My Name is Leo

An adored cat deals gracefully with a jaw tumor while his owner quietly falls apart.

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Location: Philadelphia area, Northeast, United States

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Leo's Final Days

For the first time in 13 years, I am without a pet.

My darling Leo left his earthly body behind Sunday morning, with the help of a caring vet...his favorite humans at his side.

It only seems right to finish telling his saga. Picking the story up from after my Thursday afternoon post. At that point, I was fairly certain I would be taking Leo to be euthanized the next day.

But then, something surprising happened.


Here's what I wrote in a couple of e-mails to concerned friends:

"What's wrong and what finally prompted him to eat - don't know. I came over with a spoon of ice cream at about 5:30 PM to where he had been laying all afternoon (staring into space) and he licked a little, didn't want more. But then he got up and went into the kitchen and started eating baby food from his dish. Ate just a little, but then came back for more later."

"Leo did eat a little tonight, so I'm hoping to put off any decision until after the weekend.
He still isn't normal, but as long as he is eating something and not meowing or seeming to be in pain, I don't feel bad about waiting at least until after my birthday."

Yes, all this was happening just days before my birthday. Out of 365 days in a year. Bad timing, indeed.

Even after eating nearly a jar of baby food, he went back to lying on my daughter's bathrobe at the bottom of the stairs. (As in photo from Thursday post.) It wasn't one of his usual resting spots, but from there he could monitor the comings and goings of the family.

He wanted to part of the family activity, even as he was feeling lousy.


We woke up to discover Leo had made it upstairs and was waiting for us outside our bedroom door (his usual early morning routine.) Just the fact that he made it up the steps made me optimistic, since he had seemed too wobbly to do so the night before.

He licked at the various flavors of baby food I put out for him, but didn't really get anything into his system. Milk was offered as well. Still, he seemed more normal, and I went about my business that morning with the thought that maybe whatever had been bothering him was passing and by the end of the day he would be back to eating normally.


Leo took a turn for the worse Friday afternoon (of course, our vet office closes early on Fridays.) I really didn't want to have him put to sleep in a strange office...but he didn't look good.

He seemed to want me to be with him - crying when I wasn't in sight, calming down when I came to him.

So, I spent several hours off and on Friday evening lying next to him at the bottom of the stairs. At times I would cradle his head in the palm of my hand, or rub his paw.

Both seemed to help him relax and at times I was sure he was dreaming as I saw his nose and ear twitch, even as one eye was always slightly opened. I was hoping he was thinking about his time in the back yard the day before and dreaming of romping through the grass.

Every once in a while, he would get up and try to walk into the kitchen, but his legs were so wobbly that he stumbled more than walked. So, I would pick him up and bring him into the kitchen to see if he wanted to drink or eat.

I brought a litter box up from the basement, because he was in no state to go up and down the basement stairs. I put him in the box, but he was unable to go.

After each excursion, he would wobble back to lie down at the bottom of the stairs. And I would join him there. All the while wondering if I should be finding an emergency vet to take him to.

Maybe it was a product of hours lying half-asleep on a hardwood floor, but as I stroked his fur, I imagined he was telling me, "I'm okay. I'm not in pain. I want to stay here with you." His breathing was even - not labored or shallow. He just seemed exhausted and weak, but not suffering in any way. I really felt as if he was telling me not to worry and just "be" with him.

But it did seem as if his body was beginning to shut down.

Eventually, Leo did settle down enough that I was able to go to bed. By the time I got to sleep, it was past midnight and thus officially "my birthday." And I just didn't know how I was going to manage to do any sort of celebrating.

We had arranged to take the kids to my parents for the weekend -- something that only happens a couple times a year -- and reservations had been made for a family lunch with my parents.

Not to mention that I owed to my children and husband to put on a happy face for my birthday, since they had spent hours Friday working on birthday cards, banners and wrapping gifts.

My sweet, well-meaning oldest daughter kept saying to me Friday evening, "I hope Leo makes it past your birthday...I hope Leo doesn't go on your birthday..." this during my moments away from Leo, when I was doing laundry and bathing her, until I finally had to tell her to please stop reminding me about that possibility. Then I realized she was just trying to work through her own feelings about Leo's imminent death and that she was worried about me.

She had discovered me crying quietly as I lay with Leo on the floor earlier that evening, and had tried to cheer me up with funny faces. My kids don't normally see me cry... and she is a very sensitive soul.

So many emotions took their turns with me as I curled up facing Leo that night. Sadness turned to wistfulness turned to peace as we both catnapped together, just as we had so many years ago when he was the tiny kitten who stole my heart.


Sometime during the night, Leo had left his "sickbed" and my husband found him Saturday morning perched on the back of the couch, one of his normal night-time spots. This was a good sign, and basically all I needed to give him another chance at recovery. And maybe salvage my birthday.

Plus, he had used the litter box overnight.

Call me the eternal optimist, but Leo had knocked on death's door before and then come back as if nothing had happened. Maybe this was another one of those times.

So, I opened gifts from the girls and then we went off on our journey out-of-state to deposit the children with my parents. Somehow I got though the family lunch without feeling too anxious about the cat left behind.


Husband and I returned home Saturday evening, and as soon as we opened the door we heard Leo calling out to us with a thin meow. He was under the dining room loveseat -- another normal spot, but one usually reserved for times he wanted to be left alone.

I pulled him out from under the loveseat, and it was painfully obvious that he was in terrible shape. That it was only a matter of time.

My next twelve hours would be spent by his side. (So much for a romantic birthday evening without the kids.)

There was a short time when he calmed down and slept about 11 PM -- long enough for my husband to give me his gifts...but the mood was definitely less than optimal. Around midnight, it seemed as if I might be able to get to bed.

