Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The last bowl on the right...

I've been thinking for quite some time that I should dust off my old blog again and start writing more often. This wasn't the post I had in mind when I thought about reviving this space, but since writing has always been one of the ways I tend to work through difficult issues, write I shall.

Yesterday morning, we got up, went through our usual morning routine, and then around 11, we packed up Riff for a trip to the vet. To be honest, I was actually looking forward to this visit. Riff had been losing some weight (although he'd probably been a bit on the chunky side to begin with), but had otherwise been acting pretty normal -- eating, drinking, playing with his toys, cuddling on the couch when we watched TV at night, etc. Still, the weight loss was getting worrisome, so we made an appointment with the vet. And then, about five days ago, he suddenly stopped eating. We tried all kinds of things to entice him to eat -- tuna (he ate a tiny bit of it), canned food (he ate none of it), packets of soft food in broth (he ate none, but Piva loved it), treats (he would eat a few if we broke them into little pieces)... we finally bought some "high calorie nutritional gel" from the pet store and started feeding him tiny amounts of it every few hours. He HATED it, but we felt like we had to do SOMEthing to provide him with calories until we got him to the vet.

We were able to move the vet appointment up a day -- we were originally supposed to take him in late this afternoon, but they had a cancellation yesterday morning. Rick and I both had the same thought -- based on the fact that Riff seemed like he WANTED to eat (he was still obviously interested in his cat treats... he just didn't want to eat very many or really big pieces), we thought for sure he had some kind of tooth problem. I was guessing he had an abscessed tooth, and we'd go to the vet, have it pulled, get him on some antibiotics, and viola -- he'd be normal old Riff again. So when we packed him into the cat carrier and his mournful meowling began, I assured him that he'd be feeling better in no time.

But when we got into the vet's office, and she looked at his teeth, she said they were fine. It wasn't until she started listening to his heart and his breathing that I knew something was really wrong. Before she even SAID anything, I could tell that something was wrong. She told us that Riff's heart didn't sound right... instead of the usual "lub dub" sound that a normal heart makes, his was making three different sounds, and sometimes skipping beats. She gave us the name of a veterinary cardiologist (yes, there is such a thing... I didn't even know...), but said that it could take up to a month to get an appointment. Or, we could go straight to the ER (yep, there are also veterinary ERs... I never knew that, either...) and go that route. We chose the ER...

After that, the rest of the day was a blur. As soon as we got to the ER, Riff was whisked away (literally... they were all business and brusk and rushed, just like a human ER), placed in an oxygen tent, and then sent for x-rays. We spent the next few hours learning that his chest was filled with fluid, and he had a possible mass pushing on his trachea -- which would probably explain why he sort of WANTED to eat, but couldn't eat more than tiny bits of food at any one time. At first, the vet's theory was some sort of cancer -- which would have been terrible, but at the same time, there are treatments available, even for pets. But to get a clear picture, they needed an ultrasound, and they couldn't get to it for another few hours. So Rick and I reluctantly left the ER, and decided to head home for a few hours.

It was around 6 when the vet finally called to tell us the results of the ultrasound. And as far as "maladies that can afflict a cat," Riff was hit with the absolute worst -- dilated cardiomyopathy. The "mass" that showed up on the x-ray was just his heart -- enlarged from working too hard for too long. And there was nothing that could be done... at best, our sweet, affectionate little guy had two or three days to live. The vet said that he could give Riff some kind of medication to try to stabilize him, but it wouldn't buy much time.

So last night, we made the difficult decision to head into the vet this morning to say goodbye. Neither Rick nor I was able to fall asleep very easily, and I was dreading what was coming. And then, at around 1 in the morning, the phone rang and woke us up. Rick went out to the living room to answer it. I think I instinctively knew what it meant, but until Rick actually came back into the bedroom and said, "Riff passed away," I didn't want to believe it.

Not my sweet boy, who'd spent nearly every night of the last five years curled up next to me on the bed while I slept.

Not Riff, who knew how to open the pantry door and drank straight from the faucet with water pouring over his head.

Not our Riff Raff, whose insatiable curiosity was alternately annoying and insanely endearing. 

Not the "baby cat" of the family, only five years old, with a good decade of playing and running and jumping and snuggling ahead of him.

The last 24 hours have been rough... We took Riff to the vet thinking that he'd be back to his normal self within a week. Instead, I've been dealing with the guilt of knowing that the last time he saw us, we were dropping him off at a scary, new place. And then we never saw him again.

The only comfort is knowing that nothing WE did caused this... Riff's condition was either genetic, or caused by a virus, which he could've had his entire life. And even if we'd caught it at the earliest possible point, we only would've been able to prolong his life by a few months. Basically, Riff was never destined to reach old age, for whatever reason... although at the moment, I can't imagine what that reason could be.

Almost exactly five years ago, we lost our Sheltie, Echo. A couple weeks later, a tiny little Riff kitten came into our lives. The day we took him to the vet the first time, the vet techs presented us with a cast of Echo's paw print:

Today, the vet gave us this, about ten years too soon:

Riff had a habit of tossing his toys into the water dish by his food, usually at some time during the night. I would get up in the morning, head out to the kitchen, and laugh when I'd see another water-logged stuffed mouse floating in the water. I could never figure out why he did that, exactly, but it was another one of those "Riff" things that we loved about him. When he stopped eating last week, we bought a variety of canned and soft food, hoping that he'd like one of them. Since we've always just given the cats dry food, we also bought a cheap plastic bowl to use for the canned food. But after a few failed attempts at feeding him canned food, I just washed out the plastic bowl and set it down next to the other bowls. Yesterday morning, after his last night at home, I walked out to the kitchen to this:

One last time, he tossed his toy into a bowl... only this time, it stayed dry. I haven't had the heart to move it yet -- I feel like he put it there for a reason.

In Peter Pan, Peter says that to find Neverland, you follow the "second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning." Perhaps in Riff's case, to find a Neverland full of scratching posts and catnip, he needed to follow the last bowl on the right... and straight on 'til morning...


  1. I'm so sorry Lisa and Rick. I'm sure you were writing this through your tears. And I'm sure everybody is crying along with you, after reading this. Love, Aunt Carol