The Story of Mugs – A beloved kitty, teacher to the end.

  I am sharing my longtime friend’s, Jane, story about her beloved Kitty Mugs and the journey she went through during his cancer diagnosis and eventual passing.  Nearly everyone who has enjoyed animals as a part of their lives will relate to the difficult decisions that can arise due to terminal illness, severe injury, or the simply advanced age.  I hope that Mugs legacy will give us all reason to pause and examine how we help our animals transition across the Rainbow Bridge.  

Mugs in his full majesty.

  My first Maine Coon I picked up as a stray dumped in a box of kittens at a cattle ranch. She was a calico and little did I know she would be the cat that changed my life forever. Two years later she had a wonderful litter and the baby I kept (Pud, my 3 legged cat) turned out to be the cat of a lifetime. A visitor to my house in Evergreen told me that these were Maine Coons, so when they finally passed away, I knew I had to find another one. I did, a male named Leroy, and I was hooked.

In the fall of 2000 my father was in a car accident in Charlottesville, Va., and I left Colorado to go spend the rest of his remaining days by his bedside at the University of Virginia Medical School, where he had many ties. One intensive care nurse was involved in animal rescue, and I asked her to check the shelters for a Maine Coon, thinking how much I would like a second one. The next morning she came in with an ad from the paper…Orange tabby male Maine Coon kittens in nearby Waynesboro. That very afternoon I was in the car going to check them out…oh my God, they were the cutest kittens I had ever seen. I chose one whom I named Bubba, and when it came time after my Dad’s service to leave, the breeder dropped Bubba off at the Marriot, bringing along the runt (Mugs) whom he said would be harder to sell due to his size, so he just wanted him to have a good home. When I saw them the first time at 5 weeks old Jaime, the breeder, told me that Mugs was the sweetest kitten he had ever seen. So I packed the boys up and flew home with them in a carrier under the seat. They were perfect.

Mugs and his litter mates.

Mugs grew to 18 pounds (only surpassed by Bubba at 21)…and sure enough was the sweetest cat I had ever known other than Pud, whom Linda helped me take care of when I broke my pelvis in 1981(remember…he had just had his leg amputated?) when she was staying with me.

  I had 3 Maine Coons now, and I was hooked on their personalities…big, goofy, laid back, loving, gentle giants. Whenever I had to take Mugs to the vet they commented on how calm he was, and how he tried to help them in anyway he could let them do whatever kind of exam they needed to. If he got a vaccination, as soon as the needle came out he was purring and rubbing his head on the vet! Mugs was Buddha in a cat suit and that’s all there was to it.
  When Mugs was 9 and 1/2, he was diagnosed with mouth cancer. I first noticed it in February of 2009, when his muzzle became swollen on the left side. I took him to the vet, and he gave me the dreaded news. He said it was a fast grower normally, and gave him one to 2 months to live. I was devastated, but went home determined to make the most of our remaining time together.   Soon the tumor grew to the point where it became hard to lap up food, because he ate by picking up food with his tongue and it wouldn’t reach far enough beyond the tumor to get the food. I tried a number of things, yogurt, canned food things, and he could just rub his face in and somehow get it down. This went on for a few months, supplemented by my dropping individual pieces of food down his throat, which he would lift his head up and open wide for.     He loved sandwich meat and got plenty of that in little pieces.

Mugs, several months after diagnosis.

  The last 6 months he lived on Whiskas treats, which is all he was interested in. I would feed him four to five times a day. Sometimes he would eat as many as 50 pieces in a sitting. His appetite was voracious even though he looked like he couldn’t possibly eat or even want anything. Through out the end, he remained affectionate, cheerful, always happy to see me and anyone else who might come through the door. He would immediately jump in a stranger’s lap and offer kisses and head butts,completely unaware of how grotesque he was starting to look.

Mugs enjoying his final hours in the sunshine, keeping the decoy in line with a well placed hiss.

  By December of 2009 he had outlived his diagnosis by a nine months. The tumor was starting to invade his throat area, and his breathing became labored. I could hear a rasping sound, and the vet said he would soon choke on the tumor, which would be a terrible end.  I had no idea what to do. He still was such a cheerful soul, was still eating, etc. He had a lot of nasal discharge and discharge from his right eye, and required daily cleaning, but he was fine with that. He went with me everywhere, and sometimes he would sit beside me on the table and watch me eat, like he wanted a spoonful. His gaze would follow the spoon from the plate to my mouth. He never tried to grab it, but seemed fascinated. He didn’t do well with spoon however, so I abandoned the idea early on.The last week of his life everyone that came to the house was telling me I had to put him to sleep, but I couldn’t do it. He was wasting away at this point, but still eating plenty and purring, and seemed like such a good sport. The last day(I finally forced myself to call the euthanasia vet) he ate 20 Whiskas pieces, then I let him out in the pool yard to enjoy his last day of sunshine, and fresh air. He went to the far end of the pool, and sat down, when the wind blew the wooden decoy duck that floated in there, right over to where he was sitting. He jumped up, arched his back, and hissed at it, and I thought, what am I doing? This seems crazy. He looks like he is way past his last leg, but there he was, then he proceeded to go over under the Palo Verde tree and dig a hole, go to the bathroom, and cover it up.

Mugs in one of his favorite chairs.

  The vet came an hour later, and Mugs lay on the table while we stroked him and talked. I was feeling horrible about the whole thing. She was lovely, kind and gentle, but when she finally put the needle in his leg to put him to sleep first, he jumped and looked at me like what in the hell was I doing? I will never forget that look as long as I live. I will never do that again. I can’t think about it without crying. I feel like I betrayed him. I was trying to be kind, but I to this day feel like I made a huge mistake. It is so hard to know when their final moment will be, what it will be like, what to do, etc. I so didn’t want to see him suffer. The Tibetans say it is wrong to kill ANYTHING, so that leaves many of us with a huge question of what to do. I think next time I will ask the vet to leave me the shot and see if I can do it as they are on their way out for good. Mugs taught me so much about kindness, forgiveness, and cheerfulness under the worst of circumstances. God Bless His Soul. He was the best.

   Jane called me early on after the diagnosis of cancer saying she had been advised to euthanize Mugs so he would not suffer. She did not feel it was the right thing to do and asked my opinion. I did a check using body kineseology and get a definite response that he did not want to go at that time. She was urged by many friends over the next 8 months to send him to heaven but never felt it was the right time.  
 
  Last July I told Jane’s story as a part of my presentation at the Animal Hospice Conference for veterinarians at the University of Davis, California. I believe that our animals give us an opportunity to learn how to be with them in this ultimate transformation so we can better understand the transition of our human families and our own ultimate transition we call death and Hawaiians refer to as “changing address”. I was so grateful for all the end of life experiences I have had with animals in my lifetime. It prepared me to be fully present for the last three weeks and the last breaths of my Dad as he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. 
  For information about animal hospice go to www.SpiritsInTransition.org. – an online course in animal hospice developed by Ella Bittel, DVM.  Ella is a holistic veterinarian and a Tellington TTouch Practitioner (for almost two decades). I am so grateful for the awareness that Ella is bringing to this important subject of animal hospice.  I hold the hope that the Mugs story will help you, dear reader, to be fully present for this ultimate transition of a beloved animal. 

© 2012, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.

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