Sierra Feb 14, 1996 - March 8, 2015
Two years ago today, I had to say goodbye to Sierra, my most beautiful precious kitty in the whole wide world. Two years. It seems cruel how quickly time has moved on without her. Even as I write this, tears fill my eyes and my heart feels an unrelenting ache. I miss her.
I suppose it is only fitting that today would be my first blog. It’s the one I have been avoiding and putting off for so long, for obvious reasons.
Sierra’s story starts 21 years ago, yes it was another century ago!
I clearly remember, all those years ago, when I decided to adopt a kitten. I had already decided to adopt a girl and had given her the name Sierra. I just hadn’t found her yet.
There was a local mom and pop pet store near where I lived and they ran a shelter for kittens who needed a home. I remember calling one evening, it was a Thursday, and asking if the kittens they were expecting had arrived. The voice on the other end of phone described five kittens: three gray tiger striped, a tabby, and a tortie. The voice didn’t know which ones were girls and which were boys. But I did. I didn’t know what coloring a tortie kitty was, but I just knew the tortie was a girl and she was my Sierra, I could feel it.
I rushed over to the pet store and peered into the kennel of five kittens. My eyes met a little one with a face that was half black, half redish tan, and who had golden eyes. It was her.
Fast forward a few years - and many trips to the vet for the strings or cords she chewed as a kitten, or for the fantastical leaps and jumps that she would entertain herself with that on a rare occasion she would miss which landed her on the x-ray table to make sure nothing was broken (not to mention how she liked to bounce all fours off the wall at night then use my sleeping face as a spring board onto the bed) - and we had developed that close companion bond. We loved to talk. Sierra LOVED to talk. Meow. Meow. Purrrrr. She told me all about her day and the exciting things she had done and seen. ‘And then what happened Sierra?’ I would ask. She would launch into another fascinating story.
We could tell what the other was thinking with just a glance. I knew, without even being the same room, when she was about to get up to some crazy antics. I would dash off with that mom instinct to try to protect her from her brave and daring little self. Of course, Sierra was quite the guardian in her own right. I would often wake in the middle of the night, Sierra had not made a sound or moved to disturb me, but somehow she let me know there was something interesting to see outside the bedroom window. Once, I peered out into the darkness to see a mountain lion sitting looking up at us. I don’t know how long the lion was there before I woke up, but I’m convinced Sierra made sure I got to see her before she slowly sauntered off. Sierra knew I loved to see wildlife as much as she did and of course I love cats!
Fast forward again to 2006. Sierra was digging in her litter box. As she squatted to pee, she looked oddly uncomfortable. As I watched, the stream of urine seemed to have a tinge of pink of it. I wasn’t sure if I had really seen the coloring or if it was a reflection of the new silly pink litter box I had purchased. I watched her closely the rest of day, following her every time she neared the bathroom. When her next litter box visit confirmed what I had seen earlier (I held a white sheet of paper next to her so I wouldn’t mistake the coloring), we headed off to the vet. And it was worse than I could have imagined.
Sierra spent the next several days in the ICU hooked up to an IV as they ran tests to figure out what was going on. She was diagnosed with kidney stones and the pink coloring in her urine was blood. Her kidneys were blocked, she was in excruciating pain, and near death. I was terrified. Waves of guilt hit me. How did I not see it sooner? How could I let her suffer in so much pain so needlessly? Wasn't I paying close enough attention to her? The guilt still eats at me today and the tears have returned. My Sierra.
My vet referred us to a specialist for advanced diagnostics and treatment of Sierra’s kidney stones. We went immediately. On our first visit to Dr. Chris McReynolds, he performed more blood work and did an ultrasound of Sierra’s kidneys. She was pretty miffed at having her belly shaved and the pressure of the ultrasound wand was undoubtedly very painful for her. I stood beside her, holding her little paw and petting her head trying to comfort her. The fear of the unknown was a rising panic in me. Why was this happening? What did it all mean? Was she going to die? Then the ultra sound was done. Sierra hadn’t made a peep or even struggled as she lay there with her bare belly up. She looked me questioningly in the eye, as if to say ‘what’s wrong mom?’ And that’s when I realized it was she trying to comfort me.
