Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No One Gets Out of Here Alive. Is that the Lesson?

In 2009, when I first began writing my MFA thesis about people who work with death in their professions, I also wrote about my own experience with death, which at the time was limited to my cats.  My last mentor thought it was kind of ridiculous to equate a pet’s death to that of a human, but I know a few pet owners who would beg to differ.  At one time, I had four cats living with me—Spooky, Binky, Larry and Penny.  Penny was the youngest cat (11) and she was the first to die.  I came home from work and found her foaming at the mouth and struggling to breathe.  I freaked out and my husband took her to the vet.  After an xray, it was discovered that she had several tumors in her lungs.  We made the horrendously difficult decision to end her life that night.

Four years later, my 15 year-old cat Larry began to urinate outside the box which was the first sign that something was wrong.  He was going through liver failure.  We also made the decision to end his life.  While I didn’t go to the vet for Penny, I took Larry in.  He loved nothing more than to be brushed, so as he cowered on my lap I brushed him to calm him down.  The vet couldn’t find a vein, so she said it would be best if I left the room as she would have to administer the shot into his heart. 

A few months later, Binky, Larry’s sister succumbed to the hyperthyroidism that we had treated her for for years.  Out of all my cats, she was my favorite.  She was a rotund Calico who was snuggly and social and would face off with any dog that dared enter the house.  When we took her to the vet, I stayed for the first injection, but I couldn’t be with her for the final one.  It was just too painful.

After Binky, the only cat that remained was Spooky, my oldest.  At 20 years old, he stopped eating and hid behind the TV.  I knew he was ready to go and it broke my heart.  I’d had that cat for half of my life and when he died, I vowed to never own another cat.  It was too difficult to lose them. 

When I went to pick up Spooky’s ashes, I met Judy and fell in love.  Despite the fear of another loss, I took a chance on love.  And I’m so glad I did.  Judy is a lovable cat who is chipper and snuggly and loves to destroy my furniture.  And I don’t mind because I love her. Her presence makes me calm and happy. 

I didn’t want another cat.  And then I met Sonya Reed.  She had written me to thank me for being with Khristian on his last day on earth and making him laugh.  A friendship developed.  We wrote.  I went to visit her.  In the year that followed she told me of her cat at the prison.  She named her Violet.  She snuck food to her and tamed her.  She loved this cat like a child.  The Sun published a piece about Violet and Sonya.

But then the prison decided they were going to trap the feral cats at the prison and kill them.  Sonya pleaded with the Assistant Warden to let her trap Violet and let someone adopt her.  And even though I didn’t want a second cat, especially a feral one that might hurt Judy, I agreed to do it.  I didn’t do it out of a love for a cat, but out of love for my friend.  I wanted to take care of the one thing she loved and make sure that she was safe from harm.

So, I arranged to have Violet tested for Feline Leukemia and HIV and she tested negative.  I got her spayed and vaccinated.  I brought her home on October 23, 2011 and amazingly she thrived in her new environment.  She is now an important and loved member of my family.

This past weekend, I awoke at 4:30am to the sound of her labored breathing under my bed.  I knew this wasn’t a good sign.  I found an emergency vet and brought her in immediately.  They took chest x-rays and found some inflammation.  They didn’t know if she had asthma or pneumonia or really what was wrong.  They gave her steroids and an antibiotic and kept her for 12 hours.  She didn’t eat.  I knew she was stressed out in that foreign place, so I took her home where she could rest and feel comfortable.

Yesterday, October 23 exactly one year from the day I brought her home, I took her to her regular vet.  She still wasn’t eating and had vomited. They did blood work, including a heartworm test and last night, the vet called to confirm that she had heartworms, which are fatal to cats.  Violet spent the first two years of her life living in a culvert outside the death row facility in Gatesville.  Heart worms are contracted by a mosquito.  There is no treatment for cats.  I am devastated.

