Big Winky was a foster failure. This is where you take a pet into your home with the intention of finding them another, permanent home, but never do. So after several months, we (Perry Jameson) finally found her a home, ours.
Her real name was Winky, but because she was bigger than our other cats, had fluffy hair that made her look even bigger and was a little overweight, her nickname was Big Winky.
She loved to snuggle on my chest while I watched TV or read. She not only liked to groom the other cats but also her people and our dog, Flipper. Many mornings she woke me up by grooming my hair. Flipper even enjoyed when she would clean down in his ears.
My two older children do not remember a world without Big Winky. I cannot remember for sure, but she may have been around before they were born.
Like all pet parents I had to say goodbye to her last week. About a year ago, she developed heart failure that resulted in trouble breathing. With medications we were able to stabilize her, and she had done well. At the time, blood testing showed she had early kidney failure too, but for this she was asymptomatic.
Several weeks ago, we noticed she was slowing down, not able to jump up on the sofa with ease or come up the stairs easily. Then she stopped being the first at breakfast and dinner. She was not grooming her beautiful coat the way she once had. At night she wanted to be alone rather than sit with me.
We brought her to the hospital and found that she was in severe kidney failure. My wife and I went through the emotions of should we try therapy or should we say goodbye.
Ending your pet’s life is never an easy decision, even when you know it is the correct one. Weekly, I have to guide people through this painful process. The decision of when is different for everyone, but I am often asked what to look for when deciding.
For me, the key is looking for things that bring quality to their lives. I think they get enjoyment out of the same things in life that humans do.
The first thing to evaluate is how are they eating. Unless you have an eating disorder, we all love to eat. Cats and dogs are no different. It was obvious that Big Winky loved meal time. She would wake us up by grooming or vocalizing if we tried to sleep in and feed her later than usual. Her rumbling stomach was like an alarm clock.
When she stopped coming for meal time and we could not coax her to eat by even bringing the food to her, I knew this part of enjoying life was gone.
The second pleasure in life is interacting with family and friends. Most of us enjoy spending time with the people we are close to. Cats and dogs are social animals, as well, and enjoy being around us. For Big Winky, this was sitting on my lap at night. When she started sitting in a corner by herself rather than spending time with me, the interaction that added quality to her life was gone.
The third pleasure is doing the things we enjoy. This will vary greatly from person to person and pet to pet. For younger pets, it may be play time and walks, while older pets may just like being in a location where they can observe the world going on around them, participating as much as they can.
Big Winky was never an active lady and this became more apparent as she aged. After eating, her second great pleasure was finding a comfortable spot to sleep. It may be the middle of my bed, the babies’ cribs or in the dirty clothes hamper.
I knew something was wrong when she would rather lie on the hard wood floor. She also seemed uncomfortable, moving frequently rather than staying in one place for hours.
With all of these changes, we knew she was not enjoying her life. Our next question was, with therapy could we return her to a place where she would?
Based on the degree of her renal disease, combined with her heart disease, and the arthritis she had developed recently, we felt we could not. It was such a hard decision to say goodbye. I tell parents of pets every day that even when you know it is the right decision, it is hard.
There is a void in our life this past week. I know that eventually all the positive memories we have of her will outweigh the grief.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to email@example.com.