Our Phoebe is gone


We had to put Phoebe down last night. She was born with serious heart defects, but despite that, was able to live four good years before finally succumbing to kidney failure. The reason she lived so long is because she had a remarkable will to survive. Even at the end, that fire still burned in her eyes, and it killed a part of us to have to put it out.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult of decisions to make. We’ve never had to do it before, because our previous pets having been lost in other ways. My heart goes out to all of you who are now remembering putting down your own pets, or who are contemplating that future possibility. Ending suffering is the right thing to do, but oh, it is a hard, hard thing.

I also wanted to thank all of you have given us and Phoebe so much support and love over the years, as you’ve followed her unlikely and miraculous progress through life.

We’re knocked off our feet today. Erik is hurting especially badly, because he and Phoebe were very close, so please forgive us if we go into radio silence for a bit.  I should add, too, that Erik is going into surgery for his kidney stones this Friday. It’s been quite the week!

If you listen to our podcast, you can expect it to go up on Thursday or Friday, instead of Wednesday.

Thank you all again, all of you, for your support.

I’m going to going to eulogize Phoebe a bit after the break, more for my own sake than anything else, since I don’t keep a diary. Expect it will be long and maudlin. Bring tissues.

Phoebe was born with the Grim Reaper stalking her, but because she was little and quick she avoided him for a long time. Though small, she was a fierce, proud cat, and a very lucky one, too.

She should have died when she was four or five weeks old.

At that time, somehow, she became separated from her mother and litter mates. Perhaps her mother, sensing her defect, rejected her? At any rate, somehow a teeny tiny grey kitten ended up alone on the streets of Los Angeles, easy prey for anything from a crow to coyote to a feral dog. Easy to run over, too, especially because she was the color of asphalt.

But she spotted a woman who was walking home from work after a late shift. She toddled after her for half a block, mewling, until the woman turned back and picked her up. She demanded her own rescue. She wanted to live.

This young woman didn’t know anything about cats, but knew of someone who did. She took the tiny scrap of a thing to our friend Anne’s house, because she knew Anne rescued cats. She pulled Anne out of bed after midnight, and, of course, Anne took the kitten.

Now, I know from helping Anne with some kitten rescues how easily young kittens die. They go fast, of everything from flea bites to malnutrition to respiratory infections. The attrition rate is alarmingly high, even with the best of care and attention.

Phoebe didn’t die. Instead, she came (by way of Anne’s machinations) to two of the biggest suckers on the planet–me and Erik. We  kept her warm and bottle fed her every two hours. And she lived.

Phoebe grew fast and strong, changing from a fluffy grey scrap with blue eyes to a sleek black princess with golden eyes.

Then we had her spayed. The incompetent vet who did the job didn’t notice that she had a significant heart murmur before taking her into surgery. They’d managed not to notice the murmur during her well-kitten exams as well.

A future, better vet, knowing her heart condition, said she was frankly amazed Phoebe hadn’t died on the operating table.

Nope, Phoebe lived through surgery, despite her bad heart.

Not long after that, she fainted, and we took her back to that vet’s office. They finally discovered her heart defect, said there was nothing to be done, and told us we could put her down there, or take her home to die.  Flabbergasted, I asked if there wasn’t anything to do, and they said I could maybe consult a specialist, and waved doubtfully at some pamphlets.

I ignored the pamphlets, and got a good rec from our cat rescuing friend, Anne. That’s when we met Dr. Tracy McFarland, who has been on our podcast a couple of times. Dr. Tracy is a wonderful vet, but couldn’t help Phoebe. She did, however, know who could help her, and that was Dr. Sarah Zimmerman, a gifted cardiologist.

Phoebe was surrounded by angels all her life: cat rescuers, super-smart doctors and even strangers on the street.  And yes, us, but we couldn’t have done anything for her without help from others. And Phoebe’s own gift was taking all this help and transforming it to life worth living. This was the work of her indomitable will.

Her condition could only be treated by medication. Phoebe had to take a lot of pills every day. Three times a day. We put them in Pill Pockets and she ate them all off a plate as if they were fine appetizers, not the nasty, chalky, bitter-centered things they were.

She was a canny cat, and I think she understood she needed those pills to live. I can’t imagine why else she would have eaten them. The alternative, shoving all those pills down her throat every day, would not have been pleasant, or I think, even possible for four years.

