We Made Sure the Last Week of Our Cat's Life Was Special
Chewbacca came into our lives in April of 1999. He and his sister were rescued as kittens from a derelict estate awaiting demolition in Brixton, South-West London. My partner, Rob, and I had just bought our first house, and I nagged and badgered him until we took in the lovely kittens. They were moggies, black and white. They joined our resident cats Mr Boo, Lush, and Bucket. We called them Chewbacca and Olivia.
Chewie was a funny fish right from the start. He hated his sister, Ollie, and used to box her in the head and moan at her. She was a very timid girl. Gradually the cat pack grew, as I am unable to say no. We had a very small terraced house in South East London with a postage stamp of a garden. Our dining table became the cat table, and it still is!
Chewie always had a very gormless expression on his face, which won him the nickname “Gollum.” We could never quite work out if there was anything going on in his head. He was a very social cat and loved the company of humans, curling up by the open fire in the winter or on your lap.
Chewie developed a form of OCD when he was about 2 and would overgroom his back, causing baldness by the base of his tail. After several visits to the vets for medication, we realized it was more mental than physical and it was nothing to worry about. I had several calls from concerned neighbors who got our phone number from his tag, who said he clearly had mange and that we should treat it!
Consequently, he did not like being touched on his back. Visitors had to be cautioned as he would lull you into relaxing and stroking him, and then you would get clawed. Interestingly, his condition cleared up when we moved to the countryside, so maybe he was allergic to something in London.
After my serious illness in 2003, we rescued our first elderly dog from Battersea Dogs Home. My illness made me fearful of leaving the house, so I figured having a dog to walk would help my confidence.
By this time the cat population of our house had risen to 10 or 11, because we took in strays that people no longer wanted. Chewie was the only cat who took it in stride. He was confident around dogs, and as the dog population grew in our house, he became friends with most of them and did not change his behavior in any way. Bold as brass he would walk in the middle of the dogs and take the best seat. It was either great courage or stupidity. It was very funny.
Chewie really did not get on with his sister, but would groom and lick all the other female cats. He was never a bully boy and just accepted any new fur friend who happened to turn up at the feeding bowl. He made a habit of following us to the railway station in Honor Oak, when we commuted to central London in the morning. This usually ended in us being late as one of us scooped him up and took him back to safety, locking the catflap as a further precaution.
Three weeks before we moved to Kent, Ollie went missing. We were frantic, but we had to go, so we left messages with all the neighbors and the new owners. I don’t think Chewie was that bothered, but we were. I fear she was probably hit by a car, poor love. London was a terrible place for cats; they kept going missing.
When we moved to Kent in 2007, we had three cats and six dogs. Our new house had a huge garden that was perfect for all the animals.
Chewie was always very good at getting locked into places. He liked nothing better than sneaking into Rob’s music studio and curling up amongst the cables. The next morning, when Rob realized we hadn’t seen Chewie for a few hours, the penny would drop and he would be heard uttering loud expletives as he headed upstairs, tools in hand, to attempt to open the door, which was always well and truly refusing to open as Chewie would have clawed up the carpet behind the door. Having failed in his exit strategy, he would then find a nice stack of rare vinyl for his convenience!
In September, Rob and I went on holiday for a week and left my mum in charge of the cats. On our return, we noticed that Chewie had a very swollen abdomen. He did not seem to be in pain and was still purring, but we took him straight to the vets for blood tests. The vet drained off a whole syringe of clear liquid from Chewie's abdomen. Tests confirmed he had some heart problems, which were probably the cause of the backed-up fluid, but all his other vital signs were normal. X-rays and an abdominal scan were inconclusive.
Chewie was put straight on heart pills and diuretics, but it was very clear within a couple of days that the meds weren't working. His health continued to deteriorate, and he started to lose his mobility. We knew at this point that whatever it was, it was terminal, and we had to think of our boy's quality of life. The vet assured us that Chewie was not in any pain and suggested that we bring Chewie home for a couple of days to say goodbye. He had been part of our life for over 13 years.
That last week, Chewie dined on smoked mackerel pate and cheese. He was still stuffing his face with food. He slept up with Rob on the bed on a lovely soft pillow. Rob made a big fire and Chewie slept by the fire. Chewie even made it down the lane into the neighbor’s garden, his old haunt, where he got fed treats. Our neighbor told us he felt like Chewie had come to say goodbye.
I spent the whole day Friday cuddling and stroking the Purr Monster. We had an appointment with the vet we see most often, who has a lovely bedside manner.
When Rob and I arrived at the vet, we spent a few minutes making Chewie comfortable in a private room, talking to him, and saying our last goodbyes. We stayed and stroked Chewie while the vet gave him the injection to end his life. Chewie was purring his loud purr till the end. He looked up at us both just before he fell asleep forever.
Chewie came home in the car, wrapped in one of his favourite blankets. It was dark when we came home, so we laid Chewie upstairs in the spare bedroom to spend his last night with us in the house. We buried Chewie in a lovely quiet spot outside our kitchen window. I think of him every time I open the window and look out.
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