(April 16) 1996--February 23, 2008
M'Lila because she was named after a cool background character on Xena: Warrior Princess. Tinuviel because she spent half her time being an Aloof Elf Princess. April 16th because I brought her home from the DC Animal Shelter on April 16, 1997, when she was approximately one year old.
Beautiful Milli, Queen of My Heart. ("Beautiful Dreamer"--her theme song)
This is the very last picture I took of her. It was this Thursday afternoon; she was on a wool blankie enjoying herself despite labored breathing, purring and making biscuits in the sun, the last little bit there was.
The diagnosis came back Friday morning as lung carcinoma. Yeah, I told her years ago she should quit smoking, but you know how cats are.
OK, on Thursday Milli's breathing was slightly better from Wednesday's aspiration, and she was able to lie on her side which made her more comfortable than just being able to rest in loaf position. Her breathing was still quite labored, and she panted after any activity, but she ate a moderate amount, enjoyed kneading, groomed some, enjoyed brushing and petting and catnip, and sharing cake and melted corn oil margarine on a bagel with me.
Friday her breathing was worse again and got progressively worse during the day. By the time I got the diagnosis in the morning, I figured that she would be ready to go by Saturday, but I couldn't tell for sure--she had been such a Come Back Kid all through this last year. She tried so hard to enjoy her usual things all day and just couldn't; she was so exhausted and miserable. She licked at a catnip sprig I gave her, but couldn't get as excited about it as I could tell she wanted to be. I brought her a new catnip pillow and she did bury her nose in it and then promptly pushed it under herself and sat on it--so approval. She licked at the food I gave her but couldn't bring herself to really eat much. I got her all kinds of different brands of the smelliest gushy foods I could find her, and she really was interested in them, but still couldn't bring herself to eat more than a few licks. Still, she insisted on jumping up onto her beloved food perch in the bathroom window over the bathtub when I tried to feed her on the floor, and she paid for those jumps, too, in long gasps for air, but the desire to do her thing was still there. She jumped up there for breakfast, and again in the evening.
This is Milli in her beloved dining perch back in December:
I sat in the bathroom with her a couple of hours in the evening as she lay on her perch, hanging her head over for better breathing, but she was so sad and mouthing for breath like a little fishy. She still pushed her cheek against my hand when I scritched her. And still, she had tried to eat and I was hoping all I could that she would make it to morning and rally, or when I would try to call this wonderful vet who makes house calls, who came over 11 years ago to put to sleep Gabby, an old tabby I had fostered for a year and who had kidney failure. I had called him already to make sure he was still practicing. At 11 pm I got on IM with mererid and was just telling her I needed to cut our talk short tonight because I wanted to go back and sit with Milli in the bathroom, when Milli came in and jumped up on the ottoman in front of me. She paid for that effort again, but she was where she wanted to be. She wanted to be close, but not petted. I wasn't carrying her around more because that seemed to wind her every bit as badly as her moving herself.
Around midnight, I brought her some more of the food that last interested her, but this time, smelling it made her gag. I took it away immediately, and when I came back, she was no where to be seen. I finally found her behind the futon, a place she never goes, and that was her signal that it was time. I found her gasping for air with fear in her dear eyes, immediately called the emergency vet clinic to check directions and make sure they would permit me to hold her at the end, got the futon moved, picked her up, held her a moment in front of the other kitties to say goodbye, and put her in her carry-on cat bag and rushed her to the clinic.
Ironically, the last time I was at that clinic was about 11 years ago, the night I brought Milli home from the shelter. After she had been home with me a few hours that evening, she passed out. Her head was limp when I lifted it and I couldn't detect any breathing. I had to shake her hard before she pulled out of it, opened her eyes, and I could see her breathing. So I brought her to the clinic, and the doctor couldn't find anything wrong, except perhaps a slight heart murmur. And he said, "You got a defective cat. Bring her back." This could have been very dry humor on his part. I love dry humor. But I'm pretty sure this wasn't it--he meant it. Callous bastard. Gave me laughs later, though. She did the passing out thing several times again in the first few weeks I had her, then it stopped and never came back. I did some little research and calling about, but never did find out what that was about. I have seen other tiger tabbies, and only tiger tabbies, in shelter cages exhibit what looks like similar behavior. I suspect it's a trauma response--a "playing possum"-like mechanism, but that's just my uninformed hunch.