She went to the hospital a couple of times, and bounced back like a champ, even though we were sure each time that it had to be the end. We suspected she’d been given three times nine lives, or perhaps she’d stolen a bunch of extra lives from kitty heaven.

Her quality of life was very good until the the last couple of weeks, despite the severity of her condition. For most of her life, to look at her you’d have no idea she wasn’t a perfectly normal cat. Only in the last few months did she start to look a little ragged around the edges, a little old, as her heart failure progressed and the inevitable began to catch up with her.

Finally, we ended up between a rock and a hard place: She’d been taking big doses of  diuretics to keep her lungs clear of fluid, but diuretics compromise the kidneys over time. We finally came to the place where if we kept her on the diuretics, and her kidneys would fail.They were failing, rather. If we eased her kidneys by reducing the diuretics, and she’d drown in her own fluids. This is the awful final math of heart failure.

We finally hit a wall–a wall we’d been told to expect all along. There was nothing more we could do for her, and even she couldn’t will herself out of kidney failure.

But she tried! I swear she tried. She kept her head up, kept her dignity. I could tell she was angry that she was sick, that she would defy the Grim Reaper until the very end.

The first stage of euthanasia is the administering of a tranquilizer. She fought the tranquilizer as long as she could. She did not want to relax, did not want to give up. We made the choice for her, out of love, but it seemed a cruel love at the time. I hope she forgives us now that she’s free.

I’m going to try to not remember that hour too much.

Instead I’ll remember her out in the garden, her favorite place. She was an indoor cat, but I’d bring her out with me when I was gardening, and she’d dig holes and stalk bugs and watch the chickens and enjoy the wind in her face.

I’ll remember her purring and kneading Erik’s stomach, something she did every morning until she became sick. It was an odd ritual, and one that made Erik wince and complain, but which I could tell he secretly loved.

I’ll remember her purr itself, which was deep, almost subsonic vibration. Amazing that it came out of such a tiny cat.

I will remember her drinking out of the bathtub faucet. I rarely visited the bathroom without her demanding I open the faucet for her. My bathroom visits are too quiet now.

I will remember her carrying her big stuffed white rat around like a kitten–or was it prey? It was hard to tell with Phoebe.

I will remember her on her back. She was often on her back with her paws folded on her chest, or writhing around upside down under the sofa, or dragging herself under our wooden hairs, rung by rung, like some kind of strange, feline version of the monkey bars.

I’ll remember her sitting in the window, her shining eyes wide to the world.

Leave a comment


  1. There are no adequate words to express my condolences. Only that the joy you gave eachother can never die. Tell Phoebe to say hi to Max for me.

  2. I’m so terribly sorry. I’ve had to euthanize plenty of animals in my life and it never is easy. Each one still holds a special place in my heart. Phoebe was special. I still remember the day you got her…

  3. Our furry family members love us unconditionally and ask so little of us. I have had to make this difficult decision a couple of times, even though it is the most honorable way to say goodbye-it still hurts so much. It leaves a big hole in our lives-but sharing the stories and smiling remembering and crying are ok-that shows we care which is how we adopted this pet in the first place!
    Peace to you both.

  4. I’m getting teary eyed now, for your Phoebe, my Ariel, my aunt’s Tess and many other sweet cats for whom we have had to decide when to make that hardest of decisions. I’m sorry you had to make that call for her last night, I’m sorry that her body could not support the spunk she still had.

  5. Kelly and Erik – It makes me cry to hear about Phoebe. I have had to euthanize my beloved animals in the past (three years ago, a cat) and Monday of last week lost a cat to a coyote. I am still reeling from that and I am so sorry to know what you are going through.

  6. Now you guys have me crying again. But thank you.

    Erik thanks you too, but can’t even get near this post right now.

  7. I am so very sorry to hear this. I have enjoyed hearing her story from almost the day you got her. I know losing a pet such as this leaves a huge hole in your heart, and I hope time gives you some comfort and peace,although I am sure the house will seem a bit emptier and less filled with the fun and joy cats provide. And I’m sure your other cat is missing her too.

  8. Kelly – Beautiful post. I feel your loss. You and Erik are virtually loved. – Bob

  9. Letting go of a beloved pet is a very hard thing to do. I’ve done it three times now and it never got any easier (thank God), and I miss them all very much.

