Today was a hard day. Right now my Asperger's is blocking out a lot as I process, but today sucked.
This morning when I got up to wake the kids for school, I heard Henry make an awful noise. I could hear him upstairs from his kennel in the kitchen. I know that sound. It's a death yowl.
I found him, already cold, stiff, laid out in the litter box. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped him up. I held him, and I cried. I petted him, I told him I loved him, and I cuddled with him on the couch. I've been here before, holding animals in their death throws. It's the hardest part of being a pet owner, and the hardest part of doing rescue. The reality that sometimes, you can't save them. Sometimes, all you can do is comfort them through their transition out of this life.
Henry's death was not like the others I have experienced. I've held cats through their death throws. The kicking, the yowling, the muscle spasms, the vacant dilated eyes staring without blinking. I have never experienced anything like this before. Henry's death was horrific. I should have put him to sleep yesterday.
Henry remained somehow alert throughout most of the process. His eyes did not dilate until the very end. Though his body was rigid, when I spoke his name, he'd turn his eyes to look at me. He was clearly in a lot of pain. With other animals the process was only an hour long or so from the time they lost their body heat to when they pass away. Henry held on for over four hours. Four hours of agony. And I don't know how long he had been laying down before I found him.
What made Henry's passing that much more traumatizing, was that he didn't go peacefully. In one of the last spasms he stopped yowling and instead hissed. Henry, the cat who never hissed or showed an ounce of aggression in his life, was hissing. And in the last spasm, the final passing, Henry's face distorted into one of those horror film cats. His lips pulled back, his ears, which had been stiff for the past four hours, suddenly pressed back against his head. His eyes dilated to the point of being pure black - no hint of the beautiful blue anymore. His mouth opened wide, and he hissed. Not just a soft his of air escaping lungs, but a loud, angry hiss, mixed with a guttural yowl. The stereotypical angry cat face, but this was something else.
I have dealt with all kinds of ornery animals through my years in rescue and working at the pet store. Aggression doesn't scare me. I love Henry, and he has been my darling boy for six years. I had to fight my instincts because it was so bizarre and terrifying, I wanted nothing in that moment but to throw him across the room and get away from him. It was as if evil itself was exuding from him. I don't know how to explain it.
Have you ever had one of those experiences where the hair on the back of your neck pricks up, then all the hair down your arms, and your entire body is screaming at you to get out of the situation? I'm not talking about being in an uncomfortable situation, or being unhappy. I'm talking about the human body kicking into survival mode and throwing out every alarm signal at once. That's what happened in the moment Henry died. It was horrifying.
I held him after he passed too. I'm not big on religion, but I always wonder how long the soul might stick around after the body dies. After about half an hour, I decided I needed to do something. I needed to be productive. It's how I process high stress events - that or sleeping.
So I set Henry down, and I set up the brooder. I got the food bowl filled and added warm water and a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water container. Then I retrieved the chicks from the incubator. Three black and one white and black from the 4/2 hatch. The chick that hatched yesterday didn't make it.
I sat down and drank a cup of coffee, composing myself to call the vet to let them know Henry had died. When I finished my coffee I called the vet. They asked again if I wanted a necropsy. I said yes. I need to know what happened. They said it was imperative that he be brought to the vet immediately so they could freeze him and send him off to the U of M.
So I woke #5 up, put his snow pants, boots, and coat on, and we walked to the vet. Tony had already left for work, so I had no ride. It's good exercise if nothing else. I turned Henry's body over to the vet, and gave them back the eight unused cans of food, and the probiotic powder. They said they'd return it for me, but I didn't stick around long enough to get money back. I hope they just credit my account. They said the necropsy usually takes 1-2 weeks for results, and they bill after the results come in because the price depends on how much testing they have to do to get an answer. I hope they can find answers for me.
When we got home, I decided to do barn chores, since I was already wearing my coat. I stepped into the entryway to change into my muck boots, and #5 yelled from in the house that Mabel had a duckling. A duckling? We don't have any ducklings. So I came into the house and found the brooder torn apart. I found Mabel, holding a dead chick in her mouth. I took it away from her. There were only two chicks in the brooder, both black. I couldn't find the white chick anywhere. I re-built the brooder, this time with a heavy book on the lid and a bag of trail mix over the screen to prevent them from easily being pushed off. I locked Mabel in the bathroom, and went out to do barn chores.
When I went to feed the colony rabbits I found Amy Pond, our red doe, dead in the doorway. She'd been feeling under the weather the last few days (lethargy and not eating), so this wasn't unexpected, but it was just one more tragedy in an already traumatizing day.
That's one cat, two chicks, and a rabbit. All dead in one day. They say that bad things come in threes, so maybe we'll be done for a while. I could use some good news, or positive vibes. Right now my heart is hurting.