So where Milli and I spent our first night together is where we spent our last. I hated giving her the extra trauma of removing her from her home, but I couldn't let her go on like that a moment longer. She made weak little puma cries in protest, but there was little traffic and I was able to keep one hand on her stroking her head while I drove, and that helped calm her some. They were really wonderful at the clinic. I was able to hold Milli the entire time and through the end. The doctor on duty checked her out and I gave her the medical history. She agreed I would be doing her no favors to try to keep Milli alive and doubted she would make it through the morning. I petted and cuddled her through the procedure and it was very peaceful. She died around 2 am Saturday. I was so focused on her head and face that I didn't see until a few moments afterward that her tail had fluffed up magnificently at the very end. This fluffing up of hackles on the back and the tail is, apparently, a reflex many cats undergo upon the moment of death. They meet death looking their very most impressive. And Milli's tail was most impressive of any--those beautiful rings of rust orange, black, white, and beige. The little red dot fans out into a cap when her tail is fluffed. She was beautiful to the end.
The cremation company they work with is out in western Maryland and will sprinkle Milli's ashes in an orchard out there with other pets ashes. The vet tech made for me an impression of her paw print in clay and took a lock of her fur and put them in one of the colorful boxes one of the staff there decorates for this purpose. As I said, they were really lovely there and good people to grieve among.
I have the other kitties for comfort. They knew something was up with Milli and her labored breathing. When Milli went behind the futon, and I pulled some stuff out from under it to find her, Saki crawled underneath and sat beside her on the other side of the back slat. I don't know if she was guarding Milli or not. I don't know if Saki is missing her companion of nine and a half years. After their disastrous introductory few months, they did develop a companionable relationship--play fighting and sleeping near each other at times, but never cuddling. I think Saki would feel the loss if we didn't have the strays, but Saki developed a greater closeness with Tuxie than she ever had with Milli, so she'll be fine. Tuxie went looking for stray flecks of food in the bathtub today--Milli was an extremely messy eater-- and seeing that made me cry again. There is a straight line from the bathroom window to where one stands in front of the sink and counter--another reason Milli loved this perch so--she would avidly watch my every move as I prepared her food and medicine. When the tea kettle went off this afternoon, I looked to the bathroom window to tell Milli not to worry about the sound of it, as usual. It's going to take a while not to look for her in that window when I'm making meals, expectant and hopeful, ready to blink at her human with approval for a meal well served, and delighted to see Saki shooed away from her exclusive dining space. I miss her.
Only with Monday morning quarterbacking can I wish I had called the vet who does house calls on Friday. I wish I could have spared Milli from the moments of terror she arrived at, that place of dragging herself off to die. But until a few minutes before that, she hadn't given up on life yet--she still had wants she was trying to fulfill, and I wouldn't want to have taken any of those moments of desire for life away from her, not while she was still searching for a way to well-being beyond the misery she was feeling the last day. I am very glad I didn't try to wait until morning to try to get the home vet and make her wait one more moment in that state, however much better dying at home would have been for her. There was no guarantee he would have been available on Saturday, anyway. I listened to what Milli told me, and this was the best thing we could do.
She had a lot of pleasure this last year, living through her illness. And after recovering from the initial stress of the concurrent change, she really enjoyed living in a proper-sized apartment for the first time in her life with me and the little spaces of her own it gave her, and she really came to enjoy the strays. She absolutely loved watching them fight and play chase. She would watch them with her ears pointed forward and would shift her front paws up and down in pure spectator excitement. Better than TV were these young'uns. She was one of the most beautiful cats I have ever seen and seeing her sitting in the sun often took my breath away. The patterns in her fur were a work of art. I just wish she had lived longer. She was a sweetie.
The icon above shows one of the positions Milli most liked to sleep in, a position she couldn't make her last five days. I'll probably post a lot of pics of her as I rifle through all my old pics of her and scan some in and babble about things she used to do--one of the ways I deal with kitty grief. My apologies to the non-cat lovers on my flist and feel free to skip over those.