What Loving & Losing My First Cat Taught Me
I will always love you Oscar
I'd known this day would one day come. Over the past year, I'd seen my childhood cat, Oscar, lose weight despite eating, his eyes appear distant and a little cloudy, and his movements become slower and more labored. He was over 15 years old, estimated to be about 17 at the time.
My family wanted to deny it for a while. I could see he was beginning to suffer. He barely left the bathroom, you could feel every bone in his body through his fur. Yet, for a while, it seemed like he might bounce back. He started putting weight back on, he cuddled and loved. He was his usual grumpy, old man self.
After Thanksgiving 2021, my brother and stepdad witnessed that Oscar could barely walk. His symptoms had progressed to the point that his quality of life was deteriorating. I FaceTimed my mom that night and she held the phone in front of Oscar and I talked to him. He immediately meowed and my mom and I started crying.
He was telling us that it was okay.
The next day, I drove the hour south to my mom's house. I picked up Oscar and laid him on my chest. He didn't attempt to move, other than to cuddle his head into me or sometimes adjust. I'd always had a special bond with Oscar. He was with me during nearly all of the formative times of my later childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.
Oscar laid on my pillow when I cried or had panic attacks, he hugged me when I came home from college, kept me company during middle school insomnia, and always seemed to know when I needed him. As children living with a single mother, once Oscar had adjusted to our house, he used to move from one room to the other throughout the night, making sure all of his humans were safe and okay.
His history was mysterious. We knew that he was caught with a trap and that he was a year--give or take--when we adopted him from our local shelter. Yet, unlike most formerly stray or feral cats I've had in my life, he had absolutely no desire to go outside. Sure, one of his favorite pastimes was to sit on the windowsill and watch the birds, cars, and rain go by, but he never wanted to partake.
Oscar was a silent observer for the most part. He'd meow only for fresh water (which was several times a day whenever someone entered the bathroom), or occasionally in response to a human or his cat brother. In comparison to his adopted feline sibling, he was much quieter, only announcing his arrival on the bed or couch with a soft, lilting trill.
Over the years, Oscar taught me to be patient. I was weeks away from eight years old when we got him. An animal lover since birth, my overzealous self nearly made the kitten hate me. Thankfully, we both learned from one another, bonding in our calmest moments when I couldn't sleep at night, played games on the computer, or read.
He taught me the bond that can occur between humans and animals. We may not speak the same language, belong to the same species, and one may be reliant on the other, but ultimately, we all have the same needs and wants.
Oscar always seemed to understand my thoughts and emotions. He was a master at noticing when my heartbeat rose, hearing the frail cracks in my throat before crying, or when I simply felt depressed. It wouldn't take any words for Oscar to climb up on my chest or curl around my head on my pillow.
He knew and always did.
But, I also knew. I knew Oscar was no longer healthy or happy. When it was finally time to take Oscar to the vet, I wrapped him in a blanket, held him in my arms, stood up, and immediately burst into tears.
I'm certain Oscar knew. He was always smart. He probably wondered why we turned on his favorite show, Dora the Explorer, when we stopped watching it well over a decade ago. He could feel the sadness in my body as my mom wrapped her arms around me, carefully coddling Oscar between us.
Roughly an hour later, my family and I stand in a dark room as a vet tech brings Oscar in on a pillow. A handmade felt sleeve covers where the catheter is in his little arm. He seems at peace, but I have been off and on sobbing since we left. I try to hold it in.
We say our goodbyes. Though, I don't say mine aloud, allowing my fingers to communicate everything I want to say as I rub between his ears and scratch where they meet his head as he always liked. I know he knew.
I'd heard vets tell stories about families not wanting to be in the room when their pet passes. Leaving the pet scared and confused and looking for their humans in their final moments. I didn't want that for Oscar, and even though I knew it would destroy me, I wanted to stay with him.
We watched as the vet injected the sedative first. Oscar jumped up and turned around from the cold of it, but quickly settled down and closed his eyes, peacefully asleep. The vet waited a few moments before injecting the pink fluid that would stop his heart.
They say it takes about a minute, but Oscar was gone in less than that. I gave him one last pet before leaving the room. While other pets in my life had died, this was the first I'd personally lost a pet. Oscar was my everything.
But, I am now an adult. I've lived away from Oscar full time for over two years and off and on for six. I have my own kitty now. His passing taught me that I am capable of making the hard decisions of pet ownership and doing what is best, even if it crushes you.
It is still hard for me not to feel some guilt or to wonder if there was something we could've done to treat him. But, he was 17, had lost two-thirds of his body weight, and, in all likelihood, was suffering from a serious and likely fatal disease such as cancer. If Oscar had been totally my cat, he probably would've visited the vet long before this. However, in this case, I'm not sure it would've made too much of a difference.
I am thankful for the 16 years I got to spend with Oscar and all the lessons he taught me. Most importantly, I am thankful for the love he showed me and the bond we had. I will miss his trills and his hugs when I came home from college. I'll even miss his shrill meows from the side of the bathtub wanting us to turn on the facet.
He will always be the first cat who held my whole heart. Some of Oscar's ashes will stay with me for the rest of my life. All of my future kitties will live better lives because of my experience with him and learning how to interact and treat cats.
I love you, Oskee. I'll miss you and you will always be in my heart.