24 August 2023

My beloved Betty

[Content note: Pet death]

Back in November 2005, I wrote a very brief post about my newly adopted, 3 year old cat Betty. She came home to her forever home on 26/11/05, and we spent 16 years together; until she died of kidney failure on 24/8/21.

Betty was by my side through the worst moments of my life. When my mum died in December 2008, Betty was who I cuddled when I got back to my parents' house from the hospital that night. She realised that sometimes people go away and don't come back; so for the next month she cried whenever she couldn't see me, which meant I had a lot of bowel movements to the soundtrack of a cat wailing outside the bathroom door. In April 2016, when I came home from the hospital on the day my dad died, she demanded to be carried around for the rest of the day, despite the fact that she usually hated being carried. And, of course, when the worst pandemic for a century struck; she was my companion while I shielded from a virus that could've easily killed me before vaccines were released.

A few months back, a journalist friend asked about experiences of pet bereavement during the pandemic. In the final article, Betty and I only got a one sentence mention, so I thought I'd publish here - on the second anniversary of her death - the full email I sent to s.e. about Betty and losing her.

it was obviously harder than it would've been to lose her in non-pandemic times.

I was wearing an FFP2 mask when she was euthanised in my arms, but I'm not sure how much protection it offered considering I had to keep taking it off to blow my nose because it was filling up with snot. This is my final photo of her about 15 minutes before she died:

In the foreground is a black cat with white whiskers who appears to be gazing off to the right of the camera. She has a big red bandage on her right front paw. Behind her is the middle aged, brunette, bespectacled, white woman whose lap the cat is sat on. The woman's left arm is wrapped around the cat for support. The woman is wearing a white, duckbill-style FFP3 mask, and her face is red from crying so much. The backround is the interior of an animal hospital.

That night my friend came over for dinner, and although she brought some microwave ready meals, I was really craving curry, so we ordered in; I told her if she phoned the restaurant to see if there were mushrooms in the vegetable balti, I'd pay. The restaurant said they could do one without mushrooms if I added a note when ordering; but because of grief brain I immediately forgot and she had to call back and ask them to leave the mushrooms out of my balti.

It wasn't just the first time I ate indoors with other people since February 2020, it's still the only time I've eaten indoors with other people since February 2020; apart from that I've only eaten at tables outside cafes/restaurants/in pub beer gardens. The mental health benefits of having company that evening outweighed the risk that K might be infectious; and to be on the safe side I had all the windows and the back door open for ventilation.

In a way, Betty's kidneys picked a good day to give up: Betty died on the same day the 2020/2021 Paralympics started. She was still alive when the opening ceremony happened at lunchtime UK time, but she was dead by the time the sport started at 1am that night. It was really comforting to have live sport to watch all night overnight for the first 10 days without her. She used to sleep on my chest - she lost so much weight during her final illness that she really felt the cold even though it was summer - so she used me for warmth. At night when I missed the feeling of her weight on my chest I had the live sport on the telly for company.

A selfie of a middle aged, brunette, bespectacled, white woman, wearing a pink T-shirt and laying down on her back in bed; using a bunched up black duvet as a pillow. A black cat wearing a pink collar is laying on her front on the woman's chest - between the woman's boobs - with the top of her head resting on the woman's chin. The woman's eyes are open just a crack and looking at the camera, and she has a neutral facial expression.

8.5 days after she died I was watching the sport and eating a vegan bacon butty for breakfast. I saw something on my lap and presumed it was a seed or crumb from my sarnie, so I picked it up cos I didn't want crumbs in my bed; when I realised it was one of her broken claws. No idea how it suddenly appeared on my lap more than a week after she died. About a month later one of her whiskers appeared from nowhere too.

I knew she was dying for 7 months, so I'd actually favourited some items of memorial jewellery on Etsy that I really liked before she died. The weekend after she died was a Bank Holiday weekend, and the maker of this necklace had a holiday sale for the weekend; so I ordered the necklace before I'd even got Betty's ashes back from the vet.

A silver chained necklace with a large pendant in its box. The pendant is heart-shaped clear acrylic. In the background of the pendant is a rainbow with vertical stripes. In the foreground on the left are some grey speckles, in the middle is a dried forget-me-not (a small blue flower), and on the right is a lock of black fur.
My Betty necklace. The grey speckles on the left are a tiny sample of her ashes, while the black lines on the right are a lock of her fur.

The vet clipped a couple of locks of Betty's fur, but the lock in this necklace I actually put aside before Bet died. Betty went blind a couple of weeks before she died (her kidney disease caused high blood pressure, and her blood pressure detached her retinas) so I bought her some stairs to get on the bed because she was really anxious about making the jump: And a few days before she died I found these few hairs on the top step of the stairs; it looks like they were loose and came off when she scratched an itch. I put them aside in a little Ziploc bag I got some earrings in.

I love this necklace as a way to keep Betty close to my heart.