I wrote Sonya a letter last night through JPay to break the bad news. I wish I didn’t have to do it that way.  I wish I could have called her and spoke to her in person, but she’s in prison.  In addition to dealing with the news of Violet, her daughter with Khristian just had her fourteenth birthday and in two weeks, it will be the three year anniversary of Khristian’s death.  I don’t ask much of people, but if you want to score major kharmic brownie points, would you please send Sonya Reed a letter?  If only to say that you’re praying for Violet.  She needs her spirit lifted and right now I can’t be the only one to do it.
Her address is:
Sonya Reed #878111
Mt. View Unit
2305 Ransom Road
Gatesville, TX 75628

You can write her the old fashioned way or buy a stamp through jpay and send an email. It would mean the world to me if people reached out to her with compassion.  You don’t have to be her best buddy, just say something simple.

I am trying to make sense of this turn of events.  Violet was the happy ending to my book.  I couldn’t save Khristian Oliver or LarryMatthew Puckett, but I could save a tiny cat from death row.  And look at what happens. Despite my best intentions, death will take her anyway. I just wish and hope and pray that this little cat can beat the odds and recover.

If you are so inclined, will you please pray for her?
Thank you.


  1. Pam, praying for this whole situation...Do you need your cup of coffee today??

  2. I am so sorry :-(
    But, the thing is...you did save Violet and you gave her a wonderful home. To me, that means everything. We have so little control in life, and when something like this happens, it drives that point home. Call me if you need to talk.

    1. Thank you, Susan. I am trying to see the bright side of this. Yes, Violet had one really great year with us. She made a friend, she ate a lot, she chased the red dot, and she got petted and scratched a lot. She also had a warm cozy place to sleep and she didn't have to fight off predators.

  3. Wow Pamela you're a cat lover for sure! I for one think our pets are part of our families and always felt my pets deaths profoundly. I'm sorry Pamela I know this is really difficult for you; I'm so sorry..

    About Violet, I might have some encouraging news. My cat Scooter lived for years with a heart worm (he just had one though).

    They could see it in an x-ray laced thru his heart, very strange to see. He would occasionally have trouble breathing so the vet gave him asthma meds for those occasions. Then funny but he instructed me to give him Triaminic (the kids medicine) in a kitty dose when he coughed.If he didn't respond he'd go to the vet for a shot of steroids.

    He lived for 7 years and then one day he was just gone. Two days after he vanished my cat Daisy was killed by a pack of dogs. We assume he met the same fate but we don't really know for sure.

    1. My vet hasn't even discussed imaging or anything to see how many worms she has. Maybe it's because he knows I have a limited budget. He seems so fatalistic about it. Yes, I want honesty but a little bit of hope never hurt either.

  4. I am so glad I read this on my phone during my lunch break at work today. Otherwise I'd probably have bawled my eyes out. I remember when you sent me a message begging me to contact the prison to probe them with questions about killing the cats. I remember you posting a picture of Violet and Judy on the same bed because that was incredible. But like I said in reply to Corin's story, it's more important that you have quality time with somebody than quantity. And whoever tries to tell you that a pet's death is not impactful (which mentor was that?!) clearly has never had a pet or did not treat that pet properly. Human-pet relationships are on a different level, a different type of connectivity. You can't grieve the same for Violet as you would for a grandparent. I will definitely put "Letter to Sonya" on my to-do list.

    1. Thank you, Jill. I appreciate it. I recently read a piece in the vet's office and I think it was in Oprah Magazine about a woman who adopted a rat off the street and it changed her life. I thought of you.
      Mentor was JL.

  5. I remember when that piece played in The Sun - wow, what a small world we share.
    And you did save Violet - you changed her life. and she impacted yours. Perhaps that's what it is all about?
    Thanks for writing this piece - you make me realize again how important Ellie and Keeva are to our family - pound dogs both but they save us in ways we dont' even know.
    I plan to write to Sonya on the weekend.

  6. Your post title made me smile, and it made me also think that Nobody Gets Out of Here Without Imparting Life... in small or great ways maybe we all -- pets definitely included -- add the feeling of being alive that only love can accomplish. I hope Violet feels better soon. You did a great thing to give her such a good home.

  7. We don't usually get a choice when it's to die. What we do get to choose, is how we live. And when it comes to animals, we can give them the best life we know how to.
    Everyone and everything is in our lives for a reason. Sometimes it doesn't take long to complete the task they were sent to do. Even if we don't understand it.


Comments are welcome and appreciated!