Sorrow, anger, and loss made worse by callous vet staff
Everybody knows that the grieving process is difficult: There’s a multibillion dollar industry dedicated to helping us say goodbye to loved ones. Losing a companion animal is hard, too. And the customer service provided by animal clinic staff can make a big difference.
A little over three years ago I left my Montreal home for a family visit, entrusting my two cats, Micio and Gigi, to the care of a friend. Gigi was a big ginger boy whom I’d adopted as a stray. His greatest pleasure in life was eating – I called it his “miracle of food,” and theorized this was because he’d been deprived for the months before I took him in. Micio was a handsome silver tabby whose loud purr made me fall in love. The two had been companions for 12 years.
When I returned I discovered that Gigi had not been eating and was drinking very little. I monitored him, thinking that perhaps he was despondent because of my absence. I tried to administer water with a syringe, to minimal success. Time to see the vet.
It turned out Gigi was very sick and extremely dehydrated. He was admitted to the animal hospital for rehydration, tests, and observation. The vet recommended he stay there for several days. They would keep me posted.
When the test results came back I got a phone call telling me that Gigi was extremely ill. He had chronic kidney failure, and it was going to be time to make some tough decisions. I steeled myself – as best I could – and called a close friend to accompany me on the trip to the animal hospital.
The vet and staff were very compassionate as they explained the test results, then led me to my cat. Gigi had an iv running to his hind leg which was bound in a purple elastic bandage. He purred when he saw me and, with effort, moved to the front of the cage. I was able to gently lift him out and hold him. I remember the black summer dress I was wearing, and the cat hairs that he left behind.
After I’d held and nuzzled Gigi for a while I knew it was time to return him to his cage and talk to the vet. What would Gigi be feeling right now? I asked. He’d be listless, fatigued and nauseous, the vet said. Would Gigi ever feel better? No. The only course of treatment was to bring him in for regular hydration, until he eventually wasted away.
The choice was difficult, but clear, especially since Gigi had always so loved food! The vet placed Gigi in my arms, cushioned by the towel that had been in his carrier, and inserted the last iv.
I decided to make the long walk home rather than take a cab. My friend Gray and I talked about euthanasia, and how it can be the kind choice, and wished it might be an option for us some day. I was so distraught when I left that I forgot the cat carrier and towel.
It was not long after my return that Micio started crying and looking for his buddy in earnest. He hadn’t seen me leave with Gigi in the carrier, and he seemed to be worried at his absence, confused that I wasn’t looking for Gigi as I usually did when he made an “escape”. I did some online research and discovered that cats grieve, too. I realized that I’d made a mistake in leaving the cat carrier at the vet’s – maybe if Micio could smell the towel, he’d somehow understand?
I called the vet to find out if I could get the carrier. They said I could pick it up any time in the next week. A few days later I made the trek to the animal hospital to pick up the carrier and Gigi’s ashes.
I was made to wait beyond my ”turn” – maybe because I didn’t have an animal with me – but eventually received the attention of the receptionist. I told her why I was there and was given the urn containing my cat’s remains. I explained I wanted the cat carrier, too. She was dismissive: it was their policy to donate any carriers left behind to those in greater need. I explained that I’d been told the carrier and towel would be held for me, and the reason why I wanted them. She was unsympathetic. Tears began to well and my voice started to rise. She called someone to hustle me away to a less public area.
I never did get the towel and carrier – the towel had been laundered and the carrier given away. The staff offered me a towel that another pet owner had left behind.
I don’t think Micio ever understood what happened to his life-long buddy. He became lethargic; he purred rarely, and when he did, his big purr had become much quieter. Within eight months I had to say goodbye to him, too. No need for a towel that time.
#cats #grieving #veterinary care #death #customer service