Saddle thrombus in a cat has to be one of the worse experiences a cat lover can got through. It happens suddenly, is incredibly painful, and generally ends in euthanisia in a matter of hours. It's incredibly distressing for everyone.
There are many sad stories on my Saddle Thrombus in Cats blog entry from cat lovers who have just lost their cats from this awful condition.
Recently, Josh posted about Dave and he invited me to be his friend on Facebook. In his Facebook profile, he'd written the following eulogy to Dave, which he has kindly let me share with you.
Warning - it's very heartwarming and very sad; have lots of Kleenex at hand.
The story begins in 1997, when Michelle came up with the idea that we should get a couple of kittens. I was initially resistant, but then reconsidered. So, one day we went into the kitten room of the Oregon Humane Society, where the cages were stacked from floor to ceiling. Each animal brought in had a 30 day window ater they were brought in to be adopted before they were euthanized.
We went in and started looking through the cages, and a tiny white paw came out of the bottom cage and touched Michelle's foot, accompanied by that short distinctive "Mrowt!" meow-bark that was a special part of Dave's varied language.
We had no choice. He adopted us.
We picked him up, and he purred so loud- like a prop plane. As a kitten, Dave had the loudest purr I've ever heard. We got Spooky at the same time, who had just come in. Dave had 5 days left in his 30 day window. I have often thought, had we waited until 5 days later to go to the Humane Society, we would have never found Dave, and he would never have found us.
In the beginning, Dave was Mim's cat, and Spooky was my cat. But then, very delibrately, they traded, and it became clear that Dave was my cat, and I started called Spooky a "Mama's boy", because he always sought out Mim first.
Dave was a prodigious leaper. We got a fishpole toy for them, and when whirling around, if you gave Dave a running start then jerked the string upward, he would propel himself into the air 5 feet off the ground, spinning midair, trying to catch the toy at the end of the string.
We got the idea that we could get cat leashes for them and take them on walks like dogs, which didn't work out. But we did tether Dave up to the back porch at our house in Oregon, since he seemed to like being outside, but we didn't want him getting run over or getting in fights with other cats. But he was a cat Houdini, after a few minutes we looked out and the leash was empty. I have no idea how he wriggled out of it, they are made so that cats can't do that.
We went out and searched for him, and after a while I heard a tiny meow coming from some bushes on our neighbor's property. It was his way of saying "I hear you calling for me, but I'm too scared to come out, but I will give you this signal so you can find me." I went over and looked down and there was tiny Dave cowering from underneath the bushes.
I have had so many dreams like this, where I find Dave in some distant place, just like this.
On another occasion, we put both his and Spooky's leashes on him, but amazingly, he escaped both.
Dave always thought he was a human trapped in a cat body. He would watch me as I took a shower, wait his turn, then when I got out, he would go in, press the shower button down with his paw, and as the water came out, he would lap it up, while looking at me, saying "See? I'm thirsty too!" Since he thought the purpose of showers was to drink the water, he wanted to prove he was every bit as capable as I.
He never liked people food, with the exception of Alex's tuna sandwiches which he did take a keen interest in. We got a big spice rack with many spices once, and a few times, I would get all the spice containers and lay on the floor with the two cats, opening each one which they would want to smell in turn. Some they really didn't like, and would turn up their noses in disgust, but others they seemed to like, and would smell them untl I put the cap back on. I think they enjoyed the spice smell game.
Dave would sleep on our laps or a nearby chair or his basket as we worked on our computers downstairs in our Oregon house. He loved to sit by my monitor and watch my cursor move around the screen, and put a paw on it every once in a while. He knew he couldn't catch it, from experience, but wanted to show the little arrow who was boss anyway. After a while he would get bored and look at me, amazed that I could sit all day and watch the cursor move around the screen. I think he had all these theories worked out about my activities- working on the computer was watching the cursor, taking a shower was drinking.
Sometimes we would take both of them in the car when we went out to get food in drive-throughs. We though it would be a fun adventure for them. They did not like this all that much so we discontinued it. Cats are natural navigators within a few blocks but they lost the trail after we had made too many turns and the landscape was unfamiliar and they would get worried, thinking maybe we would not find our way back home. When we finally got to our home street they would perk up and meow, alerting us we were getting close, recognizing the landscape and being amazed at how we could find our way home after our long journey.
When we moved to California and picked up the cat carriers, both cats were traumatized by the plane noise and scary experience, but it was Dave who emerged first and explored the apartment, as he did when we moved into our house. While Spooky hid in the tiny window in the laundry room, Dave had each room of the house inventoried and checked out.
