, she soon found an ally in Dutchess, who became her mother substitute. And Scrabble, always friendly with other cats, warmed up to humans too and turned into a great meeter and greeter – friendly to all comers, regardless of species (dogs too!). Though she quickly stole my heart, I was hopeful that her health would improve and I could look for a forever home for her.
It was not to be. Scrabble didn’t seem to thrive and when we tested her for FIV I wasn’t too surprised to find she was positive. I immediately told New Start in the UK, who’d taken Scrabble’s family in and rehomed them. And waited with trepidation while they informed the adopters. And we were relieved to hear that everyone else tested negative. Yay!
Meantime, Scrabble had various medical ups and downs, always coming out the other side, and always a happy, friendly, playful wee thing throughout her troubles. And with her FIV positive result, combined with her general ill health, I decided to adopt this tiny faithful kitten and give her a permanent home – not expecting her to have a long life.
But in March this year, approaching two years old, Scrabble put on weight and started to look like a healthy feline for the first time since she’d moved in with me. Everyone remarked on it, and my heart filled thinking perhaps I’d been wrong.
But just a few months later she was sick again and was diagnosed with pneumonia. After a treatment with antibiotics, she still didn’t seem to be thriving and I took her back to the vets. On June 19th she was tentatively diagnosed with the wet form of FIP, an incurable, terminal illness.
FIP itself, despite its name, is not infectious. For some cats with a genetic predisposition it develops from coronavirus, which is infectious. Most cats carry this virus with no ill effects. But Scrabble, already run down from her bout with pneumonia and made more vulnerable with her FIV+ status, was one of the few who pick up coronavirus and develop FIP. FIP comes in two forms, wet and dry. I don’t know anything about the dry form, never having come across it, except that it is treatable. The wet form in contrast is terminal and, amongst other things, involves a fluid build up in the abdomen, causing a very distinctive swollen belly. It’s not possible to test conclusively for FIP except post-mortem, but the distinctiveness of the fluid build up, combined with some other tests, give vets a pretty good idea what’s going on. And so it was with Scrabble. The first kitten who died in my care, Bandit, was diagnosed with FIP, so I was familiar with the disease and knew what to expect. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
What I didn’t know was that the wet form of FIP can be managed with drugs, including diuretics, to give the sufferer a good quality of life for a few weeks, in some cases for months. I was told that, although it was possible that Scrabble could maintain such a quality of life for a few months, she was more likely to survive for only one to three weeks, her health being so compromised in the first place.
[Please note my description of FIP here is very much that of a layperson – to learn more about this disease see the links at the end of this article.]
Living with FIP
So I took Scrabble home with a heavy heart and proceeded to spoil her rotten. I was so confused about how to handle her progress – how would I know when the time came? What were the signs? I absolutely didn’t want to keep her alive if her quality of life was gone but, at the same time, I didn’t want to have her euthanased as long as she was enjoying life. How could I tell? My friend Lou was so much help to me in this I can’t thank her enough! We talked it over and she helped me understand by looking at how I’d feel in Scrabble’s situation. And here I have to say that I’m pro-euthanasia for all living creatures – what more could anyone ask but for an easy journey into the light when they’re suffering and in pain with no hope of improvement?
So I looked into myself and tried to imagine what it would be like to know death was approaching. At what point would I welcome it? So difficult. And so difficult to translate into cat – Scrabble couldn’t communicate with me in words about how she was feeling. But Lou and I concluded that, as long as she was hungry and eager for food and eating – that was demonstrably a will to live in action. Also alertness, interaction with her surroundings, interest in her friends and companionship generally, mobility – I made a mental list and watched Scrabble closely for signs she might be going downhill. Things to look out for were lack of appetite, loss of mobility, pain (though cats don’t always show pain obviously, so that’s a difficult one) and distress. It sounds so obvious now that I type it out but I just couldn’t get my head round it and was scared I’d keep her alive too long – or take her life away too early.
I bought my wee one lots of tasty foodstuffs and offered her snacks whenever she asked – she’d the most heartwrenching silent miaow, bless her. She also got special dietary supplements to build up her strength and weight, to help her fight the disease. And treats, of course. And company. And lovings, lots of lovings and snorgles. So little time.
But I found it so difficult. As her three week deadline approached I woke every day wondering if it would be time. And lil fighter that she was, she was still thriving and surviving at the end of week three. I guess all those treats gave her an extra incentive to live! So, back to the vet we went for a check and I was told the meds were doing a good job and guessing when she’d go downhill was just not possible – back to weeks or months. And I guess I lightened up a bit. And bought her more treats and delicious foods and carried on spoiling her rotten.
Much Loved, Much Missed
But on Friday night I noticed her hind legs were a bit wobbly – she was losing strength. And she showed little interest in her dinner or any snacks. She stayed close to me all night and, in the morning, she couldn’t quite get onto my lap under her own steam. And she was listless and … just not right. I hate that it was Saturday it happened – the vet isn’t in Bantry at weekends and I’d wanted to have her euthanased at home with no stress. But I still wasn’t 100% sure it was time – I rely on the vet to tell me that. So we went down to Church Cross to see Lucy. And Lucy confirmed it was indeed time. She anaesthetised Scrabble first so she was unaware of the deadly injection, and my wee girl was given the easy journey into the light that I wanted for her – not too late and not too soon.
After over a month of an emotional turmoil of ups and downs, Scrabble’s passing is almost a relief. I guess I’ve done a lot of my mourning during her illness. I’m so grateful to Jenny and Trinity for guerilla gardening the orchard and to Rob for digging Scrabble’s grave for me – words can’t express – I just didn’t have the wherewithall. And Scrabble’s now beside her best mate Thistle, protected by a blaeberry bush, in what has become my orchard cemetery for too many of my much loved companions. And I’ve no doubt she and Thistle are delighted to see each other again at the Rainbow Bridge, alternatively playing and snorgling, watched over by Skrootchie and Joe and Shapoloh and all the other furrballs who died too soon. And, of course, all those who lived a good long life. No more illness, no more troubles. And one day I’ll join them. But in the meantime I’ll just stay here and miss them, and keep them close to me in my heart and my memories. Life’s too short.
Life Goes On
I was going to end there, but I looked around me at the lives continuing. Here’s Granny, an auld yin who arrived around the same time as Scrabble. She’s drooling (she’s no front teeth and chronic gingivitus due to FIV) – and she’s alive and loving life. We didn’t expect her to live out the month when she arrived – but against all expectations she’s still going strong. Here’s Inky – found in a car engine not that long ago. Fifteen years old, half blind, half deaf, stiff on her paws – and still looking for a snorgle and a treat and a sunbeam. She’s probably not got long – but she’s had longer than most and is a most happy cat, despite her frailties.
And there’s O’Sullivan from three doors down. Just over a year old, he started visiting a while back – I’ll never forget his wee face at my french windows asking ‘Can Scrabble come out to play?’. And I’d call Scrabble and out she’d go and play with him. And if he didn’t visit for her, she’d pop over to his to see what he was up to. He’s been confused by her lack of attention recently. But he’s found company with Larry, our latest arrival, full of play and fun and adventure. And the pair of them swashbuckle around the garden, high on friendship and life.
So I guess, although life is short, it goes on. And cats have a lot to teach us about living it to the full, luxuriating in its pleasures and making the most of it.
In Memoriam Gallery