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Choosing Death: The Unthinkable Dilemma

Choosing Death: The Unthinkable Dilemma

How I opted to euthanise my terminally ill pet.

I found him late one night, after three days of constant downpour. Mumbai rains can be brutal. Steady thunderclaps and twelve hours of pitter-patter were pierced by sharp cries- we could hear his mews through the night. It didn’t stop, so the next day I set out on a personal mini rescue mission.

Fatty entered our house as a reluctant rescue in a reluctant family. He lived in a shoebox that I’d lined with soft pillowcases, and was confined to only the perimeter of my bedroom and the bathroom. My dad knew of my consistent obsession with picking up strays from the street, we’d seen them all come and go. So I safely assumed Fatty was just another temporary visitor. I knew what I had to do to not get too attached to him. What I wasn’t prepared for was the growing feelings of everyone around me but me. My mum started taking responsibility of feeding him, my dad decided to christen him. Slowly and subconsciously, everyone made space for him in their heart. Questions of looking for a home didn’t spring up at all, and that’s how Chocolate, aka Fatty, found a place in our home.

‘Don’t close the door Choco is sleeping’‘Don’t close the door Choco is sleeping’

He went from a nervous and terrified kitten to a naughty fur-ball. He loved chasing the end of string, his little paws struggling to catch hold of it. His perimeter expanded, it went from the multiple bedrooms in our house to the outside of our apartment. He learnt to walk out, go down three flights of stairs, make his way to the garden, spend a few hours there and when he decided it was time to come back, make his way up the same three flights of stairs- all of this all by himself. He’d mew at our doorstep, which served as his version of a doorbell. He preferred pooping in open spaces, and developed the skill of digging a hole for himself, doing his job in there and covering it up once he was done, as if embarrassed. I always looked away as he did this, as if to give him his privacy.

We accepted him not just as a pet. He was an independent member of the family- he had his likes, his dislikes, his favourite spots in the house to sleep in, his preferred variant of fish. Everyone loved him. It was nothing he did, he wasn’t one for overtly obvious displays of affection. But he cared, and those around him could feel it. His presence seemed to spread warm comfort, his uber whiteness like a halo from the heavens above. He seemed cocooned in his own bubble of pristine, and he walked with a magnificent grace that made us feel like we were his royal subjects and we were blessed he set foot in our abode.

Basking in his much needed beauty sleepBasking in his much needed beauty sleep

“Why do all good things come to an end?” It’s one of my favorite Nelly Furtado songs. Some ends can be anticipated, you know they are round the corner and you do your best to prep yourself for them. The others come at you, hit you and leave you blindsided. You wonder how and when and where and what, but no amount of wondering helps, because the situation is the situation and it has to be dealt with, regardless of how it came about. 

It was pretty innocuous, a perfectly ordinary day when he refused to eat his meal. We assumed it was regular heat, or indigestion. This went on a bit longer, so we took him to the vet. She recommended a regular check up. I still remember the time we got his first test results. I was at a bar, celebrating the end of exams, with all my friends. I got a phone call from the clinic. The news my ears received was so alien, I think my biological system didn’t know how to accept it. Everything around me seemed to fade out, just like a movie. Things turned hazy. I left and went straight to the clinic, with an armor of questions, almost like a lawyer ready to fight a battle. Everything depended on my questions.

His life was literally in my handsHis life was literally in my hands

Fatty’s creatinine levels were phenomenally high, which basically meant his kidneys were deteriorating. For a human the next step would be a kidney transplant, but medical science still hasn’t made that provision for animals. This meant a steady slope towards the inevitable – death. But it also meant suffering - a certainty. If his kidneys would stop functioning his body wouldn’t be able to throw waste out, which would then slowly accumulate inside his body. Once one system collapses the others tend to fall with it too. We had to put him on emergency drips and hope it made him stabilize. Our only ray of hope was him just being stable, hanging in there for as long as he could. The time? No one knew how much. The vet said some of them dragged on for years, and some only for a few months. 

Never before had I heard a verdict this pronounced. I took multiple opinions. I grew to feel an animosity towards science, how could science let someone just be doomed to death? I couldn’t just throw my hands up and accept it. One of them told me Fatty’s final days would be in my hands. Whether I wanted to prolong it, or cut it short, it was all up to me.  He told me about euthanasia, mercy killing. 

In short, I had to play god.

Fatty’s haven: Us on a regular dayFatty’s haven: Us on a regular day

I’ve had to make several big decisions in my life, but firstly, they’ve always been about me. And secondly, the magnitude of this one made the others look so small. For hours I’d mull this over in my head. I’d read about it, read about other's experiences with it. I never asked anyone for his or her opinion though, because from the start something in me told me it had to be my burden to bear. Irony laughed at me, I brought him in, and now it was in my hands- his life.

Fatty fought. He was on constant drips for three months. He stabilized, and he came back to regular life. For a year, things came back to normal. He resumed his physical activity, he started eating normal. The disease lingered over us, but for now we were happy he was happy.

His eyes told stories: needles and syringesHis eyes told stories: needles and syringes

And then when it happened it happened like crazy. The downward spiral was ugly, it was messy. Lethargy turned into weakness which then turned into heart crushing frailty- it hurt to see him so frail. We could see the sides of his rib cage. He could barely walk. He couldn’t clean himself. Seeing someone so graceful and powerful all his life makes you almost want to save him the shame of seeing himself in such pathetic misery. His final week, he just lay in a corner by the shoes and vomited blood, at regular intervals. According to me he lost sense of place or time, the physical agony was so much he didn’t know how to make sense of reality anymore. He seemed lost in his own version of blindness. 

I wanted to take all his pain away. Is death happiness? I still don’t know. But I knew it was the end of suffering. To this day if I think about it theoretically and philosophically; I wonder if I did the right thing. But the sight of him right there right then, I knew it would be selfish of me to want to hold on to him just because I wanted to see his rotting body in front of my eyes- so that he would still be alive and mine. 

We did it. We held him while she injected him with what looked like harmless transparent fluid in a syringe. I don’t think I’d ever be able to erase the scene in my head. The scariest was the flicker of life fading from his eyes. His piercing stare turned blank. It was there. But it wasn’t.

Happier, lighter: Theo, Fatty and IHappier, lighter: Theo, Fatty and I

If I could take all the pain away, I would. If I had a choice of not having to make that decision, I would chose not making that decision. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if we hadn’t picked up that 3-month-old from the ravaging floodwater in the first place. Sometimes I wonder how he would’ve gone if I let him slip away on his own accord. I guess we can live with as many what ifs as we want to. He left me with one certainty though. I now believe loving and losing expands your heart. Mine’s elastic now. 

For Fatty.

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com

By Divya Punjabi
Photographs by: Divya Punjabi