Four weeks ago I helped my cat Bertie go over the Rainbow Bridge. He started acting lethargic late December, in early January my family said how he didn’t look his normal self, and when I took him to his vet the vet said that he was dehydrated and had signs of kidney disease. He only lived a week between getting the results from his vet and me having to say goodbye.
I grew up with cats, or my girlfriend at the time had a cat, or I had a roommate who had a cat, so after a few years of living on my own I was missing having a cat around and asked my landlady if she’d mind if I adopted one. Her response was “There are so many cats that need homes! If you adopt one I’ll waive the pet deposit fee!”
The local rescue league had a match-a-thon where a bunch of different shelters brought their pets together so people could have a wide selection of pets to choose from. The rescue league also had an online personality test where you’d answer survey questions about what kind of pet you were looking for (“I want my home to be like a circus” vs “I want my home to be a library”, or “I’m looking for a lap-cat”, or “My cat needs to be able to be left alone most of the day”), and it would say that you were looking for an orange personality cat, or a purple personality cat; each of the cages at the shelter had a different colored index card corresponding to their personality, so if you knew you were looking for an orange personality cat, you could focus on only those with the orange index cards.
He was the very first cat that I saw, and he was the personality type I was looking for. He was in his cage but he was still excitedly watching someone else play with a cat in the middle of the room. I adored his markings and loved how he was still engaged with what was happening despite still being in his cage, but I figured I’d wait until I first checked all the other cats to see if any of them appealed to me. However, after one look through I knew he was the cat for me, and I took him home for only $20. He meowed all the way home from the shelter that day. I always used to think that it was because he didn’t enjoy being in the car and I felt so bad for him on that ride, but now I’d like to think he was meowing with excitement that he was going to his forever home.
His shelter name was Lion, but I thought that I might name whatever cat I got after a character in the P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves” series, and so I decided to name him Bertie, after Bertie Wooster. For his middle name I figured I’d go with “Jeeves”, so when he’d cause trouble I could admonish him with a “Bertie J.!” or even a “Bertram Jeeves!!”
I wanted a cat with a definite personality, and I got one. He was such a cat. That first day home he met some friends of mine, was curious about my Roomba, enjoyed a catnip mouse, and by that evening he was comfortable enough to cuddle up against me.
By the second day he wasn’t afraid to share his opinions with me.
I loved his big green eyes, distinctive white paws, white pants, white muzzle, and white tippy-tail.
He had the best meow. mrr~ow!
He loved playing with feather toys (which I’d often have to replace due to the Roomba eating them).
He’d sometimes leave his feather toy in his food bowl. Maybe he was trying to flavor it?
He’d get extremely jealous of the Roomba cleaning up his spilled kibble.
He’d go where he shouldn’t, get into what he shouldn’t, and all the while be extremely cute doing so.
He broke my window blinds by climbing into my windows so frequently I had to replace them with heavy-duty ones.
He could be proud of his mischief, like when he shredded my tissue box and dumped it in the sink.
He generally didn’t mind going in his carrier once he was in it.
Getting him in his carrier was another story. Sometimes he’d see me packing a bag and he’d crawl inside to explore, or he’d run and hide knowing that if I was going somewhere then he’d usually end up inside his carrier and coming with me.
He loved climbing up to high places. When I was in the one-on-one meeting at the shelter he climbed up the cat tree in the room and the lady screening me commented on how he was a climber. He’d jump on top of my refrigerator from the kitchen counter and then scamper on top of the cabinets.
For his first birthday with me I surprised him his own cat tree to climb, but even then he’d sometimes leap from the top of the cat tree to the refrigerator and peer over the edge of the cabinets.
He was such a smart cat. I tried getting him to chase the mice on an iPad game for cats and he would reach his paws under the iPad to try to find where the mice went, and he’d cheat at whack-a-mouse by reaching inside to get at the mouse on a stick.
He wasn’t much of a lap cat, but I’d stretch out on the couch and he’d stretch out alongside me. He didn’t necessarily want to be on your lap, but he wanted to be next to you.
I’d go to sleep and he’d follow me to bed and curl up next to my feet.
In the morning he’d be a fuzzy alarm clock.