That was Sierra’s gift to me. Sierra, in all her wisdom, did everything she could for the next nine years to make managing the recurring kidney stones and subsequent renal failure as easy on me as possible.
After that first ultrasound, Dr. McReynolds recommended surgery - it was that bad. Through the haze of disbelief, I vaguely remember him explaining ‘you can drive and be at Purdue University by Tuesday...they perform this type of surgery on cats...’ But when my eyes locked with Sierra’s, I knew surgery was not the thing do, we had to find another option. Gratefully, Dr. McReynolds listened and created a protocol that included medications and daily subcutaneous fluids at home. After free catching about six kidney stones over the course of the next week, Dr. McReynolds was excited to show me on the new ultrasound that Sierra had passed the stones that were blocking her kidneys. She was on the mend, she wasn't going to die.
Fast forward again to 2013 when Dr. Joni Freshman joined Sierra’s caregiver team. By this time, Sierra had had a few setbacks with her kidneys, each one taking her longer to recover, and it was causing her pain. Sierra had also developed arthritis. Dr. Joni came to my house and treated Sierra with laser and needle acupuncture, and also performed adjustments on her spine.
Even during Dr. Joni's first visit, Sierra, in all her wisdom, understood the benefit. And over the next two years, Sierra sat quietly while Dr. Joni used the laser and gently placed the needles along her spine on trigger points. Sierra welcomed the relief. In fact, Sierra was so in tune with Dr. Joni’s visits that she would wait by the door as the van pulled up. I would open the door and Sierra would trot down the walk, meowing a greeting in a very loud voice - she loved to talk and she loved to see Dr. Joni!
After her treatments, Sierra liked to curl up on a heating pad and take a good long nap. Yes indeed, she was a wise kitty.
Unfortunately, Sierra experienced another set back. This time she was battling to recover and she was in constant pain. Relief from Dr. Joni’s visits, which had lasted about two weeks, were now only a handful of days. I didn’t want her to suffer in pain, so I asked about medications that could help. Of course, all of the pain medications have some sort of unwanted side-effect, from lethargy to disorientation, and they all would destroy her already compromised kidneys. I was distraught and I didn’t know what to do.
These were Sierra’s golden years. She deserved to be pain free, to live out her life as herself, aware of the world around her. I couldn’t take that from her.
I woke up one morning with the thought ‘Hey, I live in Colorado, cannabis is legal here. People talk about it working for pain. I wonder...do they make it for pets?’ After a quick internet search I discovered Canna Companion. For a couple of hours, I scoured through the research then decided to give them a call. I talked with Dr. Sarah about Sierra and grilled her with questions: will the cannabis hurt her kidneys? are there any side effects? will she get high or loopy? will it help her pain? Dr. Sarah alleviated my fears and patiently answered all of my questions. There was no sales pitch. No marketing spiel. I decided to trust her and try the product.
Sierra was only on the product for a few weeks before I had to let her go. The setback she had experienced was just too much for her little 19 year old kitty self. During that time though, I feel the cannabis provided some additional pain relief in between Dr. Joni’s treatments. Sierra liked to have the capsule’s powder mixed into a little bit of yogurt which was then made crispy and crunchy after a couple hours in the fridge. She did her best to eat it...to make it easier on me.
Sierra, in all her wisdom, knew I was trying to give to her what she had already given to me for the past 19 years : the best quality of life, a bond of friendship, and a love that will last for eternity. The tears are falling again.
Sierra’s last day with me was truly heartbreaking. Saying good-bye to a beloved pet who has been unconditionally and loyally by your side, through good times and sad times, for all those years is more painful than words can describe. She is no longer in pain though. Instead, she is her talkative, brave, daring, and jumping little self.
I am sure one day, I will sense a need to wake up in the middle of the night. And there she will be, trotting down the walk loudly meowing a greeting after waiting so patiently for me at the rainbow bridge.