The night of September 11, 2015, is still as vivid as if it were yesterday. Steve and I ate dinner and watched TV as we usually did. We played with the cats and all of our foster guinea pigs. I, for one, had a particularly fun playtime session tickling Sunshine that evening. That was our thing.
He played hide and seek with Steve, and would try to make Steve feel like he picked a good hiding spot even though Sunshine easily found him each time. But with me, he would get my attention and then run around before throwing himself on the floor and rolling over on his back. That was the signal that he wanted me to tickle him. I would say, “I’m going to get you, I’m going to get you Sunshine,” while pinching my fingers together above him. He would squirm around on the floor and then squawk like a little duck when I finally tickled him.
He would then bounce up like a tightly wound spring uncoiling, run around, and then throw himself on the floor again. It was our special time together, and my fondest memory of Sunshine. You see, he and I had a rocky start. He was living the good life with Steve until I decided to move in with George and Layla in tow. Not only did he now have to share his Dad, but he also had to share his litter box, his bed, and his food! There were many nights I would wake up to find Sunshine sitting on my chest staring at me. I knew he was asking me what the hell I thought I was doing in his spot and when I was leaving and taking the other two fur balls with me. It took a few months, but he finally came around to the idea of us all living together. We became best buds, but Steve was always the twinkle in his eye.
The position he would assume to let me know that it was time to play.
So that night in September, I was preparing everything for bed, and I heard him start to pant and squeal as though he was in pain. I found him hunkered down in the living room, and he tried to run when I went to check on him. He attempted to limp up the stairs, but his legs heavy as though they were weighted down and he could get them to move. He finished crawling up the stairs, and I was finally able to pick him up. He had so much fear showing through his eyes. I knew immediately we needed to find the nearest emergency vet. We raced to the next town, Sunshine was in his carrier howling with pain by that point, and we were immediately ushered into an examining room upon arrival. He had been with Steve since he was just a tiny kitten and was only two years old when I entered his life. Sunshine was our son. We don’t have human children, but we share our feelings and emotions with our non-human companion animals. They are our children. In the examining room that night, I was trying to keep Steve calm and breathing since he had never been through an experience of that urgency, at the same time I was mentally scanning all of the symptoms Sunshine was having and was trying to diagnose his pain. I was for sure that Sunshine’s hip had gone out and he would need an alignment of some type or possibly surgery. I never expected the vet to walk back in and tell us that Sunshine had developed a blood clot at the base of his spine, the same spot that he liked me to tickle during our playtime, and that the clot would most likely return within hours if they were even able to break it apart. Sunshine was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2010 and had been on heart medication since the diagnosis. He had been excelling with the meds and vet thought his heart murmur was stable each time we had it checked out. But the blood clot was a symptom of the heart disease. The vet’s recommendation that night was let him go and to not keep him alive in pain.
I was stunned and speechless. I tried to pull on my brave girl pants for Steve because I could see that he was crumbling. I felt as though I was having an outer body experience and that my mind wasn’t connected anymore as we moved forward with euthanasia. We decided we wouldn’t be able to handle seeing him put to sleep, and asked they perform the procedure without us, but would like to say goodbye to him. The vet wheeled Sunshine back into the examining room on a cart, with a towel covering his legs, for us to say our goodbyes. We told him how much we loved him and how special he was to us before they took him away. To this day, I regret not being in the room with him as he went to sleep. He looked so scared. I was frightened for him. I should have been the one holding him and comforting him as he passed out of this life.
One of the last photos I took of Sunshine.
I lied awake that entire night thinking about those final moments. I had anxiety that they didn’t put him to sleep and that he was still alive and in pain and scared and that I couldn’t do anything about it. Often while relieving this memory, flashes of cows and pigs being taken to a slaughterhouse pass through my mind. Their eyes also show emotions. The fear of not knowing what is going on and fearing for their safety, just as Sunshine’s eyes looked that night. But there is no one there to tell a cow or pig how special they are. They are just a commodity in our system. Their feelings discounted and to be nonexistent to the public eye. But I have been around cows and pigs and horses and have seen their eyes change with their emotions. I saw the fear and sadness in Nike’s mom’s eyes the days following Nike’s departure to the slaughterhouse
. How did Nike feel leaving the comfort of his mother’s side? And when smelling the blood-stained butcher? How did Sunshine feel when they wheeled him out of the room away from us for the last time, away from the people who had loved and cared him for the past 12 years, and then when they administered the euthanasia drugs. Was he still scared? Why does he get to be told that someone loves him, while cows get ushered through the slaughter line without a second thought? Why do we get to love one but butcher the other?
Three years have passed since Sunshine left this world. His memories are still, and will most likely remain, as vivid as those joyful days. I am thankful to have been given the chance to create a special bond with him. He still wasn’t that fond of George at the end, but at least he learned to love Layla. And I am thankful for all of the love that he showed me and for teaching me that, even though we can’t speak the same language, we can find a way to communicate and create a bond. I will always miss my little man.
George, Sunshine, Layla – They eventually learned to coexist