I’d pet him before leaving for work and call out “See ya later, Berts!” Sometimes he’d watch me on my way off to work.
In the afternoon he’d watch for me to arrive.
And he’d greet me when I walked in the door.
A few times he’d sit on me when I got back home and I felt very special when he’d do so.
When I’d work from home, he’d help supervise.
He enjoyed watching Downton Abbey.
He had a crush on Lady Edith…
…which she later reciprocated.
He enjoyed looking out open windows and tracking birds with his radar ears.
And speaking of radar ears, he’d come running for the laser pointer; all I had to do was click the pointer’s button and he’d come running in, his ears swiveling in all directions.
He even figured out how to turn the laser pointer on on his own!
He could be bitey at times.
He hated getting his nails trimmed.
He knew when it was appropriate to call me out on my bullshit. One evening, years ago, I felt so sorry for myself. I was thinking into the future when he’d be sick and I’d have to let him go. I felt so sad thinking about it that I called him over to me laying in bed, and he came trotting in from the living room and started swiping at me!
But he also knew when I needed encouragement. I laid out my clothes one evening in preparation to run my first marathon…
…and in the morning discovered he left me his feather toy for good luck!
He even made an appearance along my marathon route thanks to some friends who surprised me with posters to cheer me on.
He was a good roommate who made me never feel alone. He paid his rent in helping out around the apartment. Dusting…
…making the bed…
…making sure my pictures were level…
…doing the dishes…
…helping assemble IKEA furniture…
…and fixing the toilet.
He was the apartment’s official postal inspector…
…and exterminator. He’d patrol the apartment and caught a few household pests, including two mice! So brave!
He could also be lazy. He’d rest his head on my speakers or my windowsill while he looked out the window.
I bought a mechanical keyboard figuring I didn’t have any roommates to bother with the noise. I didn’t count on Bertie using it in the middle of the night!
He turned off my WiFi more than once by sitting on my router, and would swipe at me when I tried to turn it back on.
I also had a WiFi-enabled scale where if I stood on it, it showed my initials and recorded my weight. When Bertie stood on it, it would say “CAT” and he’d tweet his weight at me.
Occasionally he’d wear a camera around a collar and take pictures around my apartment or at my parents’ house.
On Christmas morning (2016) he’d take photos of me and the rest of his human family opening presents.
He loved sitting in my bathroom sink and drinking out of it.
He liked it so much I bought him a fountain of his own.
He was an expert seat-stealer.
And laptop stealer.
And iPad stealer.
And food / drink stealer.
(Ok, maybe not coffee… he always would try to bury it when he’d see me drinking some.)
He was obsessed with my iced tea for weeks.
He was an excellent nurse when I was home sick.
I got him an automated feeder, and a few times he’d hit the cat jackpot when I forgot to turn it off before we left home for a few days, and he’d return to a bowl full of kibble.
He’d sit in any open box, no matter where it may be.
He loved his ‘nip.
He was spoiled rotten. He knew that I knew that he was in charge.
I went through some bouts of depression and he was always there to comfort me, which made the news of his failing health tough to manage. Because he had helped me so much, through times I was down and even just giving me something to look forward to after a long day at work, I wanted to be able to be there for him as he was for me.
I reached out to the vet on a weekend because my family thought he didn’t look like his usual self, and managed to get a vet visit for that Monday morning.
His usual vet had left the practice, so we got to see a new vet. When she checked his teeth and asked if he had his teeth cleaned at all I told her about his two-vet-visit day and she said “oh! I remember you!” Turns out she was one of the vets who helped stabilize him that day. We saw he had lost weight (he was under 10 lbs., and normally he’s around 12-13 lbs.), was showing some signs of dehydration, and I mentioned how I had seen him a few times try jumping up from the floor to the bathroom sink counter and he either failed to make the jump or he had just barely made it. Since he had been acting lethargic lately I was worried he was having issues with his heart. We did a blood test to check his heart protein levels and some other indicators.