Dave always was up for an affectionate head butt. But if you did it too much, he would look at you like, head butts are a cool thing to do, but don't overdo it. You have to mean each one.
Dave would come when I called him, like a dog. If I patted a spot on the couch or bed, his eyes would get big and he would jump up and try out the spot I had recommended, and if it was satisfactory, he would curl up right there.
Over his life, Dave developed a large vocabulary of different sounds. There was the short meow bark, which meant "hi, here I am". There was the long meow when he was bored, and the other one when he was hungry. There was the plaintive squeal when you weren't paying enough attention, and when you came back from being gone the whole day, the double "Meeoooww-wwoooowwww!" that was an angry admonition for leaving him behind once again alone at home with "the pet" (Spooky).
He would have a conversation with you. If you said the short meow-bark to him he would almost always respond. Then, if you said it again, he would reply. If you said his name, he would respond, but if you said another word, even with the same inflection, he would not. From being around us and other humans he knew you were supposed to have conversations, where one person made a sound, then another responded.
When he was sleeping in later years, his voice would go hoarse, so if you walked by and gave him a pat he would look at you and silently mouth "Meow".
Dave always wanted to be close to us. At daybreak, he always came up to our heads and went between us in search of the most comfortable spot, and usually ended up sleeping on top of Michelle or me, or putting his little head on our pillows like a tiny person. Mim called him her "alarm clock".
When I got up, Dave would come lay on the rug by my feet when I was in the bathroom, and for a while really tried to get up his courage to come in the walk-in shower when I was in there, even coming in once or twice. Mostly he would sit right outside the glass on the edge of the tub and meow noiselessly at me through the glass. I think he had an inner struggle with the shower, thinking if he was truly brave he would come right in, and being ashamed at his fear to do so. I think he begrudged every minute apart from us.
After I got dressed, he would run frantically to the door leading to the stairs to the office, and nuzzle his nose in the crack, in a panic that I was leaving him again to go to work. When I pushed him aside with my foot and went out, as I was closing the door I would look down and he would be giving me the most heart-rending, betrayed stare ever mustered up by an animal. It never failed to put a pang of regret in my heart, though I went to work anyway. "How can you leave me?? Again??"
Every once in a while I would take him to work with me, and sometimes he laid around or slept peacefully, but usually he would be a pest, climbing around on the desks in front of our monitors, or sitting by the door, meowing to go outside, so I didn't take him much.
At night when I came home, Dave was almost always at my feet, meowing in an angry voice that I had been gone, and trying to get my attention. If I didn't pet him or pick him up, he would often dart off and attack Spooky in frustration. He became quite a bully to Spooky in his last years, but then afterwards they would often cuddle up together sleeping on the couch or bed.
If I picked him up he would purr like a motor, reaching over my shoulder with his paws, holding on so tight his claws would go through my shirt and begin to go into my back, so I had to lift the cloth off my back to avoid puncture wounds.
If I didn't pick him up often he would "track" me, staying right by my feet, moving in tandem with me, looking up into my eyes. I could move around in any direction, and he would move around, laterally or forwards or backwards, staying within inches of my feet.
When we sat on couch, watching TV and on our laptops, Dave would almost always jump up and lay next to me. Two nights ago, I didn't notice him right away, when I came back from getting a drink I remember I saw him and said "Hey buddy, have you been next to me this whole time?" He was always close. It was always us four on the sofa, us four on the bed. When we sat in the dining room, the cats would often take seats as well.
Both cats were aware of the significance of the suitcases. When we brought them out and packed for a trip, all we had to do was turn around for a moment and Dave would be firmly curled up in the suitcase, as if to say, "If you're leaving, I'm going too."
Dave had his share of adventures, from the close encounter with the skunk to being imprisoned under our new floor during the remodel. I will never forget how I felt when I finally thought he was gone forever, and the joy of having him back.
Last night, we left work and went to have sushi. We came back, and we were in the kitchen. Mim noticed there was some cat puke near the front door. Ironically, at that moment, we were talking, I was saying that our lives were blessed, that we were so lucky to have each other and our kitties and our music.
Just then, we heard a thump. Mim was instantly alarmed and looked in the livingroom, where Dave was lying on the floor next to the bench. We think he fell off the bench and that was the sound. "There's something really wrong with Dave" Mim said. Her voice was so weird, she was really freaking out. Later, she said she knew it at that moment.
