It is exceedingly rare for me to get a phone call after midnight, even through everyone knows I'm likely to be awake well past that hour. When a call comes in that late at night, it can't be good news.
Sunday morning, 3:45 AM. My cell phone rings.
I know what it's about. Just not the details.
"Hi, it's Karen."
"This is Dr. ___ from Valley Animal Hospital. I'm looking for S___, Luna's owner. Is she there?"
"No, this is her best friend." I verified that the other phone number they had was S's number, the only phone number she has. The vet explained that Luna wasn't breathing on her own, "so we're breathing for her." I offered to drive across town and wake my friend up, but the vet said she'd try the number again, and hung up.
At least Luna was still alive. For the moment.
I checked S's number on my cell phone, since I don't have it memorized, and called back to verify that they had it right. They did, but the call wasn't waking my friend up. Probably just as well. Luna was back to breathing on her own, so the immediate crisis was over. But it didn't look good.
Since Luna's cancer surgery on Wednesday, the cat had hardly eaten at all. When I took S. to visit her on Saturday afternoon, they had a heat lamp on her and were talking about putting in a feeding tube. The hope was that if she got some nutrition, she might grow stronger, possibly strong enough and well enough to eat something.
Luna hardly moved for the first few minutes of our visit, and didn't respond to S's attempts to cajole a meow from her. But she purred when gently petted, and raised her head a little, just before we left.
As S. spent these precious minutes with her beloved, dying cat, I visited a little with the few animals in the other cages. One cat, labeled as feral, meowed defiantly at me whenever I came into view. The other cat was curled up in the back of the cage, as was a dog labeled as "aggressive animal."
The other dog was named Magnum, a chocolate lab or Weimaraner or something along those lines.The card said he was brought in by FAIR (Foundation for Animals In Risk) with gunshot wounds. Somehow I doubt poor Magnum was named after the Tom Selleck character. When someone came to take Magnum away, I said,"Why would anyone shoot a sweet dog like that?"
"Why would they shoot anything?" she replied.
The rest of Sunday morning went by without further news. S. knows better, usually, than to call me during church. But in the afternoon she called. Luna died during the night.
The animal hospital had asked her about disposal of the body, and she didn't know which option to choose. I recommended cremation. Neither of us has an appropriate place to bury a pet, and digging more than a few inches into the ground here is exceedingly difficult. I went through that with Jenny Dog many years ago, and ultimately had to hire a handyman to dig. Never again. So I told S. about the nicely labeled white plastic boxes in which a local service delivers cremated remains to Tucson vets. "Tuffy and Noodle are on my desk right now," I said.
"That sounds nice," S. said.
So I went over to the animal hospital, about two miles from here, paid our share of the bill and told them to do the cremation. The portion of the bill that S. now owes to the animal welfare group is over a thousand dollars, twice what it would have been had Luna died on the operating table. I figure it will take S. about two years to pay that off out of her Social Security disability. The vet's office called S. again four or five hours after that, asking again about the body disposal. Tearfully but politely, S. again made her wishes known.
Next weekend is the Animal Fair at Reid Park, a giant adoptathon for practically every animal rescue group in Southern Arizona. S. will be looking for a year old cat this time, not an older cat like Luna. She cannot be alone, and she can't afford another week like this one, financially or emotionally.
But I don't regret that we went ahead with Luna's cancer operation. At least we tried. There was a legitimate chance of saving Luna's life, and S. would have been wracked with guilt had we denied her that chance. This way she knows she did what she could for her furry friend. She also had a week to prepare emotionally for Luna's death, something she didn't have when her previous cat died a year ago December. In my experience, when a loved one dies after a long illness, the grief is a little blunted with relief, that the long ordeal of worry and suffering is at an end.