ON THE SCENE: ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’
(Editor’s note: Get a box of tissues before you read this. It’s a tearjerker.)
By NAJ WIKOFF
On Wednesday, July 27, with great sadness, I put my 17-year-old cat and companion Lucy to sleep. It was such a hard decision to make, but one made out of love.
Lucy’s life began as a Brooklyn-street, feral cat that sought food wherever she found or could acquire it. One day, she followed another cat into someone’s home. They were initially amazed by the softness of her fur and how pretty she was, but once Lucy figured out that being fed inside meant sharing food with the couple’s cat, she immediately tried to force their cat out of the house. Her street instincts had clicked in. The couple now had a dilemma; they didn’t want to put Lucy back out on the streets, where her chances of survival were bleak, and they couldn’t keep her, as she was fighting with their pet.
Their friend Abby, a fellow Brooklynite, knew I had lost Kitty the Cat, my long-time companion, who had died some months earlier. She and our mutual friend Jerilea, who divides her time between New York and Keene, decided Lucy would be perfect for me. Consequently, I came home one day to find a small female cat hiding under my bed and a tray of kitty litter set out in the kitchen along with a bag of dry cat food.
In time, Lucy warily appeared, mostly to eat and dash back under the bed, but soon she started exploring my house, terrorizing mice at night and checking me out. Any attempt to pick her up resulted in being scratched, hissed at, and the like. Lucy eventually came to appreciate being stroked and scratched behind her ears. Amazing was to realize she had no fat on her; stroking her, one could feel that every muscle was clearly defined.
Her first trip to the vet didn’t go well, embedding a dislike of being in cars that never waned throughout her life. But now defleaed, and with all her shots behind her, it didn’t take Lucy long to figure out living in my house was a pretty good deal. I got a wicked mouser who had this remarkable ability to flatten herself and shimmy under the stove in pursuit of a mouse. She was relentless. It also didn’t take long for Lucy to decide this was her house, and my job was to feed her when she wanted, at the first hint of dawn.
Lucy soon devised an array of approaches to waking me up in the morning; few were used twice in a row. There was the walking up and down on me, sitting on my head, poking me in the nose, meowing loudly from the floor to my waking up with a cat face close to mine staring at me in my eyes. She loved to zoom around the house, racing up the ladder to the loft or leaping from floor to chair, to the kitchen table, to a fantastic leap to the top of the refrig, and from there to the shelf above.
Lucy could pry open a bureau drawer so she could sleep on the clothes within. Not unusual was opening the pantry door to find her asleep among bags of dried peas and the like. Nothing better, though, was sleeping in front of the woodstove or on whatever papers I was working on. To sit down was to miraculously have a cat who had been sleeping on a chair to be sleeping on my lap. You get the idea; Lucy had lots of personality that entranced all my friends and me.
But about a year ago, Lucy developed a tumor on her neck that slowly grew. To have it removed would cost her an ear and probably a leg with no guarantee of success. Then 16, already having had multiple unique experiences in life, I felt that I couldn’t do that to her, and thus the cancer slowly grew, and grew, and more recently, at an increasing rate. Lucy scratched at it and took meds to reduce pain and itchiness. Increasingly she slept more and more of the day and took to sleeping in a dark space behind the sofa.
Last Monday, I came home from going to the gym to find a bloody trail from where she slept that led across the kitchen floor and out the back door. I couldn’t find Lucy anywhere outside, and I feared she had gone out to die. Two hours later, Lucy came back, now limping a bit. I saw that she had been bleeding from her ear and tumor. I felt I had no choice; to let her live longer could result in her tumor bursting and she dying in a pool of blood.
Fortunately, a local vet, Jackie Bentley, offered to provide Lucy’s transition at my house on Wednesday evening, a day when Lucy’s ear and tumor bled again.
“I had to put down dog Milosz, named after the poet,” said Aaron Miller. “That was August of 2015. Milosz was a Basenji, a very energetic dog weighing about 24 or 25 pounds, short-haired, with a pointy nose and curly tail. He was very much a personality. I had him from when he was 8 weeks old until we had to put him down when he was 18 and a half years old. He lived a long full life.”
“We knew it was coming for a while,” said Miller. “Milosz had dementia and a long-term congenital condition that we also managed. I decided that I wanted Milosz to have some quality of life; he was going blind and deaf, and the dementia was causing him to behave erratically, walk in circles, and stay in corners. I thought Milosz was not incontinent yet, and I didn’t want that for him because his life would be horrible. We put him to sleep in August of 2015.
“Though I grew up with pets, this was my first time having to put one down. I think I learned how valuable that companionship, that partnership you have with that animal, is; the bond runs deep. There are important markers in my life that I measured based on that relationship. Not having that companion around anymore, the finality of it, the need to move on and end the bond, was painful. Painful but instructive.
“It helps you value the relationships you have. I know some people move on and bring other pets into their life; I haven’t done that, at least with a dog. We now have a cat, which has a similar personality. So, there is some continuity, but there is no getting around it; deciding to put Milosz down was very difficult. You want that relationship, like any important relationship in your life, to continue; you don’t want it to end.
“Not to get heavy, but we as owners of animals can decide to help them not suffer anymore. That’s a huge gift. It’s a painful gift. My wife and I were with Milosz when he passed. Being with him, not in a sterile clinical setting but the comfort of his home, was another gift. The experience was special.”
Lying on a blue towel, Lucy didn’t want to go at first, and then she let go, snuggled tightly against me, purring until the end. She lay in state for about three hours, and then I carried her outside wrapped in the blue towel. By chance, and perhaps not really, at that moment, two close friends called me on Facetime and immediately shifted their reasons for the call to helping me lay Lucy to rest. They spoke to her, and then I thanked Lucy for all the experiences, joy, and love she brought into my life. Lucy was then buried to the sounds of the Beatles singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)