    If you can find the 60 Minutes interview with Roy Horn (of Siegfried and Roy) after recovering from his tiger attack, I suggest you watch it; it’s very encouraging. He explained that while he was on the operating table after the attack he had a stroke and died and they brought him back. But he said that while he was dead, he went to a place where all of the animals they had had that went before them were all there waiting for him.

    I think Phoebe will be there for you, too.

  10. We’re so sorry. Over the years we have had many pets, so we have plenty of experience of losing them – usually in the fullness of years – after they have spent a long and happy life with us.

    Grief is a small price to pay for the wonderful gift that we have been given; the priceless treasure of an animal’s unconditional love.

  11. Meouch. (((hugs))) from another furbaby mama who has btdt more than once. In memory of Phoebe, and all of our other blessed critters who give us so much love.

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. The most tragic part of being in relationship with an animal is that their lives are so much shorter than ours. But to avoid that tragedy by not sharing our lives with them is impossible. Rest well, Phoebe.

  13. Oh No! I’m So SO Sorry! It’s just so difficult to lose them. Letting them go before they suffer is the last best decision you can make for them. I wish you both Peace and good memories.

  14. Kelly. That post was absolutely beautiful. You and Erik were given the little kitten for a reason. You guys are the best. Love you. mom

  15. Hi Kelly and Erik – I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I’ve been through that situation a couple times before myself, and I know how hard it is.

    Thank you for sharing stories of Phoebe with us – clearly she was loved and well cared for.

    Also Erik – good luck with the surgery on Friday.

    Take care, and allow yourselves the time to heal.

    – Dan

  16. I am so very sorry for your loss.
    I am crying along with this post, your words bringing back to me the memories of the kitties I have loved and lost.
    It is one of the hardest decisions we make, but it is always the right one, made out of love.
    A vet once said to me regarding the decision “better a week to soon than a minute to late”

    Mat time bring peace and healing to your hearts.

  17. What a great story! I hope you found the telling of it to be the beginning of healing. Thank you for sharing. My heart goes out to both of you.
    Speedy recovery, Erik! We’ll be thinking of you as we finish the cob oven.

  18. I’m so sorry. Thanks to you, she had a much better and longer life than she would have without you. And it’s clear how much joy she brought you. Everyone who has known the love of a cat feels for you right now.

  19. You loved her as fiercely as she loved life. We read it here, in many posts. You have my sympathy and support for your loving decision.

  20. This sad post caused me to remember my black cat named Sloopy, my last cat, that had to be euthanized in 1967. The sadness never goes away especially seeing him go limp. I was always pulling for Phoebe and thankful she found you two.

  21. As a friend recently said, the loss an animal companion doesn’t get better over time, but it does get less bitter. I hope the ache you feel is soon filled by the comfort of memories of how much love she experienced and returned.
    And good luck, Erik!

  22. Grieving with you at the loss of your darling Phoeb. Trusting Eric will may a quick recovery. Hold on to one another, these struggles won’t last.
    I’ll spend the next couple of days inspiring someone on low tech home ec and patiently await your next informative podcast.

  23. I’m so sorry. I’ve had to make that decision a couple of times and it’s hard. Phoebe was lucky to find you.
    Good luck on Friday Erik.

  24. O Phoebe, angel cat! Nap in peace.

    Kelly and Erik, Phoebe now nestles in the soft covers of your hearts. May the memory of her purrs, her tenacity and her warmth be evergreen to you.

    What a world this would be if every orphan — furry and human! — were loved as Phoebe was loved. Best wishes.

  25. Sending you peace. It sounds like you did everything you could for Phoebe, including loving her and giving her a life when many would have chosen to euthanize at the start.

    We lost our sweet dog Milo in January, and choosing to end his suffering is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

    I will share with you the sweet words someone told me when I was struggling so greatly with it: “Remember him running through the tall grass in the sunshine. Now he is free.”

  26. i honour your courage to love Phoebe enough to know the time had come to let her go. Hoping you can find the time and space you need to grieve, and wishing Erik well with his surgery. M

  27. So very sorry Guys, never an easy thing, but when it’s time it’s time……

    My wife had a Russian Blue and it was her cat and her cat alone, used to bite my toes if I got my foot too close at night, she liked to lay on end of the the bed, in wait….Kitty came down got jaw cancer and she was in a bad way, we found an apothecary that mixed up a pain med to rub on her ear, we got another 3 good months with her and during that time she became such a sweet cat, even let me pick her up and love her, eventually had to let her go and when I laid her to rest, as I was walking away from the spot something grey streaked past in front of my feet, made me stop in my tracks and I knew kitty was free! (= Peace to you.