Dave was on the floor, his mouth open, his toungue out, breathing frantically. His back legs were completely limp. He started meowing very loudly, like he was in great pain. His eyes were wide and full of pain and fear. He threw up again, and Mim said "We have to take him to the emergency vet now" and called them to get directions, and they referred us to another emergency center that was open late. I petted Dave as he started trying to claw his way across the carpet with his front paws, the back end of his body dragging lifelessly. Then he tried to get back on the bench, I think it was a last defiant effort to get back to the place he fell from. I helped him up there, but he couldn't make it, his claws got stuck, and I had trouble lifting him and pulling his claws out of the bench. One came out entirely. He was trying to get away from the pain, in a frenzy, since he probably instinctively felt some predatory creature was biting into him.
Mim just kept saying my name and I kep telling her everything was going to be okay. I wrapped him in a blanket and we rushed out the door, and I handed him to Michelle in the back seat to hold, and I drove to Eagle Rock Emergency Pet Clinic. He was screaming in pain, and Mim was having trouble holding him, and when we pulled into parking lot he bit her hand rather badly and ended up falling on the floor of the car.
Mim and I were both so disoriented and freaked out. I managed to pick him up in the blanket from the car floor and get him to the door. Mim rang the buzzer at the door, and I had to set Dave on the ground to get a better carrying grip on him, where he just crumpled.
We brought him in the waiting room and told the woman at the desk it was an emergency. Several other people were waiting with dogs and I had the fear we would have to wait. But they told us to bring him right in an examination room.
We put him on that cold steel table, and put the blanket over him, trying to comfort him as he frenetically squirmed around. I got several scratches, and Mim was bleeding a lot from the bite on her hand. Dave was still breathing fast with his toungue extended. He was so frightened from the pain.
The assistant, after a few attempts, picked him up in a towel and carried him into the main area. We followed, but a doctor asked us to wait in the waiting room. She said she had a pretty good idea what had happened.
This whole time, I though maybe Dave had eaten some object, and it was blocking his digestive system somehow, and once it was out he'd be fine. He had eaten things like rubber bands and plant parts before and puked them out again. That didn't explain the paralysis though.
I really thought he would pull through. I was hopeful that the doctor said she knew what the problem was, that means she knew the treatment for it. I wanted to go back and be with him and reassure him that we had not left him there, I thought to hear a familiar voice would help him.
Mim was so distraught, I was trying to comfort her and tell here everything would be okay. But she knew it would not be. She knew the whole time.
After a while the assistant came in asked us to wait in the examination room. I told the assistant to tell the doctor that cost was no object and if he needed surgery or whatever spare no expense. We heard the doctor and others talking in the other room, and they didn't sound too worried, so again I was hopeful. We also heard Dave meowing loudly every minute or two, which was making Mim cry, because she knew he was in so much pain, but it reassured me that he was still alive.
Finally the doctor came in, and explained that Dave had advanced heart disease, and a clot had formed in his heart and traveled through his arteries to a juncture where the arteries split to go to both legs and lodged there. It was a common thing called "saddle thrombosis" and she had seen dozens of cases.
She said he was in intense pain and had basically no chance of recovering. She said if we kept him alive, he would probably not regain use of his back legs, and since they were already turning blue from lack of blood, the whole back end of his body was not getting blood, and that was very bad for internal organs like the bladder, and basically it would start dying.
She said his case was severe and prolonging his life at this point would be cruel and inhumane. She said of the dozens of cases of saddle thrombosis she had seen, none had recovered, and every family ended up having the pet euthanized, but most after hours or days of extreme pain. The words really did not make sense to me.
She told us to take a few minutes to think about it and we completely broke down. I couldn't believe it. It was so horrible. Mim knew it was the end for Dave ever since the thump sound, but I didn't. I kept thinking there was something we could think of, if we were just smart enough. We could hear him keep meowing and Mim really wanted his suffering to stop, it was killing both of us.
I talked to the doctor again and she went through it all again. We both agreed that keeping Dave alive was really more for us, and not so good for Dave. We said that we had to do the right thing for Dave.
We asked to see Dave one last time, and there he was, in that shabby back room of the clinic, in a little oxygen-enriched enclosure behind some glass doors.
They opened the doors and we petted Dave and said goodbye. He was still squirming around, in excruciating pain, and I really couldn't tell if he really recognized us by then. But how could he not? He had heard our voices for 11 years. He was in really bad shape, his back legs were bent strangely and he was frantically grasping around with the front paws. We went back into the examination room and cried and cried. We decided we had no choice, and told them to draw up the papers.