Tuesday afternoon the government shut down early because of an impending winter storm, so I brought my work laptop home with me. Good thing, because Tuesday evening I got a call from the vet with the results of the blood work: Bertie was showing signs of kidney disease, and his blood protein levels were something like 832! At his last cardiologist appointment they said normal is less than 100, his was over 100, and if his levels go over 200 to have him seen sooner rather than later. The vet also said that with his dehydration it would be good if sometime in the next week or so to get Bertie in to a 24-hour care facility for fluids. I called his cardiologist since I wanted to get his heart evaluated, but since it was late in the evening the cardiologist was closed for the night, so I packed up my work gear and took Bertie to my parents’ place in Annapolis so I could try calling the cardiologist first thing in the morning and planned to telework. Like I said, good thing I had my work laptop with me!
Wednesday morning I called the cardiologist. They had a last-minute cancellation for Thursday at noon, so I took that appointment.
Thursday afternoon we went to the cardiologist, and after a few tests and scans they said they didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t get fluids. In fact, his heart seemed to be doing better than it was at the last visit.
Since the cardiologist was in the same building as a 24-hour care facility I decided to just check him in right then and there. When the emergency vet got his results from his regular vet, though, she said that he didn’t just show signs of kidney disease but that it was more advanced than I had realized. She said that she wasn’t sure if treatment would buy days, weeks, or months. I thought she was trying to prepare me for the worst and didn’t think things were as bad as she was making them out to be. Regardless, she told me that getting him in to the clinic then was the right course of action, and that I was doing the right thing by getting him treatment right then. There was also an internal medicine clinic in the same building, so I scheduled an appointment with them as well but the soonest I could get was a week or two away, so we figured that the emergency clinic would do a sonogram to try to get more information about Bertie’s condition in the meantime.
I had thought that perhaps Bertie would be anxious at the vet hospital by himself so I had packed one of my shirts in his carrier with him, figuring that being able to smell me might help keep him from being stressed out. Unfortunately, but for good reason, the clinic couldn’t keep it with him due to changing linens for hygiene purposes. Still, Graceanna told me that it was very thoughtful of me to consider doing that.
The emergency vet called me that evening to say how they had the results of the sonogram and it was worse than we realized. Bertie had a stone in one of his ureters causing a blockage, and it was unlikely to pass on its own. After some discussion they said how there was a procedure that could be done to bypass the ureter, so I thought “great! we’ll bypass the stone and treat the kidney disease, no problem!” The vet said that the clinic Bertie was at wasn’t equipped to do this procedure but that Friendship Hospital in DC was, so she’d call them to get more details and call me back. Around a half-hour later she called back and said “Well, it’s $10-15k” and I immediately started thinking of how I’d pay for it. I had around $8,000 free on a credit card, but I was willing to do anything at any cost to help my poor kitty. He was barely 9 years old! I hadn’t anticipated anything like this happening to him for another 5 to 10 years.
The vet said that Friendship Hospital also told her that another clinic in New York City is “the best of the best” at this procedure and it’s “only” $8-10k there. I think because it’s a non-profit animal hospital. But Friendship Hospital had an opening for a surgeon the next morning, so if I wanted Bertie to get the surgery I’d have to discharge him from the 24-hour clinic right then, take him back to DC, and check him into another clinic for the night.
Because of how expensive it was, and also an extremely stressful decision to have to make on the spot, I called up Graceanna to talk things out with her and after some research and further discussion with the vet I decided against it. He wasn’t fit for surgery in his current state, and not only was it an extremely invasive procedure (two surgeries, he’d have to have a port on his outside that would need to be flushed every 3-6 months, etc.), but he hadn’t done well with anesthesia before so I didn’t know how he’d fare with this procedure. The vet even said that if it were her cat she wouldn’t do it because it would only treat the issue of the stone and not the underlying kidney disease. So we decided to treat the stone as well as we could, and hope it would flush out, and try to give him IV fluids to flush out the toxins in his kidneys. It was at this point that I realized I might lose my beloved Bertie.
The vet would call each morning around 7:30 – 8 AM to let me know how Bertie did overnight, and I’d call around 4 each afternoon to see how Bertie was doing during the day and to get the results of any tests they did that afternoon.
Friday morning the vet called and said he did well overnight. He wasn’t eating, but that wasn’t a surprise as cats don’t usually eat much when they’re stressed in the clinic. He also had high blood pressure, which could also be anxiety/stress-related, but protein in his urine had them consider putting him on blood pressure medication.
