Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The boy Buddha

September 19, 2006
What surprised me was how hard his little body felt to the touch. The white cardboard box that they put him in had sloping edges--a little like a coffin. It felt not heavy at all, but solid. When I opened the lid, his long hair, dark grey and dirty cream seemed just as it always had: soft, well groomed, a gentle color. And, then, when I touched his side, the body, instead of yielding as it normally does, felt dense, hard. I suppose this is what "rigor mortis" means, although I had not ever experienced it before. Buddha was lying on his side, curled as he had been so often, sleeping--something he had done often in recent years, as his 14 year old body adjusted to indoor life with a pampering family.

Nothing prepared me for the loss of my beloved companion, our Himalyan beauty, his royal highness, the boy Buddha. This was his official name, the one on his "papers." He had a mother who was a show cat. We neutered him early on, never going that route.

And, now he is gone.

On Sunday night as I was drying myself from a shower I noticed him darting around, making strange patterns as he moved. One leg seemed to buckle under as he tried to change location. After each lunge he would raise his shoulders and retch forward. Something was clearly wrong. Between moves he would meaow furtively. Had he broken a leg bone jumping down from the sink where he drank from the faucet? I called Ron, who swept him up into his arms, cradling him.

What do you do with an animal that has a broken leg in the middle of the night on a weekend? Are there "Pet Emergency Wards"? Yes, fortunately, there are. But the closet one was a half hours drive over the hill and north toward the city. After calling the facility and getting directions we bundled into the car. I drove since Ron was good at holding the frightened, trembling body of our "boy." He cried out almost continually. At that time we didn't realize that it was likely from pain rather than annoyance at being held against his will. Halfway there he started panting with his mouth ajar, eyes wild, making little clucking sounds. Something profound was happening. My heart began to feel numb as the possibility that this ride might be his last occurred to both of us.

At the Emergency Pet facilty an attendant took him immediately and we waited in the dim anteroom, holding hands and worrying. A young Asian women with a perky short legged black dog was waiting for test results. Her pooch was peeing blood, she confessed. I must say he looked frisky and cheerful, if indeed he was sick.

At last we were brought back to wait in an examining room. Buddha was still cloistered somewhere being examined. After a very long time, a large middle aged, overweight woman in a blue dress came in and told us that the exrays showed that Buddha had had a stroke, and that the prognosis was poor that he would recover. "He is very likely to stroke again at any time," she said. He would need to be hospitalized and given intravenous pain medications and watched continuously, she explained without emotion. Of course our alternative was . . . we filled in the blank, "to put him down." I think that was what Ron said. He then remarked that this was such an odd incorrect phrase. Euthanasia, is the proper term. "Putting him to sleep," the euphamism. Ron and I looked at each other. We had discussed this long ago and had agreed that letting him go would be kinder than keeping him alive under duress and indignity if the time ever came. And it had come.

And, putting him to sleep was what it was, actually. We sat with him for a short time, stroking him and weeping quietly, saying goodbye to our closest friend. The vet, who never introduced herself, returned with several syringes. Buddha sat quietly with his paws extended, resting, a catheter on his wrist. With the first injection he became even more quiet. He was very still, calm, present. As if he was going into meditation. Other injections followed. And, he became more still and quiet and motionless. In a remarkably short time it was over. The vet, using a stethascope checked for a pulse, and simply nodded that it was over. I stroked him gently, feeling his little body still warm and soft. He just seemed to be sleeping. We were glad to have been with him.

We brought the small carton home and placed it on our altar in front of a statue of the Buddha and a photo of the Dalai Lama, set alongside photos of all of our family members who have passed on. On the following day we buried Buddha's body in our garden. The grave was placed under the garden statue of a meditating Buddha, one with a gentle smile. We planted cycleman all around the statue and bulbs deep in the earth so that in the spring we will see crocus and iris and frisia burst forth to remind us of our sweet friend. Buddha was a being of intelligence, grace, beauty and kindness. Everyone thought him remarkable. We loved this cat very much. We shall miss him.

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