Knowing he was going to be put to sleep, they then gave him an extra large shot of painkillers so he could calm down while they did the paperwork. We went back in, opened the doors, and petted him again. Heavily sedated now, he stopped squirming and crying and just put his head down on his paws, his eyes open and glassy. I tried to catch his eye but he was just staring straight ahead. It really did not seem like Dave anymore. I think if it had really been Dave, if he would have made contact, I never could have had him put to sleep. But I think he knew it was his time, or somehow the situation just seemed like we were doing the right thing and relieving him of future misery. The heart disease he had, I later found, was uncureable and untreatable.
They asked if we wanted to be present when they gave him the euthanasia IV. Mim was thinking maybe she wanted to be, but I didn't want to. Even though that white furry shape looked like Dave, it didn't seem like Dave any more. I said I would stay if she really wanted to.
They told us we could take the remains if we wanted to bury him, or they could have him cremated and provide the ashes. I really did not want any of that. They also said they could just take care of the remains. I really just wanted to get out of there, I felt like I was suffocating.
I signed the little yellow authorization for euthanasia paper. We petted Dave one last time, then went to the counter to pay. It was $150. Mim said she felt really bad just leaving him there. I asked her what she wanted, but she didn't know. I know what I wanted, I wanted Dave to be okay. It was so sudden. He seemed fine that day.
Mim always said she was worried Dave was sick. But aside from stretches where he puked a lot, which hadn't happened for years, he seemed okay. We did not know he had a terrible heart disease that was getting worse and worse. It's possible some of his bulk was not fat but swollen organs, we had him on a diet for the last few months.
We drove home in tears, I could barely see the road. I imagined at that moment Dave was getting the euthanasia IV and slipping into a merciful, pain-free non-existence. The story of Dave had ended. It had been barely an hour or two since we heard the thump of him falling off the bench. It all happened so fast, from thanking our lucky stars for our life to losing an integral member of our family.
We walked back into the house with the empty blanket, and I was just so painfully aware the blanket wasn't empty when we left. Mim cleaned up the puke and poop, and we just sat down and cried. I found the claw that had come out on the bench, and put it in my wallet.
I researched saddle thrombosis on the web and what I found basically verified what the doctor had said, though there were some reports of animals surviving months, some could walk again, but the risk of another clot was almost a guarantee, and most lived only a year. Some recovered use of their back legs, some didn't. I wondered if we did the right thing. I kept thinking maybe we were too hasty and maybe he might have recovered with our care. I thought maybe I hadn't made it clear enough that we were willing to spend any amount of money and maybe they or some other facility could have done some expensive procedure to break the clot up and save him, there was a web page about that. Maybe we should have waited a day to see how he did. I tortued myself with these thoughts, knowing it was too late. Other web pages told us we did the right thing. In the moment, we just couldn't let him suffer any more, he was in such pain.
We didn't know what to do. I went through my iPhoto libraries and found every picture of him I could. I kept trying to say things like it was meant to be, it was his time, everything happens for a reason, we had to have faith that it was the right thing to have happen, but those were just empty words. Earlier that day, when I had lunch, Dave tracked with me as I walked around, eating my bowl of tofu and talking about something. And now, just hours later, there was a lifeless, fluffy body at Verdugo Hills Veterinary Clinic being zipped in some bag for who knows what type of disposal. I felt bad just leaving him there, but I could not stick around any longer, I felt like I couldn't breathe.
We had some drinks, and tried to watch TV, but it was just too much, we finally cried ourselves asleep on the sofa with just Spooky, usually it would be all four of us.
Today, Mim found many black and white and color photos Tovah took of Dave and Spooky when she first moved to LA, and I have been writing this story since I woke up. My sorrow is so vast I don't see how I will ever recover.
I have had Dave for more than a fifth of my life. Other than Michelle and my mother when I was young, I have been closer to Dave than any other person.
Dave was always the one trying to make contact, looking into my eyes, saying "Hey! It's me! I'm here!" He was always so alert and aware. When I was sad, it was Dave who would find me and look at me and curl up beside me. Dave was the best little buddy I ever had, my best friend and constant companion. I think he was truly sentient. He was always trying to figure things out. He would look at you and really try and communicate.
In my dreams over the last decade, I am often in some faroff, remote place, and I look down, and there's Dave. I wonder how the heck he got there, but I am responsible for bringing him back home no matter how far away. Sometimes I put him in a wagon or shopping cart, sometimes balance him on a miniature scooter, sometimes a box, and try to get him home, but he is always so happy to see me, a familiar friend among the strangers and strange place he had somehow gotten himself into.
Goodbye Dave, I pray I will someday find you again, in a strange and faroff place.