Friday evening the vet reported that he’d been doing alright, had stable vital signs, still hadn’t wanted to eat but urinated a large amount. His bloodwork levels improved somewhat but changes were minimal. He started out anemic which worsened due to the fluids, but that was expected. Medication they gave him to help relax the ureter also lowered his blood pressure closer to normal, and they advised keeping him there for at least another 24 hours.
I picked up Graceanna from the Metro Friday evening; she was able to buy a change of clothes at a shop next to her office so she could meet up with me that evening without having to stop at home and pack. Having her with me and my family was very comforting.
Saturday morning the vet called and said that Bertie still wasn’t interested in eating, so they were going to start him on some pain medication for his kidneys. By Saturday evening he had started nibbling some food, hadn’t urinated in the previous 12 hours (but apparently cats can hold it that long, so that wasn’t too unusual), but his kidney levels still hadn’t decreased. I wondered if possibly the stone had moved from his ureter to his urethra and was preventing urination and the vets said that it was a possibility, but his bladder wasn’t hard. He was also more anemic. The vets decided to double his fluids, though it could be a risk with his heart, but since the cardiologist wasn’t concerned the doctor felt that it would be a reasonable risk to take.
Sunday morning the vet reported that Bertie was quieter than he was Friday night, his blood pressure was still okay, but he still hadn’t urinated. With as much fluids as he was on they were concerned about his kidney functions. I was still hoping that he would pull through, but I realized more and more that I was going to have to say goodbye to him and spent much of that afternoon looking up reviews of home vet hospice care services; I’d read a page of their website, cry, scroll down to read more of their page, cry again, and repeated that for much of the afternoon.
Sunday evening the vet called to say that we could just assume that his kidneys have failed at this point, and that he may only have a day or two left, so I emailed my team at work to let them know I was taking the week off and discharged him from the vet that evening to take him back home. From the looks of things he was highly medicated. I was ready to get him home and give him some loving.
The vet sent us home with some pain medication, an antibiotic, and an appetite stimulant. The vet said that they were shocked when they did his first ultrasound because even though Bertie was only 9 years old, he had the kidneys of a 19-year-old cat. Graceanna drove so I could sit in the back of my car with Bertie and keep him under observation, but he seemed pretty well out of it. I covered up his carrier once we got back in the city so the street lights shining in his carrier wouldn’t make him sick, since I figured that if I was as out of it as he was I probably wouldn’t enjoy the lights flashing all around either.
Graceanna had made some chicken soup at my parents’ house and we brought some home with us since we wouldn’t be in the mood to cook, so we had some soup and watched Bertie. In case he was hungry I tore up a piece of chicken from my chicken soup into nibbles and offered them to him, and drank a bottle of Coke and offered the cool bottle to lick occasionally, but he wasn’t interested in either. He lay on my bed and I just sat on the floor next to him, and we admired him and told him what a good boy he was. I also asked him what I should do if I ever had a mouse in my apartment again, heh.
I watched and petted him when he was awake, and tried to sleep when he slept. Graceanna volunteered to sleep on my futon so Bertie could have full advantage of the bed. At one point he was shivering so I tucked him in a blanket, but when I went to bed he got on top of the blanket and curled up against my shin like usual. I folded the blanket over him and he ended up crawling under and curling up against me. He seemed to exude thanks to me from the way he was curled up alongside.
He got up and peed about 3:30 AM, and he had a little trouble jumping back into bed and was breathing heavily. He was only really able to jump up halfway, and then try to pull himself up into bed the rest of the way.
I can’t remember now how frequently he needed the different doses of his medication, but I think he was due for his pain medication every eight hours, so around 8 PM, 4 AM, and noon I was giving him a little squirt of medication from a syringe into his mouth.
In the morning he peed again, and later he wanted to go up in his cat tree but was too weak to make the jump, so I lifted him up and put him in his window box. I positioned my toolbox so he can use it as a step when he wants to get down, and put my step stool next to my bed to help him when he wants to go up, but whenever Graceanna or I would see him on the floor looking up at the bed we picked him up and placed him on the bed. At one point when he was at the vet they remarked how anemic he was, and that for any other cat they would be sprawled out on the floor unable to move with as few red blood cells as Bertie had, which just showed how chronic his anemia was that he was able to acclimate to his condition.
