My cat died… Dread settled around me when the young resident veterinarian led Deborah and me into a room larger and, in some odd way, more somber than any of the examining rooms before. We were already sad about Billy’s being so sick. This felt sadder.
(Following is an excerpt form My Cat Died: Life Lessons from My Unforgettable Black Cat, Billy)
By David Stone
Billy was our senior citizen, a black cat in his seventeenth year. Chronic illnesses made worse by time, two operations and races to the emergency room. Each made us more familiar with the Animal Medical Center’s facilities than we ever wanted to be.
Two years ago, a critical situation badly handled and maybe caused by his regular vet forced me to race through an Upper East Side rush hour. We got him into triage, just in time. And after prolonged suffering.
Since, discovering and then alleviating a condition that put Billy in crisis too often, surgeons at AMC operated twice. Both were successful.
Now, a dreaded follow up problem. A severe urinary tract infection, a UTI, threatened the worst. A risk possible after his last surgery.
Billy’s biggest threat, the vet told us, was chronic kidney disease.
It unleashed a multitude of related problems throughout his system, the most immediate anemia, inability to produce enough red blood cells. The only thing resembling a cure was a kidney transplant. The estimated cost, $50,000.
Staggering, but more important, the threat to Billy’s enjoyment of life at sixteen outweighed uncertain benefits. The traumas he would have to go through for a short life extension, with no guarantee even of survival, seemed as threatening as the illness.
My cat died… but never gave up
Stress alone could kill him.
Before going over other options, I told the vet that Billy’s quality of life counted most. As long as he was able enjoy himself, as long as he showed enthusiasm for his food, for exploring our home, for being cuddled and played with, and retained his distinct personality, no limits on what we were willing to do to help him.
“We’re not rich, but he’s family. As long as he’s enjoying his life, we aren’t going to let money decide anything.”
Unsaid was our mutual awareness that Billy wanted to fight back, return to his own, unusual cat thing. His demeanor told us he was far from throwing in the towel.
“Billy’s a fighter,” we heard from his vets many times in the coming months. That he was.
Besides, you can’t put a price tag on a life, each of which is a miracle of complexity and natural design.
Our values may not be what the vets at AMC heard all the time, but a smile that lit our doctor’s face. He valued Billy’s life as much as we did.
Making that statement clearly mattered because the alternative we heard about, after the transplant, was “a humane solution.” Ending Billy’s life now, chemically and painlessly.
But the reason: “You may feel you’ve already spent a lot of money on medical expenses, and the best we can offer now is an extension, maybe just a few weeks, not a cure,” wasn’t a good one for us.
Lives, ours, our family’s, our animal friends’, are not on a budget.