  28. Big hug to you guys. It’s very hard to lose a friend and companion. My heart is with you.

  29. Kelly and Eric-so sorry about Phoebe-it is so hard to lose a beloved pet. My heart goes out to you.

  30. My heart goes out to you and Erik. Thank you for taking such good care of Phoebe. She will forever be a part of your lives. You can’t stop love. Through your posts, she taught us all valuable life lessons. Rest in peace sweet kitty.

  31. My sympathies to your family. She was a good companion and I enjoyed hearing about her great spirit. My heart goes out to you. I know it’s not consolation, but in February I had to put down my (also 4 year old) dear cat who’d contracted Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It was sudden and he was offended by all of it, not least the “hour that one wishes to not remember too much.” I know how you feel. I cried for days. Here I go again. :/ Partners in recycled-tissue piles? I’m thinking of you all.

  32. This is not a post I expected to see today. I am so sorry for your loss and the pain of that terrible hour at the vet. Your eulogy is beautiful, and paints a wonderful picture of a cat who was loved very much and who came into her life with a clear and well chosen path. Ultimately, she triumphed and won. Rest in peace little Phoebe.

  33. My condolences to you both. This post made me cry. I always loved reading about Phoebe because she reminded me of my own black kitty who fought death for 4 years after being diagnosed and almost dying from feline leukemia. He needed insulin everyday but everyday his presence was a gift. I have had to put numerous pets down in my life and it never gets any easier. But they are indeed a wonderful spiritual presence, and I would never go without a cat or dog just to avoid the grief.
    Peace be with you both. RIP Phoebe

  34. I am so very, very sorry to hear of Phoebe’s passing. All kitties own a piece of our heart and take it with them when they go.

    You gave Phoebe the opportunity to live as full a life as she possibly could and you can take comfort in that. Our youngest son took in a wonderful stray who is feline leukemia positive and refused the vet’s offer to euthanize, believing that Simon deserves as long a life as he can possibly have. It is the right thing to do. Offering that to Phoebe was the right thing.

    Blessings to you both and to your other kitties.

  35. Thank you so much. Thank you for giving Phoebe a life and a home and the space to fight for the short time she had. Thank you for being an example of love and grace. Thank you for sharing her with us and for giving me one more cat to love and hope for. Sending you love and sympathy across the miles.

  36. I’m so sorry to hear this. I am crying hard right now for Phoebe, for you guys, for myself, and for everyone else who has had to go through this impossible thing. It has been a rough few weeks for people I know having to say goodbye to beloved furry family members. Just a few months ago we had to make the choice to let my sweet sweet dog go, and it was, and will forever be, the worst day of my life. No matter how much time we have together, it is never enough. But that tough cookie of yours sure seems to have fought for more than she was originally allotted. Love and peace to both of you. <3

  37. I’m sorry. Animal family are the best, and it’s so hard, especially figuring out when it’s time. We’re at just the initial stage with our kitty, and pretend she’s fine – she doesn’t know there’s a problem yet but soon more will show. I’ve read your entries about this cute cat, and as lucky you were to know her, she was as lucky. It hurts, but only because with her, it felt so good. Glad you have each other during this time.

  38. When we had our cat put down in January, I read Thomas Hardy’s “Last Words to a Dumb Friend”. He obviously loved his cat as much as you and Erik loved Phoebe. This poem always turns me into a puddle – we love our small friends so much. You and Erik are truly loving people who were unafraid to open your hearts to love, knowing all the time what the eventual outcome would be. Phoebe was such a lucky girl to be surrounded by so many people who loved her so well.

  39. Im so sorry to hear this but did wonder I know your grief and pain lat year my husband and I had to do the exact same thing with our dear little Tilly who looked so much like your Phoebe. It broke our hearts and left a big empty space in our lives that she used to fill. Even with the knowledge that one day you would face that awful day and have to make that heart wrenching decision nothing prepares you for the loss. Our dear little furry companions work their way into our hearts and lives in a way that when they go we grieve them much the same as our human loved ones. It took us nearly a year before we could even begin to think about getting another companion and we had to force ourselves to do it and now Im glad we did because our Roscoe (dog) is the loveliest boy and he is fast working his way into our hearts. I still miss my sweet little girl and think of her often. I dont think Ill ever forget her.
    RIP beautiful Phoebe cat.

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