Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Losing Barley

Barley's Baby Photo, in her foster home
Life moves so quickly, then at other times so slowly.

I remember just a couple of weeks ago excitedly typing a blog post about our new kitten, Barley.  This sweet, loving little baby I brought into my life.  She made me smile every single day, always cuddling against me and following me around the house.  I was head over heels in kitten love.  She was my girl, and we would joke about how she'd abandon Duke for me by saying he's, "Not the Mama!"

I didn't think anything the day Duke took her to the vet for her last round of kitten shots.  I told him to make sure to get her a microchip, since in my mind we'd have her for years to come.  I had a video chat with my sister the night before, to show her how the cats were getting along.

Then Duke texted me to let me know that things weren't so great at the vet.   There was a hernia (liquid pool) near her spay incision site, and she had a fever.  She needed a procedure, and the vet warned us this could be a symptom of FIP, which is a deadly diagnosis for cats.  When I took her in for the procedure the next day, the vet was unable to operate; she was severely anemic and had a slight fever.  The fluid they extracted proved to fit the description of FIP in color and protein content, and the Rivalta test was positive.

My heart felt like it was lodged in my throat.  I'd been mentally preparing to lose my older cat for years... how could I lose my baby, after so little time together?  We agreed to let the vet keep her overnight for medication and observation, to see if we could help her blood get to healthier levels and wait for further lab results.

Before we left, they let us spend some time with her.  She was still perfect.  Active, social, cuddling with us...  no sign of any suffering, pain, or distress.  There had been no change in her activity, appetite, or litterbox behavior.  No noticeable sign of anything wrong aside from the soft pouch of fluid on her stomach.

Cuddling with Duke
Every hour spent away from her felt like an eternity.  I remember going home and tipping back a glass of wine, probably a bit too fast.  Looking at the clock and expecting it to be bedtime, I realized it was only 6pm.  I went to sleep early that night, but tossed and turned.

With FIP, there's simply nothing you can do.  Believe me, I spent hours scouring for answers.  It's not something that better care, or early detection can really help with.   It's a roll of the dice in a way.  A cruel roll.  It is caused by a virus that nearly every cat carries, but in some cases mutates to cause this condition.  It is not highly contagious in its FIP form, but it is very deadly, especially the effusive version that Barley appeared to have.

I cried so many tears, off and on at random times.  I sought the advice and comfort of my loved ones.  But all the while I kept thinking, "Why did this happen to the sweetest little one?"  Barley was so full of joy and love.  I needed answers, but I found none.

I believe as humans we have a responsibility to make sure our pets live healthy lives, without suffering. Even when the decisions we have to make are at war with our selfish desires.  I dreaded having to make that kind of decision.  But I knew that it was likely I would have to.  Even Duke was near tears as we went through this uncertain time.

Sweet Barley

Still, I Googled.  Denial.  Could it be a bacterial infection?  A blood parasite?  Maybe the diagnosis was a false positive, and she just happened to have these symptoms as a coincidence.  Anger.  This isn't fair to this baby.  She brought me joy and has a good life with me.  Bargaining.  Money isn't an object.  Is there ANY way to help her?  Depression.  I can't go to work.  I'll burst into tears at any given moment.  I should just stay home and wallow.  Acceptance...  well, I'm not there yet.  And I may go through all of these emotions again.

Saying Goodbye

Today, we let our sweet baby go.  It was one of the toughest things I've ever been through.  She loved on us and kissed us when we said goodbye, and she purred until the very end just like the good little girl she was.

I know that I joke about being a crazy cat lady sometimes, but the truth is I'm just crazy about how pets can make us feel, minus the sadness of letting them go.  They can truly make us the luckiest pet parents in the world.  Right now, as I type, my old girl Cally is curled up beside me.  She even crawled into my lap tonight, as if she knew something was wrong.

It's been an exhausting few days.  My heart is going to hurt for a long time.  But I'll never forget wonderful time I had with my little Barley.

Always Mine
People have asked if I could have taken her home, or if I should have gotten a second opinion.  And I considered both of these things.  But every symptom, every sign pointed to effusive FIP beyond a doubt.  When I said goodbye, the fluid in her belly had increased so it was like a small water balloon.  It was only a matter of time for her, and I'm comforted by the fact that I saved her true suffering.  We chose not to bring her home, which was incredibly painful for us... but we wanted to minimize the risk of exposure to Cally, minimize the stress of transporting her one more time, and make the harder right instead of the easier wrong in a moment of weakness and selfishness.

Thank you for everyone who has sent me messages of condolence and support already.  I'm so glad you understand me.

[Update:  I was informed that two out of Barley's three littermates passed away as well, within days of each other.  Only one in the litter has survived thus far.  It was hard to hear this, but it helps me know that I made the right decision. 4/4/2013]


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss, Aubrey.

    1. Thank you Lauren. You helped make this blog a beautiful place to write a tribute to her.

  2. I used to be a veterinary technician, it's pretty simple to diagnose FIP, and I don't think a second opinion would have been necessary. Everything you wrote is true, it's common in kittens, and there's nothing that can be done. Your photos brought tears to my eyes, especially that last one. I am so sorry for your loss of Barley, she seems like such a sweet, loving girl.

    All my love,

    1. Thank you so much Niki. I know it sounds silly, but the more vets/vet techs/animal advocates tell me I made the right call, the more comforted and confident I am that I made the right decision. It was so hard. And her effusion was noticeably larger even after just two days. :(

      She was the perfect kitten. Just perfect, even in the end. My boyfriend can't get over how she was headbutting and purring against us until her last breath. So special.

  3. Hi Aubrey - I'm new to your blog, but even though I'm a total stranger, I wanted to say how beautiful this was, and to thank you for sharing it. When something like this happens, we can have so many doubts and second thoughts, and "am I normal?" feelings going on, and putting yourself out there like this is SO helpful to the internet universe. Thank you.

    That kitten was loving on you to say thanks for making her troubled life so lovely. She knew she had something special too. Take care.

    1. Kathryn, you have no idea how much your comment means to me. Writing about Barley was the most natural thing I could think of in my grief, and a way for me to pay tribute to her, whether anyone ever read it or not. She was an angel in life and after.

      Thank you for reading!

  4. I am so, so sorry. This post brought tears to my eyes at work. I used to have cats (before I was allergic), and losing each one was heartache.

    Love ya girl, hang in there.


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