Although I have 11 piercings, I didn't have any tattoos until the first anniversary of her death. A friend of mine has a tattoo of his late dog's paw print over his heart and I loved the idea; and with his blessing I copied him and got Betty's paw print - that was taken by the pet crematorium before she was cremated - over my heart on the first anniversary of her death. I couldn't think of a better way to mark the anniversary, so I asked Twitter for recommendations of wheelchair accessible tattoo studios in northish London, because I think all the ones in Camden are either up or down a flight of stairs. A stranger who saw my tweet recommended a place in east central London, so I phoned them and asked about their access, and they said they'd recently had the whole GB Paralympic wheelchair fencing team in.

It was such a weird experience, I'm really squeamish about needles and my blood pressure often plummets during blood tests; I always have to ask the phlebotomist to fully recline the blood test chair to stop the blood completely draining away from my head. The tattooist wanted to do the tattoo with me sitting in my wheelchair and I was like "no, I really need to lie down." My blood pressure tried to plummet during the tattoo, but the pain kept my BP up; so I just ended up feeling woozy and sweating profusely. It would've felt less awful if I wasn't wearing an FFP2 mask.

A selfie taken by a brunette, bespectacled, middle aged white woman wearing a blue FFP2 mask, laying on her back on a tattooist's bed. She's topless apart from nipple covers made out of kitchen towel that are taped in place. She has a tattoo over her heart of a cat's paw print, and the name 'Betty' below the paw print. The tattoo is black, and the skin around the tattoo is red where it's literally just been tattooed.

(The tattooist insisted I wear nipple covers made out of tissue to protect my modesty.)

It hurt so much. The colouring in wasn't too bad, apart from a few times when he pressed down so hard it felt like he was trying to tattoo my sternum, but the outline felt like he was carving out a paw print-shaped area of flesh with a Stanley knife. The little gaps, the imperfections, are from the actual paw print. The tattooist asked me if I wanted them coloured in so it was solid black, but I wanted it to be an accurate reflection of her print.

A selfie taken by a brunette, bespectacled, middle aged white woman wearing a pink v-neck T-shirt. She's wearing a necklace with a large pendant; the pendant is heart-shaped clear acrylic, in the background of the pendant is a rainbow with vertical stripes, and in the foreground on the left are some grey speckles, in the middle is a dried forget-me-not (a small blue flower), and on the right is a lock of black fur. She has a black tattoo in the middle of her chest, over her heart, of a cat's paw print, and the name 'Betty' beneath.

I hope it's a very long time from now considering I just adopted him; but I reckon there's room to get Biscuit's paw print below Betty's but still over my heart when he eventually goes. (Though he is 8, so I'm aware I'm not going to get 16 years with him like I had with Betty. But Betty died age 19, so I hope I'll have Biscuit for at least a decade; with being an indoor cat because of his sight - and the fact that he's so nervous that he runs under the sofa every time I open the door - at least that hopefully eliminates the risk of him being run over before his time, which is the cause of death for too many cats.)

Although saying it was harder than in non-pandemic times; I'm not sure what I'd have done differently if there'd been no covid. It's not like I'm blessed with lots of friends and could've thrown a massive wake for people who knew and loved her. I don't have family I could've invited over because they're all dead. Though, of course, it would've been better to not be wearing a mask during her final injection, and it would've been better to not be wearing a mask during the tattoo. She died a month after the lifting of mask mandates in England, so I didn't have to wear a mask during either her death or during my tattoo from a legal perspective; but I'm at high risk from covid, I'm still semi-shielding, so I had to wear a good mask for safety reasons.

She almost died twice during her terminal illness; from dehydration in April 2021, and from an infection in June. In April the first vet we saw refused to prescribe Betty subcutaneous fluids "because [I] don't have anyone else to do it." Since administering subcut fluids isn't a 2 person job, the implication was that she was going to let my cat die needlessly prematurely of a manageable symptom of kidney disease because I'm disabled and she didn't trust a cripple with needles. I asked for a second opinion with a different vet, and reminded them that it's against the law to treat us less favourably because I have a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. The second vet prescribed Betty subcut fluids and taught me how to administer them.

When she had the infection in June she came really close. The vet on the Saturday said she thought it was probably the end, but gave her a long-lasting antibiotic injection on the off chance it was an infection. On the Sunday morning she was really sick, and I spoke to the vet on the phone to get her prescribed an antiemetic injection to make her Sunday more comfortable before a final injection on Monday. Except throughout the course of Sunday she improved as the antibiotics got to work and by the early hours of Monday morning she was using me as a climbing frame, bouncing around so enthusiastically you'd never know she was so close to death 12 hours earlier. That weekend I was begging on social media for people I know IRL to be with me, because I was so scared and facing losing my best friend all alone, and no-one cared. On the Sunday before she turned around I cried so hard and for so long my chest muscles hurt from ragged breathing. I needed some company and didn't have anyone. This was more than a month after legal restrictions on mixing indoors with people not in your household had been lifted. So that's what I mean by I don't think things would've been different if she'd died in non-pandemic times.

