Life and Death on the Farm

As a person who grew up on a farm, death was a normal part of life. It was not uncommon to find a random cow leg deposited in our yard by the resident coyotes. In fact, (if you didn't grow up on a farm, you might find this odd) it was sort of my job to report back to my dad if we'd lost any cattle. I would wander about our 90 acres and note any lost calves or cows later that day. Of course, that wasn't the sole purpose of my wanderings, I'd also be checking the fence.

Dogs would show up with puppies and the puppies would mysteriously disappear the next morning. This was an act we all willingly participated in. We knew dad took the puppies away, but none of us (including dad) wanted to acknowledge what really happened.

Cats, cats were a whole endeavor unto themselves. My sister and I wanted a cat so badly, we brought home probably half a dozen over the years with only one lasting more than a few weeks it seems. Eventually, with each cat, we would wake up some morning to find horrific remains. I will never understand why the coyotes would leave the cat out in plain site. I know they prefer old carcasses, but you'd think they'd try to hide their fresh kill. Only one cat, a cat who lost a leg from sleeping in my dad's truck, lived a full life on our farm. She was one stubborn cat. She was my cat alone and, while she deserves a full story, this is not a story about her. This is a story about my current cat and my urban farm.

With all the continuous exposure to losing pets and livestock, I have always told myself that death is a normal part of life. I have believed this in terms of people and our animal friends. It's just a simple fact of life. I've bragged about the fact that, on the farm, we don't let an animal suffer. We "put it out of its misery." With as tough as farm people sometimes seem, we pride ourselves in the fact that we approach death with compassion and reason.

What I didn't realize is that, in all these experiences, I was never the one choosing the time of death. It occurred naturally, or my dad chose. Now I am faced with choosing. My companion of 18 plus years is declining. She has lived with kidney failure for over 3 years. She now has a thyroid problem and a heart murmur. Despite these things, she has been spry and frisky. She'll adventure out into the garden, sleep on a window sill, play with a string. She jumps over three feet to her post to get her food. Most importantly, each night, as she has always done, she sleeps curled up in my armpit. Lately, she has gravitated to sleeping almost on my face or in the bend of my neck. We have stepped up her fluid treatments to once every 3 to 4 days and, until recently, she has responded very well to this.

Now, my family back home have been a bit surprised we have gone to the trouble to give her a subcutaneous fluid boost once a week in the beginning and that we have done this for 3 years. When a friend has been with you through college, your first jobs, grad school, different roommates, a marriage and a divorce, a mid-life crisis, coming out, and has shepparded you into a new relationship, it just seems like they will always be there. If you've ever read "The Golden Compass", she is my Pan. She is like my external soul. So, "As long as she is still happy," I tell myself. Plus, this past year she's been unusually affectionate.

This last few months I've noticed her beginning to decline though. She wanders about the house occasionally not quite as purposefully as she used to, almost as if she's not quite sure where she is going. This morning, she seemed stiff and as if getting up to go to her food were a bit of a chore. She was also grumpy. We've had more days like this lately than usual. The fluid treatment last night went right through her, leaving a baggy little apron on her belly. She and I had a good cuddle, with me crying and it struck me that, I may have to decide to put her to sleep within the next week. Now, we've been through this once before and she rallied, only to be running around the house two days later. I was thinking we'd just suddenly hit a wall and I would, as everyone keeps telling me, "just know when to do it." I don't think I'm going to be graced with that and I think Booger is going to be blessed not to have that.

So, on my urban farm this morning my thoughts are that I am missing those coyotes that just whisk your cat away in the night. Just a quick death, delivered by mother nature. I don't want to decide. She's the one who is always there when I'm the saddest. Curled up by my side no matter what. When I will want her by the most, she won't be there.

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