But pretty much as soon as my head touched the pillow, I heard Leo calling out. I left my husband sleeping, and went downstairs.

The hours that followed can only be called "tragic." Over and over, Leo would lie nearly motionless as I tried to comfort him and then would startle and struggle to get up, only to collapse onto his side a few inches away from where he started.

I gave him his pain med, hoping it would help him as it had the night before.

When he seemed to go to sleep around 2 AM, I tried to go back to bed, only to hear him calling out to me again before I could even lie down.

Through the earliest morning hours, he seemed only to want me near him. A few times, he let me hold him and settled down in my arms. And I heard the faintest whisper of a purr.

About 4 AM, I tried to help him drink water, holding him up by his dish... since it seemed he had been trying to get into the kitchen. But he struggled away from my grasp and collapsed on the floor.

As he lay on his side there, I took his med eyedropper and dripped water into his mouth.

Then I put a bit of baby food on the dropper and he lapped it down. Perhaps reflexively, but I got at least a little food into him mouth. I repeated the process over and over, hoping that it would give him enough strength to at least allow him to stand without falling.

Instead, I think it gave him just enough energy to be really pissed at me for forcing the food into him. From then on, he became more agitated.

Each time he tried to walk and failed, he would meow in the saddest way possible. Not an "in pain" meow, but more like the meow he would use on the way to the vet. Frightened.

When he fell over, I would pick him up, and I felt his heart racing. It was at these times that he let me hold him for a few moments and he calmed down in my arms. But little time would pass before he was twisting to get down.

He wanted me near him, but petting and rubbing him wasn't comforting him anymore.

He struggled to bring himself the bottom of the stairs, so I carried him up. I think his intention was to get into my bedroom, but I didn't want to disturb my husband.

In the upstairs hall, I saw Leo become even more frustrated as he tried to go into the upstairs bath, only to slide down onto his side on the floor.

Even as he was too weak to stand, Leo never stopped trying. He was so determined and relentless. It was heartbreaking. It was horrifying.

And it was my fault.

The tears came relentlessly, as guilt overwhelmed me. Why didn't I end this yesterday? "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I told Leo.

Later, after I had carried him back downstairs, he managed to struggle upright, wobbled and bounced off the walls, fell down and got up - several times in a row -- all to make his way from the front hallway to underneath our grand piano in the next room.

I was ready to give him time alone (since it seemed he had purposely deposited himself in a remote corner) but when I got left the room he started crying out.

The crying stopped when I rejoined him. But when I went under the piano to pet him, he got up again...stumbled into the dining room and went back to another of his "spots" next to the loveseat.

I think it was about 4:30 or 5 AM at this point. I started surfing the net (on my laptop in the same room as Leo) looking for an emergency vet that we could bring him to first thing in the morning.

And then I heard Leo throwing up. His body was rejecting the little bit of food I had managed to get into him.

There was absolutely no doubt that this had to end. Soon.

I contemplated waking my husband up and going then and there, but we had a long drive back to PA later that day, and he needed at least a modest amount of sleep for safety's sake.

At 6 AM, Leo had fallen asleep (or was too weak to move) on the dining room floor. He seemed peaceful enough that I felt okay with trying to sneak in a little sleep.

After all, I had been up all night and I had a daunting day ahead.

(Due to the extreme length of this post, I'll finish this later...things can only get better from here folks...)


Anonymous spencer said...

I never cry, and I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. I'm so sorry for your losing Leo.

10/11/2006 12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I live in Germany and I came across your website a few weeks ago, because our beloved cat Lili had also a tumor under the lower left jaw. Her symptoms were identical to Leo. It started with an increasing amount of saliva which the vet said was caused by her teeth. She recommended we have them taken out and we took her advise, trusting her expertise as a specialist. A few days later we noticed more of an infection with mucus and blood coming from her mouth. After treatment with antibiotics which did not help, an x-ray was taken and the tumor was noticed. It started then growing very rapidly. We went to a few different vets and looked for advice, but nothing could be done. My husband and I then looked in the internet and fortunately we found your story. It had given us hope that Lili still had some time with us, but it was only 5 weeks. :( We had to put her to sleep yesterday after trying and failing to get her to eat. She was struggling to swallow and we knew the time had come. She was 17 years old. We are very sad that the time came so soon. However, we are grateful for the 17 wonderful years with which she blessed us with her presence.
Thank you for your dedication to telling others your experiences.
Best wishes from Passau, Germany

11/22/2006 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello I am sorry for your lost your pain I know all to well have had cats all my life they grow on you...Well I found your site by searching for a quick diagnosis may be a similar situations it is starting in the mouth It is the food I believe to often this happens...well I am totally crying my eyes out and I haven't even finished reading I just feel your pain while reading through the water...Bless you for being so kind and loving this is all they want...he will remain with forever!
peace and blessings

2/29/2012 12:43 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

A far-too-belated reply to these messages, as I go back through the blog and try to make amends. To the Anonymous poster, I hope your situation didn't turn out to be similar to Leo's. I truly appreciated your kind words when I first read them last year, as I do now. Andrea and Spencer, your comments were so long ago and I can only guess I wasn't in the right "place" to respond at the time. Andrea - I was truly saddened to hear about your Lili...and appreciate you sharing your story with me. I hope the intervening years have erased everything but your memories of happy times with her. Spencer - I remember how much your comment meant to me at the time. (It is sort of my goal in life to reduce grown men to tears whenever possible ;) Thanks for your support then, and especially for deciding in 2009 to make a place in your wonderful home for a crazy little white+black kitten.

3/12/2013 8:59 PM  

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