Kevin had always shown a tendency towards strong feelings and dramatic reactions. A new collar would be enough to create alarm, protest and flight; visitors would be welcomed extravagantly; cuddles would involve head butting and violent purring that could knock him off balance. He delighted in drinking water from odd places, had a yowl that could carry across oceans, and preferred ordinary cat food to the most exotic treats. He would not yield to sickness or disease. He had character, and many people who loved him.
Kevin’s long and peaceful old age ended in a sudden decline, as his kidneys failed and he swelled up rapidly with fluid. I had been fully prepared for his end – after all, he was very old, and had kidney disease; there would be no element of shock as there had been with Harry. But for those last few days, the continuing watchfulness over Kevin had held an added element of anxiety: who would help him out of this life when the time came? Both vets, Neil and Claire, who had known and cared for him during his latter years, had left the practice, and my experience of their replacements when taking Lottie and Millie for their respective procedures had not been reassuring.
Neil the vet had been a treasure, friendly, caring and gentle, and always willing to explain things to pet owners without treating them like infants or idiots. Alas, Kevin hated him. Over the years, Neil had looked after him, cleaning his gnarly old teeth, removing a long blade of grass stuck in his throat, diagnosing and medicating his hyperthyroidism, later operating on his parathyroid, and never complaining about the copious amounts of ginger fur Kevin deposited on his clean green tunic top, or taking the loud hostility too personally.
But Neil left the practice, and was replaced in Kevin's unremitting hatred by Claire, although she and Kevin should have bonded: Claire was also a treasure, friendly, caring and gentle, always willing to explain things to pet owners without treating them like infants or idiots, but with the added advantage of being ginger too. Claire never complained about the fur either, or, indeed, about the Lake of Wee. In true form, Kevin wasn’t keen on her either.
In time, Claire too left the practice, and the remaining vets had to be got used to; a rather uncharismatic locum, who examined Millie, pre-op, in a systematic but bored way, and a dauntingly brisk and businesslike senior vet, who micro-chipped Lottie as though she were an inanimate object, and who made me feel like a twit for worrying about Lottie's need to be coaxed to eat. Neither made me feel that they liked or were interested in cats, although with two healthy young things this wasn’t too worrying.
However, as Kevin's long and happy life drew to a close, I was alarmed to think about the 'who and how' elements of this final process of letting go and putting him to sleep. Not a bored locum, and certainly not a brisk and businesslike vet who gave the impression that clearing the waiting room was of prime importance.
We needed a Neil or a Claire, vets who understood the emotional elements of bringing a cherished pet to the surgery, and who threw in little additional extras, like touching noses with your cat, using silly pet names with them, or relating to owners as sensible adults.
And so I tracked Neil down in his new independent practice. We talked on the phone about the next stage of Kevin’s journey, and planned for the inevitable. After this conversation, I felt that a large part of my anxious burden had been lifted.
The next day, Kevin's condition worsening rapidly, the big decision was made, and, very gently and sensitively, Neil helped Kevin out of this life and into wherever it is that cats go next.
And Kevin? Well, he showed his feelings for vets to the last, with an outraged yowl - though thankfully not his scared squawk - when the preparatory moves were made. Kevin was never a cat for fickle emotions or mild responses. I will miss him, the old ginger drama queen, and I won’t be the only one.