In mid-February we came to a sad realization: Kitten was dying.

The early signs had been ambiguous. Is she losing weight or isn’t she? How significant is a bout of incontinence?

Finally there was no denying the obvious: Kitten was shrinking by the day.

Many pet owners would have immediately made an appointment with a vet. We didn’t. We decided to provide hospice care.

Our family has a tradition of using veterinarian care judiciously for our cats. Some people are quick to spend hundreds, indeed thousands of dollars on an ailing pet. Those people are not us.

Part of the equation was Kitten’s age. She arrived in our household 16 years ago, having been rescued from the mean streets of San Francisco by Cheryl’s oldest child. How many cat lives does a cat of her age have left?

Part of it was Kitten’s temperament and place in our household. She was a neurotic, not terribly friendly, outdoor cat. She would accept maybe 15 seconds of petting, then try to bite a finger off.

Being born to a feral mother had done a number on Kitten. There was no cuddling her. If you wanted warm fuzzies, best to look to her garage mate, Calico.

Most memorably, Cheryl was once holding Kitten in her lap when a loud noise sounded. Spooked, Kitten clawed her way up and over Cheryl’s face.

Cheryl required a visit to the ER. Kitten was banished to the garage and backyard where she seemed perfectly content.

We made sure she was never without bowls of water and kibble. Cheryl plumped up old blankets for a soft garage bed. Most days we cautiously gave her little scritches on the back of her head.

Once we agreed that Kitten was in serious decline, Cheryl switched her from kibble to the canned stuff, but there was little evidence that she was eating. To keep her hydrated, Cheryl squirted water down her throat with a syringe, to unknown effect.

It’s better Kitten should die at home than endure the trauma of a car ride to the vet and the sight of other animals only to be put down, she reasoned.

Was Kitten in pain? Cheryl didn’t think so.

In Kitten’s last days, Cheryl and her daughter Julia spent time at Kitten’s side, petting and comforting.

With a heavy but practical heart, I dug a cat-size hole under a buckeye tree in a peaceful corner of our backyard. When the time came, I wanted us to be ready.

On the first warm evening in March, Cheryl found Kitten curled in her favorite spot under a peach tree as the sun was going down.

She gently lifted her shriveled body and carried her into the garage and laid her down on her bed. Things aren’t looking good, she said.

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The next morning, as I prepared to leave for work, Cheryl asked me to check in on her. Cheryl had a premonition.

One glance was enough. Kitten was stretched out on her blanket bed, cold and lifeless. She’d found peace.

Cheryl, Julia and I assembled in the morning chill. Cheryl wrapped Kitten in a clean flannel sheet and cradled her to her chest.

We gathered at my makeshift grave. Cheryl lowered Kitten and settled her in. When she stood up, I was startled. She was quietly crying.

My benediction was more honest than fancy. You were one neurotic cat, Kitten, but we shall miss you.

They walked back to the house. I stayed and filled in the dirt.

And that was that, except we can’t stop talking about Kitten. Many of her least desirable qualities we now regard as practically adorable.

Calico now rules the roost. She’s plump and friendly and doesn’t seem to mind being the only garage cat.

But if she so much as sneezes twice, Cheryl said, we’re taking her to the vet.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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