Remember how I said how he hated getting his nails trimmed? When he was originally at his usual vet they remarked how chill he was for his blood draw, and asked if I wanted them to trim his nails while he was there. He did not enjoy that one bit, yowling and making his displeasure known! Now that he was back home, even in his condition he was still well enough to be mad about getting his claws trimmed the previous week and wanted to sharpen them on his cat tree.
I called Monday afternoon to schedule the home vet visit for the next day at 1 PM, and spent the rest of the afternoon keeping Bertie company and making him comfortable.
Monday evening Mom, Dad, and my sister Anne came by to say their goodbyes to Bertie, and we did a FaceTime chat with my other sister Kelly and my niece Teagan. Teagan was always excited to see him when I’d bring him to my parents’ when she would be visiting, and he got along with her remarkably well.
She really adored Bertie, even one day having Siri play him a “cat lullaby”.
Since Teagan is only 5 she was told that we were saying goodbye to Bertie and that Uncle Glenn had something very important to say…
Teagan: “Good bye, Bertie!”
Me: “Bertie is very sick, I took him home from the pet ER.”
Teagan: “Well, just as long as he doesn’t die!”
Me: “He’s not going to die in our hearts, but he’s going to go over the Rainbow Bridge.”
Kelly used this as a teaching moment for Teagan and showed her on a plastic figure of a human torso where different body organs were and explained what was happening and what was making Bertie sick.
Up until this point Bertie hadn’t shown an interest in drinking, but then again his food and water were in the next room over and he may not have had energy to go to it, so I took a spare medicine syringe and would squirt a few milliliters of water in his mouth every few hours. Well, while we were all sitting around Bertie and having pizza for dinner, Bertie took an immense interest in Mom’s glass of ginger ale so I filled a pint glass up to the brim and coaxed him to take a few sips. I also tried to get him to take a few nibbles of turkey or a cat treat, but even with his appetite enhancement pill he wasn’t interested.
We later got him to drink more by offering him a small bowl of water where he sits. It was tough seeing him drink so well because we’d get hope that he was doing better, but he also still didn’t want to eat anything we offered to him, and we had to remember the rest of his conditions as well.
That Monday night he curled up next to my feet and loudly purred his thanks, then he moved up next to Graceanna’s torso and loudly purred his thanks for her too.
Then he went to the box and peed, went on a patrol round of the apartment, and he and I spent the rest of the night on the futon.
I spent Tuesday morning crying and petting him and taking photos.
At one point he hid under a blanket for some privacy. Later after he emerged he saw I was crying while petting him and moved in to comfort me.
The home vet called to say she was running late and I was glad to have a brief while longer with Bertie. I wasn’t sure if I would move Bertie to a particular favorite spot of his when it was time for him to go (maybe on top of the cat tree? or with his toys?), and after he spent the night on the futon I thought that might be a good spot too since the futon is rarely in its bed configuration so I wouldn’t have a place in my apartment I’d always associate with where he was when he passed away, but I eventually decided that I’d let him be wherever he wants to be, and he decided to stay on my bed.
When she arrived she put me at ease by asking questions about how and when I adopted him and what Bertie was like. I could tell she took her job seriously and that it was her honor to be there at this time. She explained to me what would happen (even though my family had had several cats pass over the Rainbow Bridge in the past, this was going to be the first time that I was present for the procedure), and I knelt down in front of him and talked nice to him and gave him lots of pets while the vet gave him the medicine to help him sleep. I wanted a clipping of Bertie’s fur to help remember him by, so the vet would turn on her clippers and once we saw he was no longer reacting to the sound she clipped some of his fur and put it in a little capsule. I also wanted an impression of his paw print, so she took out a clay disc and took an impression of his paw.
Then it was time to give him the medicine to stop his heart. I continued to pet him and told him how he could go, he was such a very brave boy but he didn’t have to be brave any more, and that it was okay and he could go. That troublemaker didn’t want to listen to me (as usual!) and wanted to hold on as long as he could; the vet had to give him an additional dose of the medication, and then he was gone. She let us have as much time as we wanted with him to say our final goodbyes before she wrapped him up in a towel she had brought, and then as she left Graceanna called out my usual farewell of “See you later, Berts!”
