Letting go of Karma

April 8, 2019

While waiting in the Hawthorne Animal Hospital, I noticed a clock-shaped glass jar full of tiny beads and small lights. Printed words on the glass warned that when the lights came on, someone was saying goodbye and other patrons should speak softly.

I took Karma, my cat of 18 years, out of her carrier. She sat in my lap, her head down, her ribs visible, the bone of her spine sharply ridged. Moments later, a vet entered and turned on the lights in the jar. I knew someone else was watching the last moments of their pet’s life.

In September past after treatment for a urinary tract infection, a vet informed me that Karma had a kidney disease that would eventually prove fatal. Karma did improve with medication and became her noisy demanding self, though the time when Karma could leap to the top of a 6-foot high bookcase and climb up a vent into the attic had long passed.

At the beginning of April, Karma stopped eating. When I came home and found Karma lying on the kitchen floor near the untouched food dish and full water bowl where she often hovered without drinking, it was time for another visit to the veterinarian. It was a bad sign that Karma, who hated riding in a car, uttered no protest on the ride to the animal hospital.

We waited to be called, and finally a vet I didn’t know motioned me to follow her. I carried Karma into the examination room and the vet weighed her. Karma had lost another half-pound since our last visit, adding to the six she had already lost in just a year.

One could lift her skin and it would slowly settle, not snap back in place — a sign of dehydration. Karma’s once sleek black fur looked ragged. The vet read her blood test from the previous visit indicating a deterioration of the kidneys. I asked for another blood test and the vet carried Karma out.

Sitting alone in the small room, I knew a moment I had dreaded had arrived. A friend once said that he never wanted another pet because of that terrible day when he had to put the pet down. The vet returned with Karma; the test revealed Karma’s kidneys were failing. She had hovered over the water bowl because Karma was nauseated, and though thirsty, could not drink normally. In essence, Karma was facing a slow starvation.

The vet listed the options without trying to suggest any action.

“I can put her on an I.V. all night, or inject some fluid under her skin which will rehydrate her…but there’s no guarantee it will work. It could give her a little time to get her appetite back.” The vet hesitated. “It could also give you time to make a decision.”

“But there’s no cure?”

“No. If Karma were a person, she’d be on dialysis, and at her age, she would not survive a kidney transplant if that were an option.”

Karma rubbed her jaw against my hand as the vet then calmly explained the process of euthanasia.

“I administer a sedative that will relax her. The second drug turns off the brain and then her heart will stop beating.” There was another pause. “It’s your decision.”

I didn’t want to take her home and then return for the inevitable. “I think I have to let her go,” I told the vet.

She nodded and left. I held Karma, feeling her emaciated body. I told her how much joy she brought me and my wife, Karen, after we lost another wonderful cat named Missy. That’s why we named her Karma as in good karma. Then I told Karma how much joy she brought me after I lost Karen.

My time with Karma had lasted eight months beyond the time I shared with Karen. Then I told Karma how pretty she was. With her thick black fur and burning yellow eyes, she had been an athletic beautiful cat.

The vet returned with the drugs and injected Karma with a sedative.

“It will take a minute to work,” she said.

Karma lay on a blanket on a raised bed, and the vet again left us alone. I stroked Karma’s thin body lying on her side, her fur sticking up, her eyes starting to close.

“You can let go, Karma,” I said. I continued murmuring words into her ear as she drifted away, her tail sporadically moving. When the vet returned, she gave Karma an injection of Euthasol. Karma resisted, still breathing as I rested my hand on her head. The vet placed a stethoscope against her body.

“She passed,” the vet said. She gently placed Karma into the carrier and looked at me. “Do you need a moment?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll take her home.”

I took the carrier to the front desk and paid and then carried Karma to the car. There would be tears as I drove home and dug another grave near Missy’s under a lilac tree.

Karma’s limp body was still warm when I placed her unto a white towel and lay her wrapped body in the moist earth. I found a water cup for birds that had a cat’s face and put it on the grave.

Looking at the grave, I remembered the vibrant cat who had prowled this very backyard, hunting and doing what cats do — as Missy had years before.

“Goodbye, Karma. I am so sorry,” I said. “You were a handful, you know.”

Michael Corrigan of Pocatello is a San Francisco native and a retired Idaho State University English and speech communication instructor. He studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute and has authored seven books, many about the Irish American experience.