A close up selfie taken by a brunette, bespectacled, middle aged white woman with a black cat with white whiskers standing on her left shoulder like a parrot. They're both looking at the camera; and the woman looks absolutely exhausted.
A selfie of us taken in the early hours of 28/6/21, after the antibiotics had kicked in, when Betty was feeling better and was using me as a climbing frame. I'd had hardly any sleep all weekend which is why I look so shattered.

Although when she actually died, I was almost relieved that she'd had those two close calls earlier in her illness: It had given me the chance to psychologically prepare for her death. I genuinely believe her death day would've been harder if I hadn't had those two chances to really get used to the prospect of her dying. When she almost died in April I had a panic attack and was in an absolute state of terror. When she almost died in June I was sad beyond belief, and scared, but not in the same state of terror I had been in April. When the time actually came in August, of course I cried a lot, but also I felt ready to cope in a way I hadn't felt before when I faced losing her.

I hope some of this rambling is useful to you. Happy to answer any specific questions.

As mentioned in the email, I now have another cat called Biscuit.

In the foreground is a ginger cat in a loaf position with his head turned to look over his right shoulder to look at the camera. Behind him is a brunette, bespectacled, middle aged white woman, wearing a black T-shirt, leaning forward to kiss him on top of his head. They're both looking at the camera, and the cat's left eye is slightly cloudy.

I waited a year after Betty died before contacting Holly's Merry Moggies to enquire about adopting a new cat. I told her all about Betty and that I was an experienced cat owner. I told her that I was looking for an indoor cat because I have anxiety and I worry about cats getting run over, and that I was happy to adopt a disabled cat who needed to stay inside for safety; and I told her that Betty went blind so I have both experience with blind cats, and I have the access equipment a blind cat would need like stairs to get on the bed, and bells to put in strategic places for audio navigation. Holly thought about it for a while before matchmaking me with Biscuit: An anxious, visually impaired, ginger boy who desperately wanted to be an only cat; because he was intimidated by all the young, energetic cats at her rescue.

I'd spent 13.5 months catless before going and picking Biscuit up from Nottingham on October 4th 2022. The reason I contacted a cat rescue so far away rather than going to somewhere local was partly because the big rescues insist you let cats outside, and I wanted an indoor cat, and partly because of my negative experience trying to adopt from a big rescue in June 2005. Although on that occasion it worked out right in the end; if that adoption hadn't fallen through, my (now passed) friend Sonia wouldn't have contacted me to ask if I was still looking for a cat, because her cat Betty desperately wanted to be an only pet and was getting into all sorts of scrapes because she didn't want to come inside the house with five other cats and a big St Bernard. (Pepsi the St Bernard was lovely, but that didn't matter to the cynophobic Betty.)

It's lovely having feline companionship again, but I still miss Betty every day; she was my best friend for 16 years, through all the terrible things that happened to me in those 16 years, she was always there with all the affection she had to give, and always there to make me laugh with all her silliness.

A selfie taken by a brunette, bespectacled, thirtysomething white woman, wearing a grey T-shirt and standing in a blue kitchen. She has a black cat with white whiskers standing on her left shoulder like a parrot. The cat rubs her cheek on the woman's face and then sniffs her mouth and nose; the woman pulls a kissy face in response.

Betty died at our local vet. Her kidneys had reached the point where she was completely unable to stay hydrated despite the subcutaneous fluids. Her liver was also going, and her blood test results indicated that she was also losing blood somewhere; likely in her digestive tract. I'd fought for her for seven months, but she'd finally started to suffer and it was time. She died sitting on my lap, abdomen to abdomen, with her chin and hands resting on my left shoulder, and my arms wrapped around her: She died wrapped in love. With her hands resting on my shoulder, the vet had to sit behind me to access the cannula in her right wrist to administer the injection. After, the vet asked me if I wanted some time with her body, to which I responded through tears "no, she feels horrible like this." (Once her muscle tone had gone it was like cuddling a cat-shaped bag of jelly.) The vet took her off my lap, laid her on a chair, and wrapped her in a blanket. As I was leaving I put my hand on her and said "I'm so sorry." To which the vet said "she lived much longer than most cats with her conditions because of the care you gave her." Which I know is true, as I said in the email above, she would've died of dehydration in the April if I hadn't fought for her to be prescribed subcut fluids; but I still wish I could've done more for her.

I loved her when she was young and playful and did parkour off the furniture every day. I loved her when she was old, calmer, and just wanted to either sunbathe or snuggle. I loved everything about her; I'm really sqeamish about needles, but I learned to give a cat subcutaneous injections for her. I'd have done anything to keep her healthy and happy for longer.

A selfie taken by a brunette thirtysomething white woman, laying on her left side in bed, cuddling a black cat with white whiskers. At the start of the gif the cat has her head turned to the right to look at the camera, and she turns her head to look forwards. As the cat turns her head, the woman smiles slightly. They look very cosy together.

Betty Egan: 2002ish - 24/8/21