I updated his Twitter with a memorial quote from a Jeeves and Wooster book that seemed fitting for such an unexpected death.
We spent the rest of that afternoon and evening thinking about Bertie and eventually put Antiques Roadshow on TV for a distraction. I put his fur clipping on top of my bookcase so I could lay in bed and see it across the room, and both Graceanna and I found ourselves looking up at it to remember that he was gone. I added a felt Bertie that my sister Anne had crafted years before as well.
At one point we heard something fall over in the bathroom and we joked that maybe it was Bertie’s ghost up to trouble. It probably was – I still haven’t yet found what it was that made that sound!
I read through the grief pamphlet that the home vet had given me and poems about no longer seeing a pet in places they used to lay or hearing their meows/paws really hit me. I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried that night.
One of my friends said how Bertie and I were human/animal soulmates, and it’s totally true: I kept reminding myself he’s in my heart, and when I woke up that next morning I realized that the way I sleep has my heart right over where he was in my bed when he left.
If I’m glad for anything, I’m glad that between the vet giving me the blood work results and Bertie passing away, he was never left alone for a moment. Either he was with me at my parents’, at the clinic under 24-hour observation, or at home with me and Graceanna. I was always anxious about coming home and finding him in pain and not knowing how long he had been suffering, so knowing that he was always being cared for was a comfort.
We spent the next day taking care of some chores around my apartment – I wanted to make my apartment more cat-generic, and so I tossed out Bertie’s medication, emptied out his food bowl and water dish, deleted or renamed reminders and so on so that even though there was still cat stuff around it wasn’t something Bertie had used recently – before heading to Delaware for the rest of the week. We had already planned to be out of town later that week which was fine with me as I wanted a change of scenery, but I didn’t want to come across those artifacts when I was feeling low and vulnerable later.
When I returned I received a bouquet of flowers from Bertie’s vet practice and a letter from his vet there. I placed the flowers on his cat tree as a memorial to him.
I also received a very nice email from the vet who did the home visit.
But probably the nicest, kindest thing that I’ve received has been this letter from my friend Joe. The day Bertie passed away he asked for my address and I got this card from him in the mail a few days ago. It’s totally true, and it totally put a smile on my face.
I’ve also been told the kindest things about how caring I’ve been of Bertie, not just during this time but always. For example: I once took Bertie to the vet because I could tell he had lost weight, and Graceanna pointed out that not many people might take their pet to the vet just because it lost weight, but I knew exactly how much weight Bertie had lost. Going through my photos and videos to make this blog post has helped too, seeing all the thoughtful things I did for him.
It’s taken a while to get used to not seeing him around. When we returned from Delaware I kept expecting him to be investigating my suitcase or burrowing under my laundry, and even when I knew he wasn’t there in front of me it still felt like he could have been asleep in the next room. A few times though I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and it’s felt like there was something warm next to my legs preventing them from moving, just as he would sleep next to my legs. I’ve also heard a floorboard creak when I’ve been the only one home. I’d like to think that he’s still around, wanting to get into trouble.
When I was adopting Bertie his paperwork said that he was adopted once before, but was returned as his owner was moving and couldn’t take him with them. I felt so bad for him when I read that that I promised him that I was going to be his forever home. I also couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing what might happen with him – when I was in high school we dissected cats in biology class, and the thought of that happening to Bertie terrified me – so to fulfill my promise of being his forever home I requested his individual remains returned to me. It felt so weird coming home to an empty house after work, but once I got the call from his vet that his remains were ready for me to pick up I was so glad to do so. I talked to him on our way home from the vet and told him how happy I was that he was going to be back home and placed him alongside his paw print in my living room, in a prominent spot next to where I leave my keys and my wallet and next to a digital picture frame that shows favorite photos of him.
I give his box a pat when I arrive home and whisper “see ya later, Berts” when I head out the door. I feel better knowing he’s home with me, and I know he’s watching and waiting for me to eventually meet him on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